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The European Commission released the results of Standard Eurobarometer 96 in April 2022. While many Europeans were found to be concerned with the environment and climate change (26%), rising prices, inflation, cost of living (24%) and immigration (22%), results of another survey issued in June by the European Parliament (EP Spring 2022 Survey) show a continued increase in support for a common defence and security policy: from 77% in April to 81% in June. MEDIATIZED EU gathers six EU member-countries whose views were surveyed (Belgium, Estonia, Hungary, Ireland, Portugal, and Spain). We thus asked MEDIATIZED EU researchers to comment on these results.

Fieldwork for the Standard Eurobarometer 96 was conducted in January and February, before the war in Ukraine broke out on February 24, and perceptions gauged could have been affected since. Actually, the Parlemeter issued in June (EP Spring 2022 Survey) showed a strengthened public support for the EU, including for a common security and defense policy, with an increase of 4% in relation to the Eurobarometer issued in April, while 87% of those inquired expect that the EU will decrease its dependency on Russia’s sources of energy. Additionally, a Flash Eurobarometer surveyed 26,066 EU citizens online in April, and results issued in May 2022 showed that the EU’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was supported by the majority of the respondents, for whom the EU has shown solidarity (79%), has been united (63%) and was fast to react (58%).

In all, according to the Parlemeter results, 65% see EU membership as a good thing, which is the highest result since 2007, when it was at 58%. The EU has a positive image for 52% of the Europeans against 12% negative, while increasing economic worries reflect on citizens’ expectations for the EP’s political priorities: primarily, fighting poverty and social exclusion (38%). For the participants, the core value that they want the European Parliament to defend the most is democracy, at 38%, which represents an increase of 6% since 2021.

Read below what MEDIATIZED EU researchers had to say regarding the perceptions revealed and the prospects for the various countries’ and the EU’s policies.

Samuel Doveri Vesterbye (European Neighborhoud Council – ENC, Belgium) 

The Eurobarometer 96 shows that the confidence in institutions in Belgium remains relatively weak, while the satisfaction level of the functioning democracy in Belgium after a two-year COVID-19 pandemic is at 56%. Confidence levels in the EU dropped slightly in Belgium between the summer of 2021 (53% confidence in EU) and the winter of 2021 (46% confidence in EU), but 73% of Belgians nonetheless believe that more decisions should be taken at the EU level, which is higher than the EU-average (57%). A large majority of Belgians (87%) declare themselves “satisfied with the life that they lead”, which is equally above average in comparison to the EU average of 83%. When questioned about what the two main concerns of Belgians are, the following answers were given: 40% said that the increase in prices and inflation was a concern, followed by 21% who said that the supply of energy was a concern. Other areas of concern for surveyed Belgians included ‘health’, ‘public debt’, ‘climate change’ and ‘taxes’. These answers reflect a pragmatic and economy-based series of concerns, compared to for example other issues like terrorism and migration, which were not ranked as major concerns for the majority of Belgians.

On more specific topics, like health, economy, migration and security, Belgians exhibit favorable views of how the EU covers these topics. 77% of Europeans are in favor of a common defense and security policy among Member States of the EU. This case is particularly high in Belgium as 89% respond positively to the idea of a common EU security and defense policy. More than half of Belgians (55%) are satisfied with the measures taken by their government to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, which is higher than the EU-average at 50%. 89% of Belgians said they had confidence in the medical staff and sector of Belgian, which equally surpass the EU-average of 78%.

