The malaise gripping the European Union as it approaches its 50th birthday this week is highlighted in a new poll which shows that 44% of citizens think life has got worse since their country joined the club.
The poll suggests the bloc’s 27 leaders have their work cut out to revive enthusiasm for Europe’s project of „ever closer union” when they meet for official anniversary celebrations in Berlin next Sunday. The FT-Harris poll, conducted in the EU’s five biggest countries and the US, found that only 25% of the Europeans questioned felt life in their country had improved since it joined the EU.
The poll illustrates a pervasive pessimism in Europe, but it also highlights the ambivalence of citizens towards the EU, 50 years after the bloc’s founding Treaty of Rome. In spite of many complaints about the EU, including a widespread view that it is too bureaucratic, only a minority think, their country would be better off if it seceded from the union. Only 22% of respondents in Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain thought their country would be better off if it left the EU, against 40% who believed it would be worse off.
Germany, which holds the rotating EU presidency, wants to use the celebrations to recall the bloc’s achievements and to map out tasks, including tackling climate change, peacekeeping and fighting terrorism and organized crime. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