Majority of EU population feel good about bloc, study finds

In the UK, 60% of respondents have a favourable view, the highest on record

More people hold a favourable view of the European Union than not in every member state surveyed in a new poll, while positive opinions in Britain – which left the bloc in January – are the highest on record.

A Pew Research Center study of eight EU countries also found more than half of respondents felt confident Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Emmanuel Macron would do the right thing, but far fewer showed as much trust in Boris Johnson.

The survey of Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden, carried out from mid-June to late July between the first and second waves of Covid-19, found a median of 66% of people polled approved of the EU.

Chart showing positive views of the EU

Positive ratings were stable or higher in almost all countries, Pew said, ranging from a low of 58% in Italy to a high of 73% in Germany – the highest figure recorded there since the centre first posed the question in a survey in 2004.

In the UK, which formally left the EU on 31 January this year to enter an 11-month transition period, 60% of respondents said they now held a favourable view of the bloc, an increase of six percentage points over last year and a historic high for Pew’s global attitudes survey.

Chart showing British views of the EU

More than half of respondents in nearly every EU member state polled expressed confidence in the leaders of the EU’s two heavyweights, Merkel and Macron, to do the right thing in world affairs.

Confidence in Merkel’s leadership had increased significantly since last year in Germany, where it was up seven percentage points, the Netherlands (up six) and Italy (up six), while in Spain it reached a historic high, Pew said.

Confidence in Macron also increased substantially over the past year in Italy, where it rose by nine points, Sweden (up six) and the UK (up nine). Trust in Britain’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, however, was significantly lower.

Across the eight EU countries surveyed, a median of 36% of respondents said they were confident he would do the right thing in world affairs. Even in the UK, trust in Johnson, at 51%, was lower than confidence in both Macron (64%) and Merkel (76%).

The survey confirmed Britain’s extreme polarisation over the EU. About 71% of UK respondents aged 18 to 29 felt positively about the bloc, for example, compared with only 49% of those aged 50 and older – a 22-point division of opinion that was the largest of any of the nine European countries surveyed.

There was a similar 21 percentage point difference between respondents with a post-secondary school education and those without, and another of 29 points between people who identified on the political left and those on the right – both also the biggest divides in all the European countries covered.

The first survey of the UK since its departure also found 64% of respondents there felt the EU had done a good job handling the coronavirus outbreak – significantly more than the 46% who said the British government had dealt well with the pandemic.

In fact, Pew said, the British public stood out for having the worst assessment of their own country’s response to Covid-19 but also one of the most positive views of the EU’s response.

Despite the fact that Europe was home to some of the strictest measures to control the spread of the virus, including full national lockdowns, the survey suggested people in most EU nations approved not only of their national governments’ initial response to the pandemic, but also of how the EU had handled it.

Across the eight EU member nations, a median of 61% said the EU had done a good job dealing with the crisis. Approval was highest in Germany and the Netherlands, where 68% of respondents in each country approved of the bloc’s efforts. At least half or more in every EU country surveyed approved of the EU’s response.


Jon Henley

The GuardianTramp

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