Holger Mölder (TalTech, Tallinn University of Technology, Estonia)

The Eurobarometer Survey indicates that the majority of respondents is rather satisfied with their current economic situation including finances and employment if compared to EU average, but the number of people who see the economic situation worsening in the next year is higher (44%) than in EU (31%). Rising prices, inflation and cost of living are the biggest concerns the Estonian people face, but the number of people who have listed it as a priority issue is remarkably higher (71%) than EU average (41%). Another important issue is energy supply that is a big concern for Estonia (50%), but just a medium-range issue for EU average (11%). Trust in the EU has not changed and has remained relatively high (63%). Huge majority have identified themselves as EU citizens (82%). The Estonian people tend to trust media more than in EU, as even the majority of respondents recognizes the problem of false news and misrepresentation of reality, more people believes that this is not a problem in Estonia (32% compared to 17% in EU). All in all, there are no significant changes in attitudes towards the European Union, and the majority is rather positive. Biggest concerns are about future economic situation and energy supplies.

Lilla Toth and György Lengyel (Corvinus University of Budapest – CUB, Hungary) 

It is interesting that after all those anti-EU media discourses we have just analyzed, and the strong government propaganda, 58% of the Hungarians seem to trust in the EU, which is above the EU average (47%). The majority in Hungary (61%) are for a European economic and monetary union with one single currency, the euro, even though this country is out of the euro area. Among the Hungarian respondents, the EU conjured up a positive image for 47%, neutral for 40%, and a negative image for 13%.  In the case of the EU27, the ratios are as follows: 44, 38, and 17%. It is also important to note that the surveys had been done before the Ukrainian war broke out. 

Hungarians are over average optimists concerning the future of Europe and trust more in European institutions than the average. Out of the six EU-member states in the MEDIATIZED EU project,  four (Ireland, Portugal, Hungary and Estonia) have an over-average positive image of the EU, while in two (Spain and Belgium), the positive answers are below-average. The EU-average of positive image was 44 % in the Winter of 2021/22. In terms of negative images, just Belgium is above the average, and the rest of the countries mentioned are below or around the average 17%.

In total, 62% of the EU population were optimistic concerning the future of the EU and 35% were pessimistic. In this respect, only the population of Belgium was below-average optimistic out of the six EU members researched on.

Concerning the situation of the national economy, 59 % of the EU population evaluates the situation as bad and 39% as good. The population of Ireland, Estonia, Belgium and Hungary see the situation below-average bad, while that of Portugal and Spain, over-average. 69% of EU-population supports the Euro. In this respect, only Hungary (a non-Euro currency country) is below-average, but even here the 61% majority is for the introduction of the Euro.

As to problems, the most frequently mentioned issues in the EU were the environment and climate change, inflation and immigration. In the IE and EE energy supply, in Spain health and economic situation, in HU and PT the problem of member states public finances were additionally mentioned. When not the EU, but the country is at stake the most important issues the countries have to face with were inflation, health and the economy. In the IE housing, in BE energy supply, in ES unemployment are mentioned additionally. 

71 % of EU-population  feel as being citizen of the EU.  All the six sample-countries’ population feel over-average so. We have to keep this in mind when the generalizations of our research findings are discussed.

Around half of the EU-population was satisfied with the measures the EU and their respective countries took to fight the pandemic. The 6 sample countries  were over or around the average in terms of satisfaction (with the exception of Spain where the dissatisfaction with national efforts was slightly over average). 54 % of the EU-population considers the recovery plan of the EU as an effective measure against the pandemic. Most of the sample countries are over the average in this respect (especially IE), including HU, which up to now has not received the grants.

77 % of the EU-population would support a common defense and security policy and in this respect the 6 sample-countries didn’t differ significantly from the average, due to a ceiling-effect.

Tetyana Lokot (Dublin City University – DCU, Ireland)

Unsurprisingly, Irish opinions of the EU in the latest Eurobarometer remain above average in terms of a positive assessment of the general economic situation in the EU and in Ireland: 63% of Irish respondents see the current living conditions in their country as ‘good’ compared to an EU27 average of 39%. The Irish also have an optimistic outlook about the nearest future: 50% of Irish respondents think the economic situation in their country will be better in the next twelve months (up 6pp from the previous survey and compared to an EU average of 28%) and 41% think the economic situation in the EU will be better in the same period (compared to an EU average of 25%). 

