A Gallup poll, published on Wednesday, showed what a devastating impact the eurozone’s crisis has had on popular attitudes to the European Union. Nor is the collapse of confidence in the EU limited purely to countries that have been required to slash wages and benefits in return for international financial aid.
Here are the numbers.
In Spain, whose banks needed a €41bn emergency rescue in 2012, public approval of the EU leadership’s job performance crashed to 27 per cent last year from 59 per cent in the pre-crisis year of 2008. Even allowing for the depth of the Spanish economic crisis, this is a startling slump for a country which, ever since the death of the dictator Francisco Franco in 1975, has embraced its European identity with pride and enthusiasm.
In Ireland, a country no less pro-European for most of the past 40 years, public approval of EU leaders sank to 47 per cent last year from 70 per cent in 2008. Ireland was put on a €67.5bn EU-International Monetary Fund aid drip in 2011.
Spain and Ireland have recently exited their aid programmes – but when will confidence in the EU come back?
Equally striking is the fall in support for the EU’s leaders in prosperous northern European countries, whether in or outside the eurozone. Approval rating for their performance dropped 17 per cent in Sweden, 14 per cent in Finland, 11 per cent in Austria and the Netherlands, 10 per cent in Denmark and 7 per cent in the UK.
At 29 per cent last year, down from 36 per cent in 2008, the UK is not, for once, at the bottom of the EU’s 28-nation table. Greece is lowest at 19 per cent, then Cyprus at 21 per cent (there are no comparable data for 2008). Arguably, the conditions attached to EU-IMF financial aid were harsher in Greece and Cyprus than anywhere else – and, arguably, they needed to be.
So who, if anyone, thinks the EU leadership is doing a good job? The answer is people in Luxembourg (67 per cent, down from 74 per cent in 2008), Germany (59 per cent, up from 56 per cent) and Belgium (56 per cent, up from 55 per cent).
It is no coincidence that these three countries are EU founder-members and have survived the eurozone crisis with relatively little damage. Moreover, they either play host to EU institutions (Belgium and Luxembourg) or regard the EU as part of their post-1945 national rehabilitation (Germany).
But you cannot build the EU on three countries. Political leaders in other nations, and at EU level, would be making a grave mistake if they counted on benign bond markets to restore the shattered trust of much of the European population.