Blog Post

European spring – Trust in the EU and democracy is recovering

Trust in the EU and satisfaction with democracy are returning in southern European countries, where citizens’ confidence in European institutions was dented during the crisis years.

By: and Date: March 24, 2017 Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance

Increased support for populistic movements in the world’s richer countries is typically explained by two types of disappointment: economic insecurity and cultural backlash. Economic insecurity is fuelled by various factors, such as increased unemployment, slow wage growth or even wage drops, fears of ‘robotisation’, and cuts in social support through fiscal austerity programmes. At the same time, globalisation, immigration and terrorist threats might be feeding the backlash against “other” cultures, foreigners, and elites in citizens’ own countries.

Citizens’ perceptions of these issues can interact, and are simultaneously influenced by various other factors. So it is difficult to draw clear inferences about what is causing what.

Much can be read about this loss of trust and dissatisfaction with democracy. However, this is not the whole story. As Europe marks the 60th anniversary of the Rome Treaty, we can also see some positive developments: trust in the EU and satisfaction with democracy have actually been recovering for about three years now in southern Europe, where such trust had fallen the most compared to the other European countries (Figure 1).

Figure 1 highlights that between 2002-08, trust in the EU, support for the euro, and satisfaction with democracy both in the EU and in home countries were more or less stable in four southern euro countries.
After 2009, there was a dramatic and simultaneous plunge in EU trust and satisfaction with democracy, which was already reported some years ago by Silvia Merler. This went along with other related changes, such as the increased association of the EU with unemployment.

This fall in trust in 2009-13 was very worrying. Democracy is the fundamental principle on which the EU is built. Low satisfaction with democracy might fuel populistic movements, which tend to offer solutions to complex problems which look simple, but are ultimate inadequate to improve citizens’ lives. Weakened trust in the EU might also damage cohesion within the EU and undermine governments’ desire and ability to find common solutions to common European problems.

However, Figure 1 shows that since 2013 trust in the EU and satisfaction with democracy have been increasing in southern Europe. The current level of these indicators is still below the values observed before the crisis, yet the change in the trend is reassuring. 2013 was the turning point in unemployment too (Figure 2), so we cannot exclude the hypothesis that economic problems were important reasons behind the loss of trust in the EU and democracy in 2009-13, while improved labour market conditions might increase trust.

At the same time, it is remarkable that support for the euro remained at a high level in southern euro members and suffered little during the crisis. This may suggests that southern euro citizens consider euro membership useful, and when they face problems, they turn their negative views towards the EU and politics, reflected in lower satisfaction with democracy.

Finally, the interactive chart below allows you to see the data for each of the 28 EU member states separately.

There is a large heterogeneity both in the level and changes of citizens’ perceptions across the EU. Some interesting points:

  • Trust in the EU has increased in the United Kingdom after the Brexit referendum, albeit from a low level;
  • Trust in the EU and satisfaction with democracy are gradually falling in France;
  • The euro is becoming even more popular in Germany, while trust in the EU has only slightly recovered;
  • Satisfaction with democracy at home is the highest in Nordic countries: Denmark, Sweden and Finland;
  • In all 13 new member states that joined the EU in 2004-13, satisfaction with home democracy has consistently been (much) lower than satisfaction with EU democracy, while the 15 older member states are mixed in this regard;
  •  At the same time, satisfaction with home democracies is on an upward trend since the crisis in Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia;
  • Support for the euro is lower now than a decade ago in those new member states that have not yet joined the single currency: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Croatia, Hungary, Poland, and Romania – the same applies to Denmark and Sweden too;
  • Support for the euro is at or close to its highest level in six new member states that have introduced the common currency: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Slovakia and Slovenia. This result, together with the previous point, suggests that euro area citizens are actually happy with euro membership, but the attractiveness of the euro has declined in the ‘outs’.

Republishing and referencing

Bruegel considers itself a public good and takes no institutional standpoint. Anyone is free to republish and/or quote this post without prior consent. Please provide a full reference, clearly stating Bruegel and the relevant author as the source, and include a prominent hyperlink to the original post.

View comments
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

Green bonds: who is to certify ‘sustainability’?

Poland’s issue of a green bond earlier this month was the country’s second financing of this type, and the first ever repeat issue by a sovereign. It has revived the debate as to whether there should be a single regulatory standard to certify the environmental quality of financial assets. This will be a key issue for the EU’s sustainable finance strategy which is due to be released shortly.

