Public opposition to the European Union is growing in all key member states, according to a new survey of voters in ten EU countries.
Public disaffection with the EU is being fueled by the bloc's mishandling of the refugee and debt crises, according to the survey, which interviewed voters in Britain, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and Sweden.
Public anger is also being fueled by the growing number of diktats issued by the unelected officials running the Brussels-based European Commission, the powerful administrative arm of the bloc, which has been relentless in its usurpation of sovereignty from the 28 nation states that comprise the European Union.
The 17-page report, "Euroskepticism Beyond Brexit," was published by the Pew Research Center on June 7, just two weeks before the June 23 referendum on whether Britain will become the first country to leave the European Union (Brexit blends the words Britain and exit).
The following are excerpts:
Much of the disaffection with the EU among Europeans can be attributed to Brussels' handling of the refugee issue. In every country surveyed, overwhelming majorities disapprove of how Brussels has dealt with the crisis. This includes 94% of Greeks, 88% of Swedes and 77% of Italians. In Hungary and Poland, disapproval of how the refugee crisis has been managed stands at 72% and 71%, respectively. In France, 70% disapprove; in Germany the figure is 67%. The strongest approval of EU management of the refugee crisis is in the Netherlands, but that backing is a tepid 31%.
The EU's handling of economic issues is another huge source of disaffection with Brussels. About nine-in-ten Greeks (92%) disapprove of how the EU has dealt with the ongoing economic crisis. Roughly two-thirds of the Italians (68%), French (66%) and Spanish (65%) similarly disapprove. (France and Spain are the two nations where the favorability of the EU has recently experienced the largest decline.) Majorities in Sweden (59%) and the UK (55%) also disapprove of the EU's job in dealing with economic challenges. The strongest approval of Brussels' economic efforts is in Poland and Germany (both 47%).
Nearly two-thirds (65%) of Britons say they want the EU to return certain powers to national governments. This Euroskepticism is not limited to Britain. In Greece, 68% of those surveyed want some EU powers devolved to the national government, followed by Sweden (47%); the Netherlands (44%) and Germany (43%).
A median of 42% of Europeans across the ten countries surveyed say they want to reclaim some powers from Brussels, while just 19% favor greater centralization (27% prefer the status quo).
Conversely, there is little enthusiasm for transferring more power to Brussels. Only 6% of Britons, 8% of Greeks and 13% of Swedes favor more power for the EU. The strongest backing for an ever closer Europe is only 34%, in France. In most countries, a quarter or more of the public prefers to keep the current division of power.
Three-quarters of Britons who disapprove of the EU's handling of economic problems and 71% of those who have an unfavorable view of the bloc's handling of the refugee crisis believe that Brussels should return powers to national governments.
The strongest backers of the EU are the Poles (72%) and the Hungarians (61%). In many other nations, support is tepid. Just 27% of the Greeks, 38% of the French (down from 69% in 2004) and 47% of the Spanish (down from 80% in 2007) have a favorable opinion of the EU. Notably, 44% of the British view the EU favorably, including 53% of the Scottish.
EU favorability is down in five of the six nations surveyed in both 2015 and 2016. There has been a double-digit drop in France (down 17 percentage points) and Spain (16 points), and single-digit declines in Germany (8 points), the United Kingdom (7 points) and Italy (6 points).
Young people — those ages 18 to 34 — are more favorable toward the European Union than people 50 and older in six of the 10 nations surveyed. The generation gap is most pronounced in France — 25 percentage points — with 56% of young people but only 31% of older people having a positive opinion of the EU. There are similar generation gaps of 19 points in the UK, 16 points in the Netherlands, 14 points in Poland and Germany, and 13 points in Greece. It remains unclear why young Europeans are so favorable to the EU, where youth unemployment is near 50% in some EU countries.
There is overwhelming sentiment across Europe that Brexit would be a bad thing for the European Union: 89% in Sweden, 75% in the Netherlands and 74% in Germany say the British leaving would not be good for the EU. France is the only country where more than a quarter (32%) of the public says it would be positive for the EU if the UK departed.
Although the survey does not explicitly say so, the findings almost certainly reflect growing anger at the anti-democratic nature of the EU and its never-ending power grabs.
On May 31, the European Union, in partnership with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Microsoft, unveiled a "code of conduct" to combat the spread of "illegal hate speech" online in Europe. Critics say the initiative amounts to an assault on free speech in Europe because the EU's definition of "hate speech" and "incitement to violence" is so vague that it could include virtually anything deemed politically incorrect by European authorities, including criticism of mass migration, Islam or even the European Union itself.
On May 24, the unelected president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, vowed to use sanctions to isolate far-right or populist governments that are swept into office on the wave of popular anger against migration. Under powers granted to the European Commission in 2014, Juncker can trigger a "rule of law alert" for countries that depart from "the common constitutional traditions of all member states." Rather than accepting the will of the people at the voting booth, Juncker can impose sanctions to address "systemic deficiencies" in EU member states.
On May 4, Juncker warned that EU countries that failed to "show solidarity" by refusing take in migrants would face a fine of €250,000 ($285,000) per migrant.
On April 20, the European Political Strategy Centre, an in-house EU think tank that reports directly to Juncker, proposed that the European Union establish its own central intelligence agency, which would answer only to unelected bureaucrats. According to the plan, the 28 EU member states would have a "legally binding duty to share information."
The British Minister of State for the Armed Forces, Penny Mordaunt, responded:
"These matters are supposed to be, and must be the competence of member states. Intelligence sharing can only be done on a bilateral basis. This latest EU integration project not only shows how little the EU cares for the sovereignty of nation states, but also how little it understands the business of counter-terrorism."
On December 15, 2015, the European Commission unveiled plans for a new European Border and Coast Guard force that can intervene anywhere in the EU, even without the host country's consent.
On March 8, 2015, Juncker said that the EU needed its own military in order to restore the bloc's standing around the world: "Europe's image has suffered dramatically and also in terms of foreign policy, we don't seem to be taken entirely seriously."
In a recent interview with Le Monde, Juncker said that if Britons voted to leave the EU, they would be treated as "deserters":
"I am sure the deserters will not be welcomed with open arms. If the British should say 'No' — which I hope they do not — then life in the EU will not go on as before. The United Kingdom will be regarded as a third country and will have its fur stroked the wrong way (caresser dans le sens du poil). If the British leave Europe, people will have to face the consequences. It is not a threat but our relations will no longer be what they are today."
In an interview with the Telegraph, Giles Merritt, director of the Friends of Europe think tank in Brussels, summed it up this way:
"The EU policy elites are in panic. If the British vote to leave the shock will be so ghastly that they will finally wake up and realize that they can no longer ignore demands for democratic reform. They may have to dissolve the EU as it is and try to reinvent it, both in order to bring the Brits back and because they fear that the whole political order will be swept away unless they do."
Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter. His first book, Global Fire, will be out in 2016.