The latest Eurobarometer survey published 7 September tells us once again what EU citizens think about and expect from the EU.
Though the positive ratings have kept falling during the last decades, 53% of citizens still consider that, on balance, their country has benefited more from membership than not being EU member.
With the exception of Cypriots (28%), who reproach the EU the losses from their self-inflicted banking crisis, and Greeks (47%) who hold the EU responsible for their painful economic adjustments, citizens in small member states (Lithuania, Malta, Estonia, Denmark, Luxembourg, Slovakia, Ireland) give the EU a very positive rating (72% to 77%).
Remarkably, these countries all belong to the euro zone (with the exception of Lithuania due to join by 2015 the latest). The smaller the country the more it has to gain from a single currency!
The low rating by Austrians (45%) is difficult to explain. They have definitely benefited a lot from EU membership, in particular since the EU enlargement 2004, and they enjoy the highest employment rate alongside with Germany.
Among the big countries Germans give the EU most credit for their well-being (61%); Italians (36%) and British (41%) credit the union the least.
These results are not surprising. Germans have suffered least from the crisis and benefited most from EU and eurozone membership. Italians have trouble adjusting to EU constraints and playing a visible role in EU governance, while UK citizens have, of course, been influenced massively by anti-EU politicians and media as well as their insular traditions.
It is no surprise that all citizens consider the freedom to travel, study and work the single biggest advantage, ahead of the Euro and of peace.
It is not surprising either that they rate unemployment as the biggest challenge, ahead of social inequalities, public debt and access to jobs. Unfortunately, the EU is not – or not yet – equipped to effectively tackle these issues.
The widening gap between citizens` expectations and the EU capacity to live up to them is bound to become a major problem if political leaders fail to address it.
Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 20/9/2013