Press Release

New Chatham House Study: The Future of Europe: Comparing Public and Elite Attitudes

Major European survey sheds new light on leaders' thoughts and public mood 

Findings reveal what divides and unites Europeans

Debate over EU future must recognise diversity of views

June 20, 2017 - a year on from Britain's vote to leave, a new Chatham House study examines European attitudes on issues from identity and integration to the future of the EU.

Based on a unique survey of more than 10,000 members of the public and 1,800 "influencers" from politics, the media, business and civil society, the study compares these "public" and "elite" attitudes within and across 10 EU countries.

The Future of Europe: Comparing Public and Elite Attitudes reveals both significant divisions and threads of commonality across the continent. Importantly, it shows a lack of consensus among elites over future EU integration - and a pronounced divide within the public on issues of identity. It highlights the split in attitudes between elites and the public over Europe's future, but also reveals a surprising alignment in their attitudes in areas such as European solidarity and the EU's successes and failures.

Its authors argue that Europe's leaders must "engage frankly with political realities" and do more to address the gap between their own attitudes and those of the public on deep social challenges around integration and identity. They add that the study contains "important implications" for the debate over Europe's future, which should be reframed to reflect the "profoundly different outlooks" across the continent.

Some key findings from the survey reveal: *

Europe's elite are split on whether the EU should have more powers. 37% think the EU should get more powers, 28% support the status quo, while 31% think the EU should return powers to member states

The European public are much less likely to feel they have benefited from the EU than the elite. Only 34% of the public feel they have benefited from the EU, compared with 71% of the elite.

The European elite do not view Brexit as a significant threat to the EU. It comes 12th in a ranking of 15 threats. However, the elite are worried about anti-EU parties, divisions between member states and the refugee crisis.

Almost twice as many Brits think their country was better 20 years ago (48%) than think it is better today (23%).

A plurality of the British public (41%) think nationalism is a danger to peace and stability in Europe, although this was the lowest of any country surveyed. 18% disagree, with 31% unsure.

European elites are most likely to identify peace as the EU's greatest achievement, while for the public it is freedom of movement. However both groups identified the same top five achievements: peace; the Schengen area; freedom of movement; the single market and the single currency. Overall, Brits view free movement and peace as the EU's greatest achievement while seeing mass immigration and bureaucracy as its greatest failings.

The British public is among the most likely to think another EU member state will leave in the next 10 years, with 72% agreeing with this. Across the other nine countries the average is 55%, although Greeks (80%) are even more likely to think this. A plurality of the elite (43%) think another member state will leave the EU within a decade.

The public and elite are committed to an EU based on solidarity. 77% of the elite and 50% of the public think that richer member states should support poorer member states.  Only 18% of the public and 12% of the elite disagree. Brits are the least likely across the 10 countries to think richer member states should financially support poorer member states, although more agree with this (35%) than disagree (28%)

Germans (14%), Italians (15%) and French (17%) are the least likely to think the EU should compromise on its core principles in order to maintain a good relationship with the UK.

Brits are the least likely to feel proud to be European. Only 36% feel this way, compared to an average of 56% in the other nine European states, including 50% of French and 73% of Poles.

42% of the British public think Germany plays a positive role in the EU, compared with 23% who think it is negative.

(*EU averages are calculated with the UK data excluded)

Thomas Raines, co-author, and Research Fellow with the Europe Programme at Chatham House, said: "With the improving economy and relative political stability that could follow this year's elections we could see a once-in-a-generation opportunity for genuine political and economic renewal in the EU. But to move towards that, leaders will first have to step beyond a one-dimensional debate over "more" or "less" Europe.  Our data reveals a broad diversity of perspectives among Europeans, across the continent as a whole and between states, that goes beyond a binary split. The debate over Europe's future should be reframed to reflect the breadth of views across the continent and give space to critics - delegitimizing opposing voices and values may only serve to bolster anti-EU sentiment."

