In early 2014, 157 citizens from 18 European Union Member States took part in a survey whose aim was to discuss their visions of the EU and their access to the EU. The participants met in discussion groups that were organized by the OPTEM network. Notre Dame, a leading European think-tank, has recently published a study that analyses the available data, highlighting some important findings. On the basis of the participants’ reactions, it is possible to divide the EU Member States in three categories: states, where a positive attitude towards the EU prevails (Sweden, Poland, Ireland, Estonia, Malta, and Romania); states, whose citizens perceive the EU rather negatively (Great Britain, Czech Republic, Spain, Italy, and Greece); and finally states, whose citizens have mixed opinions about the EU (Latvia, Germany, Netherlands, France, Austria, Hungary, and Bulgaria).
Among the most frequently mentioned positive aspects of European integration was the free movement of persons, followed by European values, funding, and free movement of goods and capital, i.e. the single market. The EU citizens thus mostly appreciate the possibilities of travelling made easier, not only as tourists, but also as employees or students. In addition, they can also appreciate more abstract values, such as the idea of a community consisting of different countries and cultures, the ability to secure peace, or solidarity. In the countries of the former eastern bloc and Greece, the funding from the European funds, which brings the development of infrastructure, entrepreneurship, etc., is also seen positively.
On the other hand, what bothers the citizens about the EU? The most frequently mentioned aspect is excessive regulation. According to the citizens, the ambitions underlying the regulations are surreal and, therefore, often a source of absurdities. Regulations are also perceived as something which only deepens the inequalities among individual states and which usurps sovereignty in affairs which are seen as internal. Another widely mentioned negative aspect is the high degree of EU bureaucracy. Ineffective functioning and the feeling of alienation between the EU and its citizens are seen as attributing to this factor. As a result, the ordinary citizens are incapable of comprehending the overly complicated bureaucratization of the Union.