Perceptions and Expectations of European Citizens and What Europe Should Do about It

Armanda Cetrulo
My name is Armanda. I am 25 years old and a student of Economics at the University of Bologna, Italy.

On 22-25 of May 2014, citizens of the 28 EU Member States will be asked to cast their vote in the election of 751 Members of European Parliament. It is, however, not self-evident that all European citizens are actually aware of their rights and of their power to decide. In fact, as reported by the most recent Eurobarometer, only 54% of Europeans know that MEPs are elected directly by the citizens of each Member State; whereas 29% think otherwise and 17% do not know. In particular, respondents in Malta, Cyprus and Greece are the most informed whereas Germany, Italy and France are below the European average.

This lack of information can be another crucial influential factor in the upcoming elections, since it may foster the sense of disillusion and criticism on the European ability to “act-react-impact”.

Since the beginning of the crisis, economic and social conditions in many countries have seriously worsened and, as underlined here, the gap between north and south has widened whereas a common analysis of the crisis has not yet been made.

Nowadays economic data on GDP, unemployment, spread and fiscal spending not only represent inevitable topics in quotidian discussions among people of different ages and social backgrounds, they are also shaping the perception of the crisis, the direction of hopes and aspirations. From this perspective, it is compelling to observe how expectations differ across countries, and reinforce the idea of a north-south division.

The vast majority of citizens in northern countries consider the employment situation as “total good”, whereas the vast majority of citizen in the south consider it as “total bad”.  (1)

The feeling that the quality of life and the prospect of their own countries is better in their country than the EU average is exceptionally widespread in northern European countries (Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Luxembourg and, to a lesser extent, Belgium) and in Austria and Germany; whereas the vast majority of southern citizens evaluate their own national condition as “total less good” than the average.

Moreover, the general assessment of Europe is distressing: an absolute majority of Europeans considers unemployment and the economic condition as the two principal issues that Europe should face but a large part of them thinks that the EU is not creating the conditions for more jobs (2) and almost two-thirds of Europeans (63%) deem the EU responsible for austerity.

As a consequence, the sense of European citizenship has suffered badly, and mostly among older and less educated people, Europe means predominantly “bureaucracy” and “waste of money”. Furthermore, a massive lost of trust towards European Institutions is recorded, with the EBC being distrusted for the first time by the majority of EU citizens during spring 2013 (51%). (3)
However, even this bleak outlook offers a lifeline to cling to as nine in ten Europeans would like to see more cooperation between the EU Member States in order to tackle the economic and financial crisis. Cooperation, solidarity, regulation of financial markets, creation of jobs and fair conditions among countries are the most frequent citizens’ requests. Therefore, only a powerful reversal of current policies taken by EU institutions (not just the Parliament, which does not have all the power) could reduce the disproportion between conditions and expectations of citizens, which makes it hard to believe in a “social and integrated Europe”. Some measures have finally come about with difficulties and embarrassing delay (Banking Union), others are too weak (Youth
Guarantee Programme), many others are still lacking. These are some of the issues, we want to discuss in Brussels on 7th of May.

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Endnotes

(1) In four Member States, a majority of respondents are positive about the national employment situation: Germany (60%), Malta (53%), Luxembourg (53%) and Denmark (52%).However, respondents are predominantly negative in 24 countries, and the percentage of negative answers reaches 90% or more in 12 of them: Greece (99%), Cyprus (98%), Croatia (98%), Spain (97%), Portugal and Slovenia (both 97%), Italy (96%), Bulgaria (95%), France (94%) and Slovakia (94%), Romania (93%) and Ireland (90%) (Eurobarometer 80/November 2013).
(2)
The EU’s role in employment is perceived negatively in 13 countries, most notably in France (68%), Greece (64%), Spain (64%), Italy (64%), Cyprus (62%) and Portugal (60%), all countries with an unemployment rate higher than the EU28 average.
(3)
In the most recent  Eurobarometer (80/2013) the perecntage  of distrust in the ECB has dropped slightly to 49%.

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