By: Alexander Lehmann Topic: Finance & Financial Regulation Date: February 19, 2018
Read about event More on this topic

Upcoming Event

Feb
27
12:30

Bruegel - Financial Times Forum: The future of euro-area governance

The third event in the Bruegel - Financial Times Forum series will look into the future of euro-area governance.

Speakers: Maria Demertzis, Gideon Rachman, Manfred Weber and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

Trust in the EU? The key obstacle to reform

The challenges that Europe faces both from within and from outside require immediate, concerted counter-efforts. While efforts to advance the European economic architecture are desirable and useful, can Europe realistically attempt to integrate further on the basis of such little trust?

By: Maria Demertzis Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: February 9, 2018
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Podcast

Podcast

European Parliament: More representative post-Brexit?

Bruegel director Guntram Wolff features in this episode of 'The Sound of Economics', highlighting how a reallocation of seats in the European Parliament following Brexit provides the opportunity to make the institution more representative of EU citizens.

By: The Sound of Economics Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: February 5, 2018
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

Difficulties and opportunities in reallocating European Parliament seats after Brexit

The European Parliament must carefully consider the reallocation of seats after Brexit, allowing for a potential shift in political alignment and working within parameters already agreed with Member States.

By: Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: February 5, 2018
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Opinion

Your job description, Mr. Centeno

Here’s how you run the Eurogroup.

By: Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: January 30, 2018
Read article Download PDF More on this topic

Blueprint

People on the move: migration and mobility in the European Union

Migration is one of the most divisive policy topics in today’s Europe. In this publication, the authors assess the immigration challenge that the EU faces, analyse public perceptions, map migration patterns in the EU and review the literature on the economic impact of immigration to reflect on immigration policies and the role of private institutions in fostering integration.

By: Uuriintuya Batsaikhan, Zsolt Darvas and Inês Goncalves Raposo Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: January 22, 2018
Read article Download PDF More on this topic

External Publication

Reconciling risk sharing with market discipline: A constructive approach to euro area reform

This publication, written by a group of independent French and German economists, proposes six reforms which, if delivered as a package, would improve the Eurozone’s financial stability, political cohesion, and potential for delivering prosperity to its citizens, all while addressing the priorities and concerns of participating countries.

By: Agnès Bénassy-Quéré, Markus K. Brunnermeier, Henrik Enderlein, Emmanuel Farhi, Marcel Fratzscher, Clemens Fuest, Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas, Philippe Martin, Jean Pisani-Ferry, Hélène Rey, Isabel Schnabel, Nicolas Véron, Beatrice Weder di Mauro and Jeromin Zettelmeyer Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: January 17, 2018
Read article Download PDF More on this topic

External Publication

Analysis of development in EU capital flows in the global context

The monitoring and analysis of capital movements is essential for policymakers, given that capital flows can have welfare implications. This report, commissioned by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union, aims to analyse capital movements in the European Union in a global context.

By: Grégory Claeys, Maria Demertzis, Konstantinos Efstathiou, Inês Goncalves Raposo, Pia Hüttl and Alexander Lehmann Topic: Finance & Financial Regulation Date: January 15, 2018
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

Bad News and Good News for the Single Resolution Board

A first report on a key plank of the European Union’s banking union reflects on shortcomings thus far, but also suggests that recent improvements might ultimately lead the SRB to be successful in its critical missions.

By: Nicolas Véron Topic: Finance & Financial Regulation Date: January 15, 2018
Read article More on this topic

Blog Post

Does the European Parliament miss an opportunity to reform after Brexit?

While Brexit negotiations are beginning to progress, the European Parliament is preparing to vote on the possible reallocation of seats following the UK's departure. With many of the current proposals reflecting Member States' concerns about losing seats, this paper advocates for options that could better achieve equality of representation even within the constraints of the EU treaties.

By: Robert Kalcik, Nicolas Moës and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: January 10, 2018
Read article Download PDF More by this author

Policy Contribution

European Parliament

Bank liquidation in the European Union: clarification needed

Critical functions and public interest. What role do they play in Member States’ decision to grant liquidation aid? The author of this paper looks at how resolution and liquidation differ substantially when it comes to the scope of legislation applicable to the use of public funds and how the diversity in national insolvency regimes is a source of uncertainty about the outcome of liquidation procedures.

By: Silvia Merler Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance, European Parliament, Finance & Financial Regulation, Testimonies Date: January 10, 2018
Load more posts