20th May 2019
Majority of voters fear the EU could collapse in the next 10 to 20 years
Levels of support for membership of the European Union are currently high, but so too is pessimism about the future of the European project.
This week – from 23rd to 26th May – the next European Parliament election takes place; the ninth since direct elections began 40 years ago. 751 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) will represent more than half a billion people from 28 member states. The United Kingdom is now due to participate alongside other EU member states, following an extension of the Article 50 process.
Despite record support for the European Union (EU), voters are fearful for its future. Many believe this could be one of the last times that they get to vote in European Parliament (EP) elections, because the EU may soon cease to exist, according to a major new poll. The survey was conducted by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) and based on YouGov polling in 14 member states that constitute 80% of seats in the European Parliament.
Two-thirds of Europeans have positive feelings towards the EU, the highest support since 1983. Yet, according to the ECFR/YouGov poll, a majority of voters fear the EU could collapse in the next 10 to 20 years. As many as one-third of voters in France and Poland and over a quarter in Germany believe that war between EU member states is a “realistic possibility” in the coming decade.
The survey reveals that almost 92% of voters think they would lose out if the EU collapsed. Top of their list of concerns are the ability to trade, travel and work in other EU countries, alongside unity on security and defence matters to counter threats from other superpowers.
"The challenge for pro-Europeans is to use this fear of loss to mobilise their silent majority and ensure that it is not just the anti-system parties who get their say on 26th May," said Mark Leonard, co-author and Founding Director of the ECFR. "Pro-Europeans need to offer voters bold ideas for change that emotionally resonate and make the silent majority feel it is worth turning out at the end of May. It is not yet too late – with a volatile electorate, there are up to 97 million voters who could still be persuaded to vote for different parties."
Across Europe, three quarters of voters feel that politics is broken at the national or EU levels, or both. Contrary to stereotypes of youthful optimism, analysis of the survey shows the highest proportion of voters fearful of conflict in the EU fall within the age brackets 18-24 and 25-34 – with 46% of young voters in France, ages 18-24, worried about this eventuality.
Economic anxiety is rife in the EU, with housing, unemployment and living costs among the biggest concerns. Voters are also worried about big business taking advantage of ordinary working people, with Spanish (71%), Hungarian (70%), French (69%), Polish (69%) and Romanian (66%) voters being those expressing the most concern.
Climate change is a key issue, with Italian (74%), Hungarian (73%), Austrian (66%), French (64%), Spanish (63%), Polish (62%) and German (61%) voters seeing it as a major threat that should take priority over other issues.
Fear of nationalism is as widespread as fear of migration, in key countries such as Austria, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain. The poll data also shows that voters who care about nationalism are more likely to turn out than those who fear migration.
"The challenge now is for pro-European parties to reconnect with voters who retain a belief that the European project is a good thing but feel that the system is broken, showing them that voting is a worthwhile thing to do, with the issues they care about for the future in mind," said Susi Dennison, Senior Policy Fellow and Director of the European Power programme at ECFR. "For real inspiration, pro-Europeans need to look beyond the party system. Think Greta Thunberg, or the Gilets Jaunes – these movements use the logic of conflict, but with a progressive message. Political parties need to show that they recognise the deep rift between voters and parties and offer a vision of a European future that makes the silent majority feel it is worth coming out to vote at the end of May."