Co-author, and Senior Visiting Fellow with the Europe Programme at Chatham House, Professor Matthew Goodwin said: "More than ever, it's essential to understand how those wielding influence across Europe think about its key challenges, how their views differ from the wider public, and how points of disagreement between the two sides could possibly be addressed. The survey contains unique data with important implications for the debate over Europe's future. It reveals the extent of divisions between the general public and this "elite". To move from crisis management to political and economic renewal, European leaders can't ignore the fact that they'll need to do more to address the gap between their own attitudes and those of the public, particularly when it comes to solving deep social challenges. Likewise any attempt at progress towards deeper EU integration will be undermined if it fails to rest upon broad public consent as well as having the support of the elite."

The findings:

Reveal a continent split along three dimensions. First, between the "elite" (individuals in positions of influence across the media, business and civil society) and the wider public: despite alignment between the two groups on EU solidarity, EU democracy and the EU's past achievements and failures, the data also shows pronounced differences in political values, feelings towards the EU, and attitudes to diversity and immigration. Second, a pronounced divide within the public: particularly on issues of identity. The political challenges resulting from these diverging values are pulling Europe in two different directions and likely to persist for many years, even after economic growth is restored and sustained. Third, among the elite: with a lack of consensus on important questions about the EU's direction. While the influencers overwhelmingly feel they have benefited from the EU, they are far from united in their attitudes to further integration.

Have important implications for the debate on Europe's future. The absence of a clear majority view on the way forward brings home the need for a discussion that recognizes the diversity of perspectives over Europe's future, and moves beyond crude binary notions of "more" or "less" Europe. Genuine political renewal in Europe will require a more open, imaginative, and even a more conflictual debate.

Reveal that divides among publics across Europe are as significant as divides between states.  This suggests the need for a flexible approach to future integration, built on more than notions of an increasingly integrated "core" of EU states and a looser "periphery".

Suggest that fixing the European economy will not fix the challenges of EU integration: those wishing to bolster public support for the EU cannot focus only on strengthening its role in improving the economic welfare of EU citizens. Those who lead EU institutions, as much as national politics, need to invest greater effort into closing the gap between their own attitudes and those of their citizens towards deeper social challenges, such as fears over the loss of national identity, the pressures of immigration and the perceived unequal access to opportunity. Debates over the future direction of the EU need to be reframed so that they address concerns of a perceived threat to national traditions and cultures, as much as to economic performance.

About the report:

The report examines the political trends shaping politics across Europe and outlines what the survey data demonstrate about attitudes to the EU, as well as the state of domestic and European politics and society. The final chapter considers the implications of these results for the future of the EU. The survey was conducted in between December 2016 and February 2017 across 10 countries: Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom. The paper is authored by Professor David Cutts, Associate Fellow, Matthew Goodwin, Visiting Senior Fellow, and Thomas Raines, Research Fellow, with the Chatham House Europe Programme. The Future of Europe: Comparing Public and Elite Attitudes is the result of a project made possible by funding from Stiftung Mercator, the Robert Bosch Stiftung, the King Baudouin Foundation and the ERSTE Stiftung.

*EU averages are calculated with the UK data excluded.  Data sets are available upon request.

Methodology: Kantar Public, on behalf of Chatham House, conducted two surveys. Fieldwork for the general public survey was conducted using online panels between December 2016 and January 2017 among a representative sample of the population in 10 European countries (Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom), with a sample size of at least 1,000 per country. Quotas were applied on age, gender and region, and deviations were corrected with post-stratification weights. The total sample size was 10,195.

The elite survey was conducted between January 2017 and February 2017 in the same 10 countries. They were identified using four broad categories: politicians (local, national, European), news journalists, business leaders (from a range of small, medium and large companies) and civil society leaders (NGOs, associations, trade unions or universities). The survey was conducted predominantly by phone. In some countries, some interviews were conducted face-to-face or online. The total sample size was 1,823 (between 160 to 205 per country).

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