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Major changes in European public opinion with regard to the EU (2016 edition)

Major changes in European public opinion with regard to the European Union (2016 edition)


This desk research is dedicated to the major changes in European public opinion with regard to the EU since 1973, the year in which the Eurobarometer was introduced.

The results are presented on a timeline, in order to measure the perception Europeans have of the EU through its major steps, being institutional, political, economic and social. This is the third edition of the first version published in 2014 and updated with the results of the 2015 and 2016 Eurobarometer surveys.

The main findings about public opinion's evolution for over 40 years (from 1973 to 2016) show how it may evolve both upwards and downwards.

  • 1. Major institutional and political events in the EU generally improve public perceptions of the Union. This is particularly true of enlargements and elections to the European Parliament every 5 years.
  • 2. In spite of the various crises, Europeans are clearly attached to Europe when it comes to EU related fundamental issues.
    1. Since 1973, the feeling that membership of the EU is a “good thing” remains in a majority, also during the crisis.
    3. Since 1983 and reaching a peak in 2015 and 2016, a majority of respondents have felt their country has benefited from membership of the EU.One may observe that the results to these two questions may vary greatly across Member States.
    5. The view that what unites the citizens of the Member States is more important than what divides them is clearly held by a majority of Europeans.
    6. The next surveys should allow us to better analyse the impact Brexit may have on European opinion.

  • 3. The analysis over time shows the overriding influence of the economic and social context on public opinion. This is very well illustrated by the financial and economic crisis which began in 2008, prompting a sharp decline in indicators of support for the EU, they have started to increase for the last two years though.
    1. Unsurprisingly, since autumn 2008, the economic situation in Europe has been judged increasingly ‘bad’ by Europeans, and this reached a low point in autumn 2011. Since then, however, the number of respondents viewing the economic situation positively has risen more or less continuously across the surveys.
    3. Trust in the European Union deteriorated from spring 2010. After recovering in autumn 2014, it fell back again from autumn 2015
    5. At the same time, there was a significant deterioration of the EU’s image between autumn 2011 and autumn 2013, when the economic and financial crisis became a Member State public debt crisis. From autumn 2013, the number of respondents having a positive image of the EU was gaining ground until spring 2015, before falling back again slightly until spring 2016
    4. The fight against terrorism and the immigration became two of the main Europeans’ concerns in 2015 and 2016: Respectively fifth and sixth amongst the top citizens’ concerns in June 2013, they were the second and the third one in autumn 2016.

NB: Please note that the analysis is based on the European average of the Member States which made up the EU at the time the various surveys were conducted. This average is weighted in order to reflect the population of each of the Member States. Readers should bear in mind that in today's Europe of 28 Member States, the six most populated countries make up 70% of the EU average.

Further information:
The EP and the expectations of European citizens

The European Parliament regularly commissions surveys on public opinion in the 28 Member States.

These surveys cover a wide range of issues, focusing primarily on the European citizens' knowledge of the European Parliament, their perceptions of the EU and its main challenges, their expectations in view of the European elections, the European Parliament and the European integration in general.

The analysis of the results is meant to ensure the most complete overview of national evolutions, regional specificities, as well as socio-demographic differences and historical trends.