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EU Leadership Earns More Fans Than Critics Worldwide

EU Leadership Earns More Fans Than Critics Worldwide

by Jan Sonnenschein

BRUSSELS -- Although the EU's leadership has drawn criticism for how it has handed the eurozone crisis, Gallup surveys in 125 countries between 2010 and 2011 show adults worldwide are twice as likely to approve (44%) than disapprove (22%) of its job performance. This approval varies: While majorities in sub-Saharan Africa support Brussels' leadership, those in the Middle East and North Africa are more critical.

Median worldwide approval of EU

The 44% approval of the EU's leadership worldwide generally tracks with approval of U.S. leadership, which Gallup surveys in 116 countries show stood at a median of 47% in 2010. The median 22% who disapprove of the EU and 29% who do not have opinion are also similar to the percentages who say the same about U.S. leadership, 21% and 24%, respectively.

EU Leadership Highly Popular in Sub-Saharan Africa

Approval of the EU's leadership is highest worldwide in sub-Saharan Africa, where a median of 72% approve of its job performance. Support ranges widely across the subcontinent, but never drops below a majority in any country. Previous Gallup surveys show sub-Saharan Africans tend to rate foreign leadership more positively than those in other regions overall. The biggest share of EU development aid goes to sub-Saharan Africa and Brussels grants preferential trade agreements to this region, which might help explain its popularity in this case.

Approval of EU in Sub-Saharan Africa

Approval Ratings Range Widely Across EU Countries

Within the EU itself, approval ratings of Brussels' leadership differ considerably. Luxembourgers are the most positive, with 64% saying they approve of the job performance of the EU's leadership. Approval in Greece (28%), where residents' well-being is suffering amid the unprecedented financial and economic crisis, is the lowest in the EU. Residents view the EU's leadership more positively in Ireland and Portugal, the other two eurozone members that have been bailed out so far. Irish and Portuguese respondents are about twice as likely to approve of the EU's leadership as to disapprove.

Approval of the EU in EU countries

Critical Evaluations in the Middle East and North Africa

Respondents in the Middle East and North Africa region are generally less supportive of the EU's leadership, with approval ranging from a high of 47% in Morocco to a low of 12% in Iran. Libya, Iraq, and Morocco are the only countries in the region where respondents are more likely to approve of the EU's leadership than to say the opposite.

Approval of EU in the Middle East and North Africa

Majorities of respondents in five countries or areas disapprove of the EU's leadership: Lebanon (62%), Turkey (60%), Syria (58%), Algeria (56%), and the Palestinian Territories (56%). Turkey merits special attention as it is a candidate country for EU membership. Turkish resentment of the EU's leadership may reflect the difficult accession negotiations and the opposition of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy to Turkey's EU membership bid.

EU's Leadership Largely Unknown Elsewhere

Approval ranges widely too in former Soviet Union countries, from slim majorities in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to less than one-quarter approving in Kyrgyzstan and Russia. Sizable percentages, however, do not know enough about the EU's leadership to offer an opinion, including majorities in Kyrgyzstan (56%) and Russia (53%). Except in these two countries, respondents in the region tend to approve rather than disapprove.

Approval of the EU in former Soviet Union countries

The leadership of the EU also remains an unknown in many Asian countries. In India and Laos, roughly three-quarters of respondents do not know enough about the EU's leadership to voice an opinion. Afghans stand out in that 9 in 10 share their views on the EU's leadership, with about a quarter approving and two-thirds disapproving of it -- one of the highest disapproval ratings worldwide. In Asia, Singaporeans are by far the most positive about the EU's leadership -- 66% approve and 13% disapprove.

Approval of the EU in Asia

At least half of residents in most countries in the Americas -- with the exception of the U.S., Canada, and a handful of others -- have no opinion about the EU's leadership. Across the region, however, adults with an opinion on the EU's leadership are more inclined to approve than disapprove. Mexicans, Argentines, and U.S. adults are divided about the EU leadership's job performance, with similar proportions approving and disapproving.

Approval of the EU in the Americas


Being the world's largest economy, but without the political and military power of the U.S., the EU has often been called an "economic giant, a political dwarf, and military worm." Gallup's data confirm that in many countries in the Americas, the former Soviet Union, and Asia, the EU's leadership has not earned any type of reputation with much of the public. However, compared with the relatively high shares of adults worldwide who were not able to offer an opinion on the leadership of the U.S., the EU does not fare badly. It remains to be seen whether the recently established European External Action Service, an EU department established in 2009 to serve as a foreign ministry of the EU, will be able to boost the EU's leadership in those world regions where it is not a visible actor yet.

Gallup's findings also suggest that EU diplomats need to find new strategies for dealing with the latest developments in the Middle East and North Africa to improve the image of the EU's leadership in this rapidly changing region. Finally, finding a durable solution to the eurozone crisis, which poses an increasing threat to the global economy, would likely be a viable strategy to improve the EU's leadership image worldwide.

For complete data sets or custom research from the more than 150 countries Gallup continually surveys, please contact or call 202.715.3030.

Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face and telephone interviews with approximately 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted throughout 2010 and 2011 in 125 counties. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error ranges from ± 1.7 percentage points to ±5.7 percentage points. The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For more complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup's Country Data Set details.

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