Prague, Czech Republic – This month, the Visegrad Group countries, along with six other Central and Eastern European states, celebrate the 15th anniversary of their EU membership. A few weeks ahead of crucial European Parliament elections whose outcome will shape the bloc for the years to come, an EU-wide Eurobarometer survey sheds some light on those countries’ perception of the EU. Here are the key takeaways.
Has the EU membership been beneficial?
According to the European Parliament’s Spring 2019 Barometer, a wide majority of Europeans view the EU in a positive light: 68% of respondents believe their country has benefited from being part of the EU, the highest level recorded since 1983. Only 23% of European citizens disagree with this statement and believe EU membership hasn’t been beneficial to their respective countries.
While the lowest level is found in Italy, where only 41% of citizens think their country has benefited from the EU, Central Europe appears overwhelmingly positive on the issue: 86% of Poles (where pro-EU sentiment has skyrocketed in recent years), 78% of Hungarians and Slovaks… and only 58% of Czechs (a drop of 6 percentage points compared to six months ago) view their 2004 EU accession as a positive development.
Is the EU a good or a bad thing?
Although more than half of EU respondents (61%) label the EU as ‘a good thing’, its peak in more than 25 years, uncertainty is growing among European citizens, with more than a quarter of them (27%) believing the EU is ‘neither a good nor a bad thing’, a strong increase in 19 member states compared to the previous survey. Only one in ten respondents are categorical in considering the EU is a bad thing.
Despite recent polls that showed growing enthusiasm towards the EU among the Czech population, the Czech Republic stands out as the most Eurosceptic country in the bloc: only 33% of Czechs consider the EU is a good thing, 15% think it’s a bad thing and nearly half of respondents (49%, + 7 points in six months) are uncertain. These results are in sharp contrast with the rest of their Visegrad neighbours, where Poles (68%), Hungarians (61%) and, a bit less so, Slovaks (51%) see the EU in a positive light.
Czexit, Polexit… : Should I stay or should I go?
What would happen if a referendum on EU membership was held today throughout European member states? The results are crystal-clear: a majority of EU citizens would vote to remain in the EU (68%), while 18% would be unsure about their decision and only 14% would vote to leave the bloc.
Only three countries have no clear pro-remain majority: Italy (only 49% would vote to stay), the U.K. (45%)… and the Czech Republic (47%), which has always been one of the most Eurosceptic nations in the EU. Moreover, nearly one fourth of Czechs (24%) would vote to leave the EU, the highest level among EU member states and as many as 29% are not sure which way they would vote, the third highest level after Italy and Croatia. Exit from the bloc from other V4 countries remains highly unlikely due to high popular support in Hungary (64% of the population would vote to stay), Slovakia (69%, +10 points in the past six months) and Poland (76%).
Does my vote count?
On average, a small majority of EU respondents (51%) feels that their voice counts in the EU, compared to 44% who disagree, with Nordic countries the most confident about their impact on EU-decision making.
Central Europeans don’t have such confidence, with large parts of the population believing their voice counts much less at the EU level than in national politics: only 22% of Czechs feel their ballot has an impact at the EU level (compared to 52% who think their voice counts at the national level), 51% in Slovakia (69% at the national level) and 57% in Poland (66% in domestic affairs). Interestingly, Hungary is one of the only country where more people think their voice counts in the EU (46%) than at the national level (45%).
Election date and expected turnout
While 33% of EU respondents knew the European elections would be held in May this year, only 5% of Europeans could cite the exact date (23 to 26 May). All four Central European countries were above average.
In 2014, the turnout stood at 43% on average in the EU. This year, only four countries had a majority of respondents who would be sure to vote (Denmark, Netherlands, Sweden and Belgium), according to the Eurobarometer.
Central Europeans stand out, in that regard, as the EU champions of abstention: Five years ago, Slovakia (13%), the Czech Republic (18%) and Poland (24%) reported the three lowest turnouts in the election throughout the EU, with Hungary (28%) hardly faring much better. And according to EU projections (see graph below), a similarly low turnout, especially among young voters aged under 30, should be expected in this year’s election.
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