As Economies Rebound, EU Looks More Attractive

Support for the European Union is going up as countries recover from the economic crisis.

A pro-EU rally in London, England, March 25, 2017
A pro-EU rally in London, England, March 25, 2017 (Sgoldswo)

Support for the European Union has gone up in the last year as voters have become more confident about their future, suggesting that anti-EU sentiment is closely tied to Europeans’ overall satisfaction in life.

The Pew Research Center has found that in the wake of Brexit, on average only 18 percent of voters in France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and Sweden wish to leave the bloc anymore.

Favorable attitudes of the EU are up 18 points in France and Germany, 15 points in Spain and 13 points in the Netherlands.

Greece and Italy have seen a smaller swing and they have also been the slowest to recover from the global financial crisis. But even there, only one in three voters support an EU exit.

The Dutch are the most optimistic. 87 percent believe economic conditions are good, up 25 points since last year. The Germans, Poles and Swedes also feel better.

Only 28 percent of the Spaniards say their economy is doing fine, but even that is an increase of 15 points.

Laments

There are laments.

Outside Germany, many feel the country has become too powerful, even though views of the German people and Chancellor Angela Merkel are positive.

Few believe the EU has handled the 2015-16 refugee crisis well. Most Europeans want their own governments, not Brussels, controlling immigration, even if this means weakening the free movement of people inside the union.

One in two want the authority to negotiate trade deals to be repatriated as well, with only majorities in Germany and the Netherlands in favor of keeping things as they are.

The EU now negotiates trade agreements on behalf of all 28 member states, most recently with Canada.

Shift

Nevertheless, there has an unmistakable shift. There appear to be two reasons for it.

First is the economic improvement. The EU was intrinsically linked to the European debt crisis. National politicians routinely blamed European deficit rules for the austerity measures they needed to take. Now that growth has returned and governments can relax spending, elites in faraway Brussels are less often disparaged.

Second is that Brexit and the election of Donald Trump in America have made nationalism less attractive.

Pew found that most Europeans believe Britain’s departure from the bloc will be bad for both the EU and the United Kingdom.

Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight writes that support for Trump-like parties and politicians, including France’s National Front and the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders, has gone down in the wake of the American election.

Seeing what nativism means in practice has caused at least some Euroskeptics to think twice about voting for such parties in their own elections.