The pandemic has been a trying time for the European Union; the Eurozone economy shrank by 11.8% in the second quarter, prompting EU finance ministers to authorise a €750bn recovery fund last week. Meanwhile, record numbers of asylum seekers have crossed the Channel during the pandemic, prompting discussion once again as to how to tackle European migration while maintaining free movement. Moreover, Brexit negotiations hit a frosty low when Boris Johnson threatened to renege on aspects of the Withdrawal Agreement before President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and Boris Johnson agreed to a one month extension for negotiations.
Despite the current difficulties facing the European Union, majorities in Germany (64%) and France (52%) and a plurality in Italy (48%) would vote to remain in the European Union if there was a referendum on membership in the near future. Nevertheless, the margin in favour of remaining varies significantly between the countries, standing at +44% in Germany, +25% in France, and +18% in Italy.
Furthermore, majorities in Germany (66%) and France (52%) and a plurality in Italy (47%) would vote to remain in the Eurozone if there was a referendum on membership when it is safe to do so. Support for the Eurozone is almost identical to support for the European Union, suggesting that any change in the popularity of one could also mean changing popularity for the other.
Despite high numbers saying they would vote to remain, many Europeans are unsure as to whether the European Union has a positive or negative effect on their country. Almost half (47%) of Germans think EU membership has had a positive effect on Germany, with less than a quarter (22%) thinking otherwise. Yet in France and Italy, the public are almost evenly split on what the effect of EU membership is for their country. While the French and Italian public are not yet eager to see the relinquishment of their EU membership, they are divided on whether it is beneficial.
Nor do they think the European Union has the best interests of their country at heart. Germans are split, with 40% thinking the EU does have Germany’s interests at heart while 42% think otherwise. Meanwhile, almost half (46%) of the French public and the majority (52%) of the Italian public do not think the European Union has their country’s best interests at heart. While support for EU membership is high, there is still widespread concern––especially in Italy and France––that the European Union is not promoting the best interests of some member states.
And the coronavirus pandemic has not helped the EU’s cause in France or Italy—a plurality in France (31%) and in Italy (47%) think the pandemic has weakened arguments in favour of the European Union. Meanwhile, a third (33%) of the German public think the pandemic has made no difference to the arguments in favour of the EU, while around another third (31%) think it has weakened favourable arguments.
In July, the European Union pledged a recovery fund of €750bn to help members economically impacted by the pandemic. In Germany and France, the public are more likely to think this is too much money (27% and 19% respectively) than think it is not enough (20% and 16% respectively). While the German and French economies have been impacted by the pandemic, some may think the debt generated by the coronavirus recovery fund will be more damaging than the direct effect of the pandemic.
However, in Italy, over a quarter (26%) do not think this is enough money, 28% think it’s the right amount of money, and only a tenth (9%) think it is too much. As one of the first European countries to battle the virus, Italy’s economy shrunk by a tenth this year and its public debt hit almost 160% of its GDP. The recovery fund was implemented to help heavily impacted countries like Italy, yet the Italian public are not convinced that it will be sufficient.
Thinking about the issue that dominated the European Union before the pandemic, a strong majority (58%) of Germans do not think the United Kingdom will benefit from leaving the European Union in the long term, even if it suffers in the short term. Nevertheless, a plurality of the French public (38%) and Italian public (42%) do think the United Kingdom will eventually benefit from leaving the European Union. In Great Britain, where this question is most salient, a plurality say yes, the UK will benefit in the long term, even if it suffers in the short term.
Furthermore, the majority (52%) of the German public do not think that they will be more likely to support Germany leaving the EU if the United Kingdom and its economy are in a good state in five years’ time. The public is more split in France with 39% thinking they would be more likely and 35% thinking they would be less likely to support France leaving the EU if the UK is doing well five years from now. However, almost half (47%) of Italians think they will be more likely to support Italy leaving the EU if the United Kingdom is doing well in the near future. Clearly, there is significant EU-scepticism in Italy, and if the UK is prosperous after Brexit, there is potential for a shift in Italy towards leaving the bloc.
Although the United Kingdom has left the European Union, Nicola Sturgeon is confident that Scotland could join the European Union if it became an independent country. The majority of the German public (61%) and Italian public (57%) and a plurality of the French public (42%) would support Scotland joining the EU as a member state if it became a country separate from the UK. Opposition to Scotland joining the EU is limited (10-13%).
Europe’s migrant crisis has been exacerbated by the pandemic and record numbers of migrants have crossed the Channel. Yet there are fears that closing the borders between European countries could affect tourism and further damage the economy. Facing criticism from the UK that France is not being tough enough on migration, the majority (52%) of the French public think borders between European countries should be closed. However, the majority in Germany (59%) and Italy (55%) think the borders between European countries should be kept open.
While the European countries polled are divided on whether to keep borders between European countries open, they are united when it comes to migration overall. The majority in Germany (50%), France (53%), Italy (58%), and Great Britain (52%) think Europe should be doing more to prevent migrants and asylum seekers arriving on the continent, while a significant minority (35%, 25%, and 30% respectively) think Europe should be doing more to assist migrants and asylum seekers.
Furthermore, majorities in France (52%), Germany (72%), and Italy (77%) think the European Union should use a quota system to equally distribute asylum seekers to member countries. In 2016, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls rejected a permanent quota system to allocate refugees and asylum seekers across Europe, but President Macron has since announced a quota on economic migrants. With less than a quarter (22%) of the French public opposing a quota system on asylum seekers, the quota on economic migrants could be extended to include asylum seekers.
Overall, pluralities in Germany, France, and Italy would vote to remain in the European Union and the Eurozone if there was a referendum on membership in the near future. Nevertheless, while the German public consider membership in the European Union to have been beneficial, the French and Italian public are less convinced and do not think the European Union has their best interests at heart. Furthermore, in Italy, there is a strong belief that the pandemic has weakened the arguments in favour of the European Union. While the German public are sceptical that Brexit will be a success, pluralities in France and Italy think the United Kingdom will benefit from the leaving the European Union in the long term.
With high numbers in both France and Italy saying they are likely to support their country leaving the EU if the UK is doing well in the next five years, as well as believing the pandemic has weakened pro-EU arguments, there could be a significant shift towards Euroscepticism if Brexit appears successful. On the other hand, Germans are more likely to feel membership in the European Union is beneficial and are less likely to change their opinion of EU membership based on the outcome of Brexit. Germany, France, and Italy may be in part divided on the issue of the European Union, but they are more united in their desire to see Europe prevent more migrants reaching the continent and would support the implementation of a quota system to allocate asylum seekers to member states.