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18 August 2017

Friedrich Ebert Foundation: What holds Europe together? The EU in the wake of Brexit

A representative eight-country study of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, conducted by policy matters.

- This report is based on findings from a representative eight-country study carried out by policy matters in May/June upon the commission of the Friedrich-EbertStiftung. In a random selection of persons eligible to vote in Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the Czech and Slovakian Republics, persons were surveyed about their perceptions of the European Community and their expectations of the EU.

– The decision by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union is apparently contributing to a strengthening of cohesion among the remaining Member States. Six out of ten persons surveyed in all the countries taken together expressed an opinion in favour of strengthening cooperation between EU States, with even eight out of ten voicing this preference in Germany. A comparison of study results with the findings of a survey conducted in 2015 moreover indicates that sensitivity to the advantages of the EU has surged since Brexit. The number of those persons who believe that EU membership is associated with advantages for their own country has risen in all eight countries. Two out of three persons surveyed in Germany at present share this conviction, while two years ago only one in every three expressed this opinion. In contrast to as recently as 2015, a majority of citizens at present once again associate the EU with the notions of »opportunities« instead of »risks« as well as »growing prosperity« instead of »declining prosperity«.

– While the upcoming departure of the British from the EU is cause for concern, it has not triggered any panic. A relative majority of the persons surveyed do not expect any negative impact from Brexit, or they even believe that it will strengthen the EU.

– To improve European integration, more restrictive measures tend to receive the greatest support – for instance, securing external borders more effectively, or stricter checks and controls on budgetary discipline in the Member States. An expansion of the EU’s defence capabilities and a growth offensive for Southern and Eastern Europe are supported by a majority. The latter also meets with a majority in what would probably be the »net donor« countries of Germany, France and Sweden, with solely the Netherlands opposing this. The adoption of the principle of solidarity at the inter-state level along the lines of financial support of poorer countries by prosperous countries remains controversial, however. – In all countries, the willingness to shift competencies and powers from the national to the European level has grown. A shift in competencies and powers to the EU is above all supported in the areas of foreign and security policy, in the determination of tax rates for multinational enterprises and data privacy. In the view of the majority, the recent controversial trade negotiations with the USA should also remain the domain of the Commission. Responsibility for arrangements regarding the acceptance and allocation of refugees remains highly controversial. While clear majorities of citizens in Germany and Italy, the countries most affected by immigration, would like to see a European solution, the Visegrád States of Slovakia and the Czech Republic are just as vociferously in favour of national responsibility.

– Agreement with the expansion of EU competencies runs up against constraints, however. Citizens largely agree that budget policy as well as labour-market and pension policy should remain the domains of the various Member States. Moreover, a general double veto right against EU resolutions is held to be a good idea: for national parliaments as well as citizens by means of referendums on fundamental decisions.

– This no doubt applies to the refugee issue. Although it has lost its explosiveness since autumn 2015, citizens of all eight States continue to regard resolution of this problem to constitute the most important task of the EU by far. This is followed by combatting unemployment, the fight against terrorism and stimulation of the economy. There is an interesting detail from Germany here: a strengthening of the cohesion in the EU is also considered by this country – and only by this country – to be the most pressing task facing the EU.

– Cohesion within the EU is based not least on trust and confidence between EU Member States. Trust and confidence in the two leading nations of Germany and France is fairly pronounced among the populations of the eight countries surveyed, while confidence in France has even risen considerably in comparison to 2015. Above all the French have a restored confidence in their country since the election of Emmanuel Macron as President. [...]

Full study

© Friedrich Ebert Foundation

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