The European Union has faced considerable criticism of its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, with research conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies in February 2021 finding that a majority of French, German, and Italian respondents believed that member states of the EU each acted on their own during the pandemic. In that same poll, pluralities in each nation also said the pandemic had weakened the arguments in favour of the EU.
But regardless of this frustration, our latest research finds that, after weighting by likelihood to vote, a majority of respondents in France (61%), Germany (65%), Italy (61%), and Spain (84%) say they would vote to stay in the European Union if there were a referendum sometime in the near future. Roughly a quarter of the French (25%), German (26%), and Italian (28%) publics say they would vote to leave the EU, compared to just 11% of Spaniards. Consequently, our results suggest that a Brexit-style departure from the EU is perhaps unlikely to occur in these four nations in the near future—though the British example serves to show that such situations can change in a matter of a few years.
With the vast majority (84%) of Spanish respondents saying they would vote for Spain to remain in the EU, it appears there is a greater sense of pro-EU sentiment in Spain when compared to the other European nations. Indeed, a majority (65%) of Spaniards say they have a favourable view of the European Union, compared to pluralities of French (44%), German (43%), and Italian (50%) respondents. The more favourable views of the European Union among Spaniards may be related to the financial assistance the nation received from the EU during its 2008-2014 financial crisis, along with possible associations of the EU with freedom and democracy for a country that only emerged from a dictatorship in 1975.
Meanwhile, a consistent 23% of respondents in France, Germany, and Italy say they have an unfavourable view of the European Union. This figure increases for voters of certain right-wing political parties, with 39% of 2017 second-round Marine Le Pen voters in France, 50% of 2017 Alternative for Germany voters, and 45% of 2018 Lega voters in Italy having an unfavourable view of the EU. By contrast, 52% of 2019 voters for the right-wing party Vox in Spain say they have a favourable view of the EU, revealing how considerably the situation seems to differ in Spain.
While it is evident that Spanish respondents have a largely positive view of the EU and its value to Spain, respondents from the other European nations are relatively less convinced on the impact the EU has had in Spain specifically. Compared to 61% in Spain, 39% in France, 40% in Germany, and 34% in Italy believe being a member of the EU has had a positive effect for Spain.
Conversely, German respondents are less likely than respondents from France, Italy, and Spain to say being in the EU has had a positive impact on Germany: 41% of Germans, 51% of the French, 51% of Italians, and 70% of Spaniards say EU membership has had a positive effect on Germany.
Furthering the more pronounced pro-EU trend in Spanish responses, two-thirds (66%) of Spaniards also believe being in the EU has had a positive effect on France, compared to a smaller proportion of French (42%), German (41%), and Italian (43%) respondents. Likewise, when it comes to Italy’s membership in the EU, 39% of Italians, 38% of the French, 42% of Germans, and 56% of Spaniards think the effect has been positive. Italians are the most likely to say being in the EU say had a negative effect on their own country, with 28% of respondents in Italy expressing this opinion.
Despite the challenges that the European Union has met throughout its coronavirus response and vaccination programme, the overall sentiment is one in favour of the European Union in France, Germany, Italy, and especially Spain. Though Euroscepticism remains a relevant force on the continent, with campaigns for a ‘Frexit’ or equivalent movement existing throughout the EU, our research suggests that those with an unfavourable view of the institution make up only a quarter of the French, German, and Italian populations. The Spanish, meanwhile, have the most favourable views of the EU and its impact on member states overall, making a Spanish withdrawal from the EU seem the most unlikely in the coming years.