Shock new poll shows that 49 per cent are "indifferent" to the EU

The search for urgent solutions to Europe’s malaise formed the focus of Friends of Europe’s annual State of Europe debate, which drew over 200 influential figures to brainstorm on issues ranging from immigration to boosting inclusive growth.

“We should look at the question of whether Europe matters to the world and whether the world matters to Europe,” said Louise Arbour, UN Special Representative for International Migration, at the opening session of the 15th edition of the high-level roundtable.

Participants examined policy reforms and ways to better promote policies to win back disillusioned voters. The scale of the problem was highlighted by a new Friends of Europe survey that showed 64% of Europeans are not convinced that their lives would be worse without the EU and 49% believe the EU is irrelevant.

“We are totally convinced that we will not build Europe if we don’t have more Europe and better Europe,” said Muriel Pénicaud, French Minister of Labour. “If you ask citizens, they don’t think Europe protects them. They don’t think Europe listens to them. They don’t think Europe serves them.”

Several participants spoke of the need for a strengthened social contract to improve the lives of European citizens, particularly the young.

“Inclusive growth is actually what citizens want, it’s a key ingredient for the survival of our social contract,” said Jacques Bughin, Senior Partner at McKinsey & Company and Director at the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI). “Europe has the power to continue to remain a welfare state.”

Europe needs to up its game in promoting successful policies and making sure the public understands the positive impact of what the EU is doing. “Marketing is not the EU’s overriding strength,” said Marijke Mars, Board Member of Mars Incorporated. “We need to convey our brand message every day … I’m convinced that brand Europe can recapture its market share in citizens’ hearts and minds.”

In particular, Europeans need to take on populist politicians and tackle disinformation campaigns that risk undermining liberal democracies. Fast action is needed, given the approach of the European Parliament elections next year, cautioned Ricken Patel, President and Executive Director of Avaaz.

“There’s one thing I’m afraid off: disinformation, that has knee-capped us in previous elections. Disinformation is a blitzkrieg,” Patel warned. “This is a fundamental threat … they destabilise our societies. We have to mobilize.”

Europeans aren’t sure the EU is working for them, according to a poll commissioned by Brussels-based think tank, Friends of Europe. Trust and ownership are key issues, with more than a third of Europeans calling for more transparency in how the EU is spending money, and 41% wanting to vote on EU-wide policy decisions. The ray of hope? Under 35-year olds are the Union’s biggest supporters, with 41% thinking their life would be worse without it.

“Without change and reform, the EU will remain irrelevant to a majority of its citizens,” adds Pascal Lamy, Trustee of Friends of Europe.

Other key highlights from the survey of over 10,000 citizens include:

When asked to choose what the main purpose of the EU should be

27% chose ‘Value Setter’: an EU that promotes values and democracy across Europe 22% chose ‘Global Balancer’: an EU that gives Europe a bigger say in world affairs 31% chose ‘Market Maker’: an EU that improves economic growth for EU member states 10% chose ‘Transacter’: an EU that limits its focus to a free market for goods and services in Europe 11% chose none of the given options

Europeans don’t want ‘less Europe’

90% of EU citizens feel that the EU should be more than just a single market 81% of EU citizens don’t think the EU should prioritise leaving more decision-making to national governments, which suggests that national sovereignty isn’t an issue for the majority

Europeans want the EU to focus on policies they care about Keeping peace, creating jobs and tackling climate change are the core actions the EU should prioritise according to a plurality of Europeans

The results show that there is consistency of view across citizens, regardless of age, gender, education and urban or rural splits of what the key issues are for the EU to contend with and what it should be about.

The citizen survey is part of the organisation’ campaign – a 12-month project that will culminate in a set of concrete policy recommendations and a call to action ahead of the European elections to align the future we face with the future we want. The results were unveiled today at the organisation’s annual high-level flagship roundtable, State of Europe.

The survey, commissioned by Friends of Europe and conducted by Dalia in September 2018, polled 10,960 citizens.

The State of Europe debate was held in the context of #EuropeMatters is a 12-month project bringing together business leaders, policymakers, civil society representatives and citizens to co-design a Europe that still matters in years ahead. Using data across a range of fields, Friends of Europe developed a series of scenarios, envisioning a European Union from a 2030-perspective. These were, along with the citizen survey results, factored into the brainstorm discussions throughout State of Europe.

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Martin Banks

Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a highly qualified journalist with many years experience of working within the EU institutions. He is an occasional, and highly valued, contributor to EU today, writing on a wide variety of issues.

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