Poll: Image boost for EU but institutions still unknown
by Daniel Mason
People's impression of the European Union has improved in recent months, a new Eurobarometer survey has found – though it also revealed a mixed picture of citizens' knowledge of the EU's institutions. Meanwhile it showed that most people thought reducing unemployment was more important than bringing down member states' debts.
The survey, commissioned by the European Parliament, was carried out in June and sought the views of more than 26,000 Europeans across all 27 member states. It found that 40 per cent of respondents had a positive impression of the EU – an increase of 9 per cent since the previous poll in November. At the same time those with a negative view have fallen three points to 26 per cent.
Martin Schulz, president of the parliament, described the findings were "encouraging". "The current economic and financial crisis demonstrates that we need solutions at supranational level," he said. "The EU is a unique project worldwide with law-making power that can offer such solutions, where individual measures at individual state level would not suffice. Citizens recognise this."
Some 50 per cent of people said their country's membership of the EU was a good thing, compared with 16 per cent who thought it was a bad thing and 31 per cent who saw it as neither good nor bad. Nevertheless, 54 per cent said their voices were not heard in the EU. A majority of 57 per cent said voting in EU parliament elections was the best way of making their views known.
People in the newest member states, Bulgaria and Romania, which joined in 2007, had the best impression of the EU, with 61 per cent and 58 per cent respectively saying they had a positive view. Conversely 36 per cent of respondents in the United Kingdom had a negative opinion of the EU compared with just 22 per cent who saw it in positive light.
There was still a lack of knowledge about the union, though. A third of those asked could not name any of the EU's institutions off the top of their head. The best known institution was the parliament, identified by 53 per cent, followed by the European Central Bank and the European Commission. In non-eurozone countries the commission was better known than the ECB. Three out of four people did not know the procedure for appointing the commission president.
The results made better reading for the EU when people were prompted by true or false statements. In this scenario, more than half of people knew that the MEPs were elected by direct universal suffrage, that the EU budget was adopted jointly by the parliament and member states, that EU laws needed the agreement of MEPs and national governments, and that not all member states had the same number of members in parliament.
However, almost half of people, 48 per cent, could not identify the date of the parliament's next election in June 2014. A quarter knew the month and/or year while 27 per cent got the date wrong entirely. More than 50 per cent said they were more likely to vote if European political parties put forward candidates for president of the commission. Still, a large majority of 71 per cent said they thought the parliament played an important role in the working of the EU – though that represented a six point fall since November 2011.
Meanwhile a large majority of people, 72 per cent, said that jobs and combating unemployment should be among the EU's top priorities. Reducing the debts of member states came a distant second, chosen by 37 per cent of respondents. In Germany, though, reducing debts came top of the poll, with 65 per cent saying it should be the EU's priority.
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