BRUSSELS -- In 2013, the leadership of the European Union earned some of its lowest approval ratings in Europe from residents living in several countries that the EU bailed out financially. In Spain and Greece, approval levels hit record lows, suggesting that residents are connecting austerity measures and the economic hardship they impose with the EU's leadership.
Although it suffered double-digit losses in support in countries such as Cyprus and Spain (the latter of which exited the bailout program at the end of 2013), low approval of the EU's leadership was not limited to bailout countries. Fewer than one in three approved of the EU's leadership in the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, and Sweden.
At the other end of the spectrum are Luxembourg, Germany, and Belgium, where a majority of residents approve of EU leadership. Approval has remained relatively high in Germany, which many observers see as one of the economic and political leaders of the EU, and in Belgium and Luxembourg, where many of the EU institutions are located. Even in these countries, however, at least one in five disapprove.
EU Loses Support From Its Traditional Approval Base
Europeans between the ages of 15 and 30 are and have been, on average, the most likely to support the EU's leadership. In 2011, a majority of young people in only a handful of countries disapproved of the EU's leadership. In 2013, the youngest generation continued to be the most likely to approve of EU leadership compared with the older age groups. In 14 EU countries, a majority of this youngest group approved of EU leadership.
Despite continued approval of EU leadership among the younger generation, recent developments appear to have negatively affected young peoples' perceptions of the EU. In 2013, approval of EU leadership declined among the youngest group in several countries, including some of the bailout countries where the EU-imposed austerity measures have disproportionately affected the younger generation's job prospects and economic well-being.
In 2013, unemployment rates among 25- to 29-year-olds reached new heights of 41% in Greece, 34% in Spain, 22% in Portugal, 20% in Italy, and 16% in Ireland, according to Eurostat and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data. The situation is even worse for the 15 to 24 age group. On Nov. 12, 2013, leaders from 24 European countries met in Paris to pledge their commitment to tackling youth unemployment through training and job creation. It remains to be seen whether their efforts will have an effect on young peoples' experiences and support of EU leadership.
Economic insecurity has weakened support for EU leadership among residents in many European countries since 2008. Disapproval is clearest in the bailout countries where the EU has imposed austerity policies, compounding the economic hardships individuals were already experiencing from the financial and economic crisis.
But the problem is not merely economic. Individuals' sense of disconnect from EU power is clear from the dwindling turnouts in EU elections, an ongoing trend since the first popular vote to elect EU officials in 1979.
Concerns about immigration voiced in the media and the rise in popularity of radical right-wing parties and movements in Austria, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, and the Netherlands indicate that a sizable segment of the public sees the EU as unable to provide satisfactory responses to their concerns.
For complete data sets or custom research from the more than 150 countries Gallup continually surveys, please contact us.
Results for 2013 are based on telephone and face-to-face interviews with approximately 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, per country per year between April and July. In Cyprus, excluding the Turkish-controlled areas in the north, Gallup conducted 500 interviews per year. The 2013 data from Germany are based on 750 phone interviews.
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 a low of ±3.5 percentage points to a high of ±5.3 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.