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Clear support for EU membership for most European countries but emotional attachment to the nation state endures

Rory Fitzgerald / Apr 2023

Image: Shutterstock

 

The European Social Survey Round 10 dataset now includes data over 20 countries who fielded the survey from late 2020 to the middle of 2022. Data was collected during the pandemic period but largely before the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Due to measures implemented in some countries to prevent the spread of Coronavirus, we allowed six countries to field the latest round of our survey using self-completion methods for the first time. These are denoted throughout the charts in this article using (SC). The remaining 19 countries conducted fieldwork in line with all previous rounds of our survey: using only face-to-face interviews.

Inspired by Brexit, one question included in our survey since Round 8 (2016/17) asks for views on voting in a hypothetical referendum on European Union (EU) membership. This optional question was asked in 23 of 25 ESS countries.

In Round 10 (2020-22) of the survey, a majority of respondents in 20 of the 23 countries said they would vote to remain or become a member of the EU. This was over 75% in 13 out of 23 countries.

Comparing the results for 21 countries who took part in both rounds and also asked this question, we found very high support (over 60%) for EU membership in 18 countries in 2018/19 and 2020-22, including in one non-member state: Montenegro.

 

Between rounds, there were notable increases in support for being part of the Union in Montenegro (an increase of 10.5 percentage points), and Slovenia (+4.6).

However, several countries became more negative about EU membership over the two rounds, including Sweden (-11.2 percentage points), Lithuania (-8.7), Germany (-7.8), Austria (-5.6) and Slovakia (-5.3), though support for membership in these countries is still high (69% or more in all cases).

Three of these countries seeing a decline were self-completion countries - Sweden, Germany and Austria so we can’t rule out this being fully or partly a mode effect as the presentation of the question in the self-completion was somewhat different to that in the face to face survey.

We have also asked respondents for their attitudes towards European unification on a 0-11 point scale. For simplicity those who answered 0-3 were classed as saying ‘has gone too far’, 4-6 as ‘neither’ and 7-10 as ‘should go further’.

Our Round 10 (2020-22) survey data shows a majority of respondents in 14 of the 25 countries, support further unification of Europe and there is no country where a majority say unification has gone too far.

The highest levels of support for greater unification (54.5) were found amongst respondents in North Macedonia, which can perhaps be attributed to high levels of support for the country joining the European Union (EU) with 81.1% also saying they would vote to join the EU.

In contrast, in Montenegro a large proportion felt that European unification has already gone too far (46.9%) despite 87.1% of Montenegrins stating that they wanted their country to join the EU.

Relatively high levels of support for further European unification were also found amongst respondents in Spain, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Portugal, Slovenia, Poland, Germany and the Netherlands.

 

In every round, we also ask respondents to say how emotionally attached they feel to the country they live in - and separately to Europe - on an 11-point scale from 0 (not at all emotionally attached) to 10 (very emotionally attached).

We grouped everyone who answered above 7 on the scale into one category measuring high levels of emotional attachment to their country/Europe.

A similar pattern emerges for all countries: respondents feel more emotionally attached to their country than to Europe.

The highest level of emotional attachment to the country was found in Finland (92%), followed by respondents in Greece (91.5%) and Norway (87.8%).

7 in 10 Hungarian respondents indicated relatively high levels of attachment to Europe, and more than 50% of respondents in five other countries (Finland, Czechia, Portugal, Spain and Norway) also felt emotionally attached to the continent.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, due to issues between Greece and the EU following the global economic crisis of 2009, only 35% of Greek respondents feel emotionally attached to Europe - the third lowest of any countries in the survey, and the lowest of current EU members.

Respondents in some countries - particularly in Spain, Poland and Austria - saw levels of emotional attachment to their nation drop compared the previous round (2018/19). As all of these countries used self-completion methods in the most recent round and face to face in earlier rounds this might reflect the change of methods.

Taking all measures into consideration we can draw some interesting conclusions. A majority of respondents across different European countries tend to support EU membership, with only a minority of respondents tending to think unification has gone too far.

However most remain rather indifferent when it comes to feeling emotionally attached to Europe overall, suggesting the nation state remains predominant in this regard.

All data analysis included in this article was undertaken with design and post-stratification weights. All ESS data are freely available for non-commercial use via the ESS Data Portal

 

Rory Fitzgerald

Rory Fitzgerald

April 2023

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