Taking the temperature: what the Eurobarometer tells us about attitudes to the economic crisis
Despite what the Daily Mail et al try to tell us, the European Parliament likes to keep in touch with public opinion across Europe. It regularly commissions polls to test views on key, topical issues. The latest is on the Crisis and Economic Governance; the Parliament is nothing if not brave, asking citizens across the European Union in March for their views before the latest crisis hit us. It doesn’t seem if any of the leaders read the findings, mind.
Handily, a breakdown of the findings of the UK sample (1,305 people) is provided, and even more handily, it compares what we had to say on issues with what the 26,593 folk across all EU states said. There’s not nearly as much divergence as you might imagine, and where there is difference? Interesting, I think is the correct phrase.
Respondents were asked about what we should do to get us out of this mess. Slightly more UK citizens than EU ones (27% to 25%) reckon we should be investing in growth measures but considerably fewer in the UK think member states should first reduce their public spending than across the EU as a whole (17% in UK v 23% in EU). Which suggests that we’re less austerity friendly than many member states currently worse off than we are. About the same number – 44% UK 47% EU – think both should happen at the same time.
There’s also an age differential. While over 55s in both UK and whole of EU largely agree on the need to invest to boost growth (44%), younger age-groups in the UK support the idea more than in all EU states.
The biggest difference is on whether to act in consort or go it alone in terms of protecting us from the current crisis, which seems to support our general ambivalence, if not antipathy to the concept of greater economic cohesion. In the UK, less than a third of respondents thought we’d be better protected if measures were adopted and co-ordinated across all EU states to protect us, compared to over half of those in all EU member states. And 62% of UK respondents thought we should apply such measures individually, compared to 38% of people surveyed across all Europe.
But attitudes also differ between citizens in Eurozone countries and those outside. Only 43% in non Eurozone countries support co-ordinated application of protective measures, compared to 61% of those inside the zone, while just under a third inside the zone support separate measures compared to nearly half not in the single currency.
Another finding that might reinforce our assumed isolationist stance was on the proposal for member states to consult with EU institutions – the Parliament, the Commission and the Council of Europe – when drafting budgets. While nearly two-thirds in all EU states were in favour (totally or somewhat) of doing this, less than half of UK participants were. But still! That’s a sizeable minority in favour of consulting across the EU in drawing up our spending and saving plans. We’re perhaps less thirled to our economic sovereignty as politicians and media suggest.
In light of these results, you might think we might be more reluctant to bail out our fellow Europeans who get into fiscal bother. Well, yes and no.
Respondents were asked if financial help to states in difficulty should be conditional on the enforcement of common rules on public debt and deficits. While 62% were totally or somewhat in favour of applying such conditions in the UK, 80% across Europe were. Both are commanding majorities in favour of acting tough, but we appear to be slightly more amenable to helping out the so-called PIIGS. It’s a similar finding on the prospect of automatically applying financial penalties on defaulting nations – 57% in the UK support doing this compared to 72% across the whole of the EU.
Respondents were then asked about pooling debt and what impact this would have. Again, what is surprising on such a supposedly controversial measure is the large degree of agreement between UK and all EU citizens. In fact, the only real divergence was on the political impact of such a move, with far fewer UK respondents seeing it as necessary to show solidarity between member states. You might suspect that we’d be more likely to see it as penalising member states not in trouble or benefiting only those in the worst difficulties, but actually as many respondents across all EU states agreed with these reasons. In short, we’re not the only ones in Europe suspicious of EU wide measures to help those in trouble. Comfort? Perhaps, but pretty darn cold.
When asked to prioritise activity which could boost growth, what is interesting is the level of agreement between those polled in the UK and across all of Europe. UK respondents were significantly more in favour of ideas like investing in education, training and research and in preventing early school leaving, while more in all EU member states favoured fighting against youth unemployment, reducing bureaucracy and encouraging entrepreneurship. Which is astonishing really given the amount of political patronage to these ideas as ways of stimulating growth here in the UK.
So, having taken the temperature of European citizens on the economic crisis, what do we know? That here in the UK, we are much more in tune with European sentiment generally – and all of us are in the mood to act tough on the defaulters.
What should worry the ConDems, though, is our favouring of growth as much as, if not more than, fellow Europeans and our willingness to consider pan-European action to resolve the mess we are in. Neither policy finds favour with our current UK Government. Which might explain – at least partly – why Labour is currently trouncing both parties in the polls.