In the wake of all the bad news that continues to pour out of Europe, it is interesting to set aside the media reports for a moment and to consider the findings of opinion polls. Few such surveys offer a more extended set of data than Eurobarometer, and even a brief review of its biannual reports makes the striking point that most Europeans continue to think positively about the EU:
- Just over half believe that membership of their country in the EU has been a good thing, compared to one third who do not.
- Before the breaking of the euro zone crisis, three times as many Europeans had a positive image of the EU as did not.
- Two-thirds of Europeans think of the EU as democratic and modern, while about a quarter do not.
- Those who are optimistic about the future of the EU outnumbered pessimists in 2011 (the date of the last full Eurobarometer survey) by 58 per cent to 36 per cent.
Optimism has been shaken by the euro zone crisis, to be sure, but the fingers of blame are not all pointed at the EU; while 40 per cent of Europeans thought that things were headed in the wrong direction in the EU in 2011, 44 per cent thought that things were headed in the wrong direction in the world, and 51 per cent in their home countries. Europeans apparently see their problems as stemming less from the EU specifically than from government, administration and our more general economic problems. In short, opinion of the EU is reflective less of a crisis in the EU than of a crisis in government more generally, worsening in the wake of the global financial downturn.
And if we think the story is bad in Europe, spare a moment to consider the mind-set of Americans: polls in the United States during 2011-12 revealed that as many as four out of five Americans thought their country was headed in the wrong direction. Compared to Americans, it seems that Europeans are in fact quite optimistic about the future.
This is not to suggest that life in the EU today is rosy, but rather to point out that the pessimism is not as extreme as the media, political leaders, political parties, and the punditry would have us believe. Jean Monnet once observed that the building of Europe was a ‘great transformation’ that would take a long time, and that ‘nothing would be more dangerous than to regard difficulties as failures’. We might want to pay heed to that.