Public opinion on EU membership shifts from positive to neutral

Photo: European Commission

The European Commission regularly conducts surveys and studies that measure the evolution of public opinion in Europe. From these so-called Eurobarometers, national reports are made twice a year to give a basic overview of public opinion in the individual member states. On Monday, the market research agency Factum Invenio presented its report on the Czech Republic. Although Czechs joined the European Union almost two years ago the report suggests that a great many of them are still sceptical and in the dark about the workings of the Union and their country's role in it.

But David Kral from the Institute for European Policy is not surprised by the report. Dita Asiedu discussed the results with him:

"The image of the Czech Republic being more sceptical about the EU can be attributed to the statements and stances of some political figures, who are particularly prominent and are given a lot of space in the Czech and foreign media. Perhaps the President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus, is the most notable example and his position towards the constitution treaty has caused this confusing image.

"We can still se that Czechs tend to view the EU as positive but have shifted towards a more neutral stance. What is also interesting is that we can see increased support for the main EU institutions - the European Parliament, the European Commission, and the Council. What is also significant is that we can see revived support for the constitution treaty."

After France and the Netherlands rejected the EU constitution, there was much talk about Plan D - bringing the EU closer to its citizens through democracy, dialogue, and debate. Instead, it seems reflection and discussion on Europe is non-existent here...

"That's right and I think the main problem here is that we are seeing a real lack of political leadership, European political leadership, which is to show us how to cope with the crisis. At the moment, nobody knows what is going to happen with the constitution, whether the ratification process is going to continue or whether the EU is going to abandon the treaty altogether."

Photo: European Commission
Only 17% of Czechs feel that their voice will be heard and will make an impact in EU policy. The only country that has an even lower number of citizens who feel they can influence EU policy is Latvia. Why is that and how would you say can the voices of Czechs be heard and influence EU policy?

"I think it has something to do with the recent problems on the Czech political scene, where internal policy has been in focus too much. We have seen three governments formed in one election period and in that respect I think perhaps the government has been more focused on selling itself to the citizens rather than selling European issues to them and trying to engage them. But I think that after the government of Mr Paroubek [Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek] took office, this has been changing and in the long run it can have positive repercussions in public opinion. So perhaps the next surveys will be more positive. But then again we have the general elections coming up, so a lot can change after June 2006 as well."

The national report suggests that 80% of Czechs would like Norway, Switzerland, and Iceland to join the EU while only a third of Czechs would support accession efforts by Ukraine, Albania, and Turkey.

"This is by no means a surprise. Czechs would welcome those countries that they think have a good system of governance and are doing economically well, so they would not cause too much trouble for the EU. But what is significant is the general decrease in support for enlargement, especially concerning the western Balkans. Turkey, of course, is an issue on its own. In general, Czech public opinion is in line with the positions we see in the EU 15 [the member states before the last wave of enlargement]. But in some cases, it tends to be more positive on certain countries. Concerning Turkey's accession, for example, neighbouring Austria is much more sceptical than we are. And public opinion here appears to be more 'lukewarm' than we see in newer member states like Poland and Lithuania."

The Eurobarometer covers the 25 member states, Bulgaria and Rumania (the two accession countries) and Croatia and Turkey (the two candidate countries). For more information, please visit the official website at