How Do Citizens See the European Union?

Written by | Friday, January 23rd, 2015

Virginie Timmerman (Notre Europe – Jacques Delors Institute)

What do European citizens appreciate and what bothers them about the European Union? In which countries is the EU perceived positively and in which negatively?

To answer these questions, a survey of a representative sample involving the citizens of eighteen EU Member States has been conducted. The participants in the survey were asked about their EU associations. On the basis of their reactions, it is possible to divide the states in three distinct 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 people, followed by European values, funding, and free movement of goods and capital, i.e. the single market. EU citizens thus mostly appreciate the possibilities of easier travelling, not only as tourists, but also as workers or students. In addition, they also appreciate more abstract values, such as the idea of a community consisting of different countries and cultures, and the EU’s ability to secure peace, or solidarity. In the countries of the former Eastern bloc and Greece, funding coming from the EU’s structural and other funds, which is designed to boost the development of infrastructure and encourage entrepreneurship, etc., is also seen positively.

On the other hand, what bothers the Europeans about the EU? The most frequently mentioned aspect is excessive regulation. The EU citizens overall perceive the ambitions of regulations as surreal and, therefore, often being a source of absurdities. The regulation is also widely seen as something which only deepens the inequalities among individual states and which usurps sovereignty in matters which they consider as being of internal nature. Another widely mentioned negative aspect is the high degree of bureaucracy. Ineffective functioning and the feeling of alienation between the EU and its citizens are attributed to this factor. As a result, the ordinary citizens are incapable of comprehending the overly complicated bureaucratization of EU institutions.

(The study can be downloaded here:

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