Archive for the ‘Polling’ Category

YouGov Cambridge’s EU poll both vindicates & challenges Eurosceptics

For someone with a eurosceptic axe to grind, YouGov Cambridge’s report on ‘Public Opinion and the Future of Europe’ is that most delightful of things — rigorous, academic confirmation of what one instinctively believed. Parallel polls were run across a number of European countries, further broken down by voting intention for the British results.

  • A majority of British voters want less integration, not more, and a referendum to confirm our relationship with the EU. The poll accurately maps the rift that has opened up between the British electorate and political class on this issue, something Alistair Heath’s CityAM editorial highlights.
  • While the British are more sceptical of the EU than most, other peoples across Europe also think the EU is undemocratic and want many key policy areas to remain under national control.
  • Amongst the countries polled, the views of Northern European voters are much more closely aligned with British attitudes than those of Central and Southern Europeans.

However, unconstrained as I am by the strictures of academia, I feel justified in going a bit further than YouGov Cambridge’s analysis to point out what I believe to be a less sharply defined, but perhaps more profound pattern in the data. While the more ‘EU-friendly’ countries do indeed express general support for EU integration and their country’s part in it, when it comes to specific issues people all across our continent mostly view the EU as just another institution that provides a mere means to an end.

This qualified, pragmatic support for the European Union seems to be concentrated around issues where respondants’ own government is unable or unwilling to act, or where a cross-border approach naturally recommends itself.

Italy, France and Germany all return broadly similar numbers on general questions about integration as well as on more focussed ones about selected policy areas, such as control of military action or fighting terrorism. However, support in Italy clearly rises above than in either France or Germany when it comes to the idea of turning the EU into a ‘United States of Europe’, and electing an EU president to be “chief executive in the same manner as the President of the United States of America”. Are Italians especially fond of federal structures, or do they simply believe they have a better chance of competent and stable government from Brussels than from Rome?

Despite expressing a clear preference for retaining (or, presumably, regaining) national control over nearly all the policy areas they were asked about, even the firmly eurosceptic Brits soften when it comes to issues that span countries and continents. The only policy area that commands a clear majority for the EU taking charge is “tackling climate change”, but two more areas — “the rise of Asia” and “terrorism and international crime” — show a fairly even split in opinion.

Conversely, when a proposal would be likely to negatively affect a particular country, a significant percentage of support for action at the EU level swiftly evaporates. Less than a third of Germans would like to make it easier for countries to borrow from the ECB, and fewer than one in five support the idea of debt-mutualisation through Eurobonds. Just as one would expect, the Italians are the most enthusiastic endorsers of these ideas, with the French somewhere in the middle.

Even in the most pro-EU countries people still believe the nation state should remain responsible for certain areas. The report identifies “three key areas of power and statecraft” where none of the countries polled had a majority in favour of passing control to Brussels. People also believe the EU lacks democratic legitimacy, with all countries showing majority support for both a referendum to decide their own relationship with the EU, and giving other countries the right to leave the EU if that is what their voters choose.

The explanation for this hard-headed endorsement of the EU principally as a means to an end, rarely as an end in itself, can be found in the section of the raw polling data covering identity. Only a quarter of Germans polled said they were mainly “European” rather than “German”, with France and Italy reporting lower figures still (14% and 17% respectively) and all the other countries surveyed in single figures. Bluntly, there is not yet a European ‘demos’.

This is, on one level, reassuring news for eurosceptics. Most of our fellow Europeans are not blind adherents to a religion of EU integration, determined to forge ahead in building a powerful new European state and leaving poor sceptical Britain to choose between exclusion and subsumption.

Yet this poll raises an altogether more challenging problem for those of us who would like Europe to be free of the EU; there is clearly an appetite for some of the things the EU is seen to offer. Until we can convincingly describe an alternative which will meet Europeans’ desire for a means of cooperation and a force for responsible governance, then the European Union will continue to enjoy popular support across the continent.