Renegotiating with the public: what Europe has to say about its Union
By Adam Ludlow, Political & Media Team. @Adam_Ludlow

With budget talks breaking down on Monday night, there was, for a time, an outside chance that Greece would leave the Euro. Worryingly for EU leaders, there are plenty of people across the rest of the continent who would like to do the same.

As research by ComRes for New Direction Foundation across nine European countries shows, although the majority of people in major Eurozone countries would like to retain the euro, significant minorities would like to return to domestic currencies.

While the German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, has been doling out the conditions to Greece about what it will have to do to stay in the Euro, one in three people from his own country want to return to the Deutschmark. The same proportion of Italians and French would like to see a return to Lira and the Franc. By comparison, people are most supportive of keeping their current currency in Britain and Sweden, countries with their own national tender and monetary supply.

Public attitudes may also have put pressure on the current negotiations. Germans appear to be tired of providing funding for the rest of the continent, with the majority (57%) saying their country should pay less towards the EU budget. Half of the French public say the same.

Ominously for Greece, French people are also more likely to think that the EU should decrease in size with fewer member states (43%) than think it should remain the same size (31%) or continue to grow (10%). Additionally, more French people think the EU itself should be reduced to a selection of trade deals between European countries, than are in favour of the organisation’s current model. The case is the same amongst the British (unsurprisingly), and the Dutch, who along with the Germans appear to have taken the lead in the negotiations with Syriza.

Consolation for the Greeks is that France is currently the only country where people are most likely to think that the EU’s borders should shrink and most of the other large Eurozone countries, such as Germany, Poland and Sweden, tend to be in favour of keeping the current EU model. Italy wants to move in the opposite direction, with nearly half of the public there (45%) in favour of the continent being more like a single country: a United States of Europe.

ComRes_trust in the state_EU

All this reflects the current impasse in the European debate. On the one hand, all this dissatisfaction could suggest good news not just for the Greeks’ attempts at renegotiation, but also for David Cameron’s. Some of the disillusionment may simply reflect a Europe-wide scepticism and dislike for Government and the state generally: in most countries, few people think the EU is effective at addressing their concerns, yet national governments do not fare well either. On the other hand, with widespread support for paying less money to Europe and the EU having less involvement in the national affairs of countries (in Northern Europe at least), there should be public appetite, in theory at least, for reform of the Union.

Although many in Britain, France, Germany and the Netherlands are all dissatisfied with the EU in its current form, it may end with the status quo wining out due to the absence of a clear alternative. The French want fewer member states, the Spanish and Polish want more. The British and Dutch would like the Union to be more of a trading bloc, the Germans and Nordics would like to keep the structure of organisation to its current model.

ComRes_EU_Freedom of Movement

Perhaps most eye catching for Mr Cameron is varying attitudes to freedom of movement – the key reform that voters at home want. Southern and Eastern European countries tend to support the principle while those in Northern and Western Europe would like to see further controls on it. The problem for the Prime Minister here is the concentration of opposition: support in the greater number of places which back reform is comparatively tepid in comparison to the fewer places which support the status quo, but do so by large margins. As the graph above shows, around half of people in the UK, France, the Netherlands and Denmark think there should be greater controls on the freedom of citizens from EU countries to live and work in other EU countries. But this is matched by half of people in Germany thinking that citizens of European countries should be free to live and work within the EU, and then surpassed in Italy where this rises to around two thirds (67%) and to at least three quarters of people Spain (75%) and Poland (81%).

“Agreeing what we’re against, but not what we’re for” is often cited as having caused many of the problems for the Left throughout the twentieth century. If Europe’s reformists are not careful, it may be they who suffer a similar fate today.

A version of this article first appeared on The Spectator's Coffee House blog.

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