As EU leaders gather in Brussels to brainstorm on the EU’s role on the world stage and ways to toughen eurozone fiscal discipline, a fresh survey shows that most citizens in the main euro-countries think the common currency has been bad for the economy and are looking at national governments rather than the EU to tackle the economic crisis.
Some 60 percent of the French, and more than half of German, Spanish and Portuguese respondents said that the euro was “a bad thing for their economy”, according to Transatlantic Trends, a survey published on Wednesday (15 September) by the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
The US think-tank carried out the survey in June in 11 EU countries and found that only the Netherlands and Slovakia had majorities saying the euro is a good thing.
Outside the eurozone, 83 percent of the British, 53 percent of Poles and 42 percent of Bulgarians thought that using the euro would be bad for the domestic economy. The only exception was Romania, where 54 percent of respondents are in favour of the common currency.
The survey also shows that while most citizens are in favour of EU accession, they also think national governments should be responsible for the tackling the economic crisis, rather than the EU institutions.
Only in Germany, who has been pushing for stricter EU rules to prevent another eurozone crisis, did the majority of respondents (54 percent) agree that the European Union should have the primary responsibility for economic decision-making.
This option was the least popular in the United Kingdom (25 percent) and in new member states Bulgaria (24 percent), Slovakia (22 percent), and Romania (15 percent) – usually favourable to handing over more powers to Brussels. The French were divided on the issue, with 47 percent saying the national government and 43 percent saying the EU should have the primary responsibility.
These results sharply contradict a recent European Commission survey that Brussels interpreted as saying that European citizens are in favour of “European economic governance” – a fuzzy term being explored by an ad hoc task-force set up by European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, who will be chairing the leaders’ meeting on Thursday and outlining the first ideas on this issue.
Member states however strongly disagree on the measures – with Germany favouring ‘automatic sanctions’, while the southern countries insisting on a redistribution of debt among the euro-states.
Meanwhile, the economic situation of EU citizens seems to have worsened, compared to last year, as 60 percent said they are personally affected by the crisis, a five-point increase on 2009.
In the Netherlands, the percentage doubled from 20 to 40 percent, while in Romania and Bulgaria more than 80 percent said they were personally feeling the effects of the crisis. Seventy-eight percent of the Portuguese, 71 of the Spanish, and 67 of the Italians reported that they were affected by the crisis.
In terms of outlook, more than half of all Europeans feel that the economic difficulties should lead to greater commitment to build a stronger European Union. Italians, Portuguese, Bulgarians, Spaniards and Slovaks were especially favorable toward further integration.
Even as austerity measures were being adopted on both sides of the Atlantic, sparking street protests against wage and benefits cuts, an overwhelming majority of respondents in Europe (72 percent) and the US (90 percent) agreed that people are better off in a free-market economy.
The strongest pro-free-market feelings were registered in Britain (81 percent) and Germany (78 percent).
EU candidate country Turkey has shifted in its views on capitalism, with only 36 percent backing this economic model, a drop of ten points compared to last year.
A large majority of those surveyed inside the EU (78 percent) and Turkey (55 percent) continue to agree that the government has an essential role to play in regulating the market. The French, British and Portuguese are the strongest backers of government intervention, while the Americans are the least enthusiastic about it.