Despite this positivity, the Irish public singles out rising costs/prices and housing as the two most important issues facing the country. While rising cost of living is an issue that dominates across the EU, housing is a uniquely Irish problem (seen as key by 50% of Irish citizens compared to an EU average of 9%) – this is reflective of the long-standing issue of housing provision and affordability in the country that has only gotten worse during the COVID-19 pandemic and has been exacerbated by inflation. Housing availability has also generated significant political debates within Ireland, and is likely to remain high on the agenda for local parties, government officials and lawmakers, as well as activists. Still, on a personal level, the Irish are aligned with the rest of the EU in that rising prices and health/healthcare are the two most salient issues that affect them personally.

Irish trust in the EU has decreased slightly (down 8pp from the last survey in 2021), yet remains high and above average (63% vs. EU27 average of 47%), with 71% of the Irish citizens stating the EU conjures a very positive or fairly positive image. Despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, 83% of the Irish respondents said they trust the EU to make the right decisions about the future given the Union’s response to the health crisis.

The Irish overwhelmingly feel like citizens of the EU (81% compared to EU27 average of 71%), and think they know their EU rights, yet would like to know more (72% and 72% respectively). More Irish respondents feel well informed about EU affairs (59% vs EU27 average of 35%) then not well informed (41% vs EU27 average of 64%), but the share of those feeling well informed fell by 5pp, where as the share of those feeling uninformed rose by the same 5pp. This points to a continuing trend of positive feelings about the EU coupled with a relative lack of substantive knowledge about EU affairs, identified in the MEDIATIZED EU historical desk research on Ireland. This should indicate to policymakers that more work is needed on raising awareness of EU affairs among EU citizens in countries like Ireland.

Despite some Irish citizens feeling less informed, they show support for EU values, even in the face of a major crisis such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Based on data from the Spring 2022 Special Eurobarometer of the European Parliament, 87% of Irish respondents feel the war has or will impact on their standard of living (in line with the EU27 average), but 62% say that common European values “such as freedom and democracy” must be a priority even at the cost of economic impacts, compared to an EU27 average of 59%. 86% of Irish respondents said EU membership was a good thing for Ireland, and 94% said common EU values uniting citizens were more important than their differences.

In terms of concerns about news media and disinformation, Irish respondents see mis- or disinformation as an issue for democracy in general (83% vs EU27 average of 81%) or for Ireland (75% vs EU27 average of 78%) to largely the same extent as their EU peers. More of the Irish population say they come across misleading or fake news and information (81% vs EU27 average of 70%), yet more of them say they find it easy to identify mis- or disinformation (69% vs EU27 average of 62%). This aligns broadly with the trends identified in the 2022 Digital News Report Ireland published by DCU’s Institute for Future Media, Democracy and Society and the Broadcasting Association of Ireland, which found that while Irish trust in media remained high, 58% of Irish news consumers were concerned about fake news and misinformation, compared to EU respondents in the DNR survey at 48%. Preserving trust in reliable media and giving EU citizens tools and skills to deal with misleading information, especially online, should remain the key priority for European policymakers in this space.

Maria Raquel Freire and Sofia José Santos (Centre for Social Studies – CES, Portugal)

Despite concerns regarding rising prices, inflation, cost of living, and health, Portugal is one of the countries whose public opinion continues to adopt a quite positive outlook concerning the EU (62%) and holds steady high confidence in European institutions (70% European Parliament; 70% European Commission; 68% European Central Bank; 69% European Council), even though we have witnessed a decrease from the previous year. Portuguese public opinion is generally satisfied with the functioning of democracy within the EU (74%) and feels that Portuguese interests are properly considered by the European Union (71%). Although more than 4 in 5 Portuguese consider themselves European citizens (a percentage higher than the European average) and Portuguese people show to be favourable to the integration process in areas such as free movement of citizens (91%) and trade policy (85%), the Portuguese population, nevertheless, is more suspicious concerning the enlargement of the EU, with only 59% of Portuguese population agreeing with it (a percentage still higher than the EU average: 47%).

