Pew Survey Confirms Turmoil over Europe (5/14)     Print Email

By Michael D. Mosettig, former foreign editor of PBS News Hour

michaelmosettigThe numbers are as grim as the title of the latest Pew Research Center survey – “The New Sick Man of Europe: the European Union,”   released today in Brussels.


The Washington-based organization found little in its polling of more than 7,000 respondents in eight EU nations that would bring comfort to European politicians, Brussels bureaucrats or self-professed European enthusiasts from the North Sea to the Aegean. Indeed, about the only sliver of optimism is that nowhere, even in the most battered economies of southern Europe, is there much support for abandoning the common currency, the euro,  and reverting to national monies.

But otherwise, the reading is dark, particularly about France and a widening chasm in attitudes between France and Germany, which together have always been the driving engine of European unification and governance. French attitudes receive the most singular attention in the 60-page report, but under the sub-head, "A Dyspeptic France."

"The prolonged economic crisis has created centrifugal forces that are pulling European public opinion apart, separating the French from the Germans and the Germans from everyone else," said the report prepared under the direction of veteran Washington economics and trade journalist Bruce Stokes, now director of Pew's Global Economic Attitudes.

Two sets of numbers highlight the growing disillusionment with the European project. Only Germans by 60 percent,  Poles by 68 percent and Italians by 58 percent, registered a favorable view of the EU. From just a year ago, French support plummeted from 60 to 41 percent, even lower than in Britain. Greeks and Czechs reinforced existing negative views and Spanish support fell from 60 to 40 percent.  

In the second Pew indicator, whether economic integration strengthened their economies, only a majority of Germans agreed.

Perhaps that helps explain another set of numbers deeper in the report, and one that runs very counter to near unanimous statements from political leaders about the need for more European governance. Asked about handing over more power to Brussels, only Germans (51-44) and Italians (49-39) were in favor. The French were 47 for to 53 against.

Perhaps most discouraging for dedicated Europeans is the dramatic decline in support for the European project among the young whose prospects are being devastated in the current crisis. In the vanguard of a united Europe since its inception in the 1950s, European youth are turning against it with a vengeance. The drop in support since 2007 ranges from 42 points in Spain to 11 points in Poland. Curiously, 57 percent of Britons between 18-29 still voice confidence in the European project. (Pew pollsters found overall in Britain a 46-46 split on remaining in the EU).

Also disturbing and certainly running against the grain of European politicians who repeatedly hail their social safety net are the rising numbers who say they have trouble finding the money for food, clothing and health care.

For instance, the number finding trouble paying for food tripled in France over the past year to 20 percent and now is nearly a quarter of the population in Greece. Forty-five percent of Greeks cannot afford needed clothing and 19 percent of French now say they have trouble paying for medical care, quadruple the number from 2007.

Other numbers reveal conflicts in thinking, except on the issue of jobs which is universally regarded as the top priority. Across Europe, the publics express concern about inequality and public debt but  suggest those are not priorities for their governments. Interestingly, in the midst of the new austerity debate, only Greeks and Poles favor more government spending rather than cuts. In France, 81 percent favor cutting spending, and only 18 percent want more.

For the Pew researchers, the key findings were in the growing gaps between French and German perceptions. On nearly every measure, Germans were satisfied with current conditions and optimistic about their futures. French opinion, they stressed, is in "free fall."  

And perceptions have widened dramatically since 2007. There's now a 66 point gap in French and German views on their economic condition, a 32 percent margin on the worth of economic integration and a 19 point difference on favorability to the EU.

From a nation that bridged the gap between northern and southern Europe, the Pew report said, "the French look less like Germans and a lot more like the Spanish, the Italians and the Greeks."

About the only amusing note in the report comes from the numbers on national stereotypes which set to statistics the Merry Minuet song popularized by Tom Lehrer and the Kingston Trio in the late 1950s. Citizens of all eight nations regard themselves as the most compassionate. The British still think of the French as the least trustworthy and most arrogant. The Germans are regarded by all but the Greeks as the most trustworthy. They are also considered the least compassionate by everyone but the French and themselves, who award that distinction to the British. And the French think of themselves as both the most arrogant and least arrogant.