One should take into consideration that these survey results are prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and that in a recent survey 86% of the Portuguese population considered Ukraine as part of the European family and 87% believed it should join the EU when it is ready (EP Spring 2022 Survey). We can, however, interpret that apprehension concerning enlargement might be due to the fact that the Portuguese population is aware of the fragilities of the country and its peripheral positioning, which may be worsened with an increase in the number of member states.

Portugal has consistently had one of the highest levels of trust towards international organisations (when compared to other populations of the EU member states), and the Portuguese have made a positive evaluation of the way the EU supported the country in dealing with the pandemic and subsequent economic crisis, but there is the sense of its own semi-peripheral and, therefore, more fragile position concerning the EU. In some way, the EU’s response to the pandemic and the Recovery and Resilience Plan can be seen as a time when Portugal reconciled with the EU as a pivotal actor within the Troika that was responsible for the period of austerity that hit the country from 2011 to 2015.  Indeed, as the survey states, Portugal appears to be now one of the most pro-European countries, just as it was before the Troika’s intervention in the country.

Gracia Abad (Nebrija University – UANE, Spain)

The analysis of the latest Eurobarometer data shows that the Spanish population continues to be markedly favourable to the European Union. As much as 81% of the Spanish population consider themselves EU citizens and up to 71% want to be better informed about their rights as EU citizens. In this regard, it is interesting to note that confidence in EU institutions is much higher (45%) than in domestic institutions (19% in the case of the parliament and 24% in the case of the government), which highlights the continuing dissatisfaction with the domestic political situation. In the same vein, a very high percentage of respondents were positive about the economic and monetary union (80%) and the same was true of the euro (59%), although it is true that opinion in the case of the latter was less positive.

It is also interesting to note that the main concern for Spaniards, above unemployment or price rises, is health, although it should be borne in mind that the data were collected before the start of the war in Ukraine and when the pandemic was still rather present. Here it is also worth mentioning that a very high percentage (83%) believe that it will not be possible to recover from the effects of the pandemic until 2023 or even later. On the other hand, it is also worth noting that, even in this area, the Spanish population has a positive view of the EU, with 66% believing that the EU took the right decisions in relation to the coronavirus.

Finally, it is worth noting that a very high percentage (73%) consider that they are not well informed about European affairs, while percentages ranging between 70% and 80% consider that false news are very abundant and/or news give a distorted idea of reality.

Media-wise, it is interesting to see that Portugal goes very much in line with most other EU member states’ populations concerning consumption patterns, but very little regarding media trust. As per this survey, on a daily (or almost daily) basis, 88% of the Portuguese population says they watch TV on a TV set (EU average: 77%), 39% listens to radio (EU average: 43%), 58% uses online social media (EU average: 42%) and 12% reads written press (EU average: 21%). Although trust in mass media has somewhat decreased and trust on the internet keeps low concerning the EU average, the Portuguese population is the only one, among member states, that most often showcases high trust in the media (40%). In fact, trust in media has increased in Portugal (TV: 71%, +10%; written press: 69%, +8%; internet: 44%, +11%; online social media 30%, +21%) and is higher than the EU average (TV: 49%; written press: 49%; internet: 35%; online social media 20%). However, despite a general perception of the media as trustworthy, 77% of the Portuguese respondents feel that they are not well-informed about European issues. In fact, this item holds the EU’s largest share in Portugal with 84%. This is not surprising data and actually resonates with the common perception that the EU, although cherished, is still an extremely bureaucratic and institutional figure, somehow distant from the daily lives of its citizens.

Image Source: EC – Audiovisual Service. Credit: Lukasz Kobus, (c) European Union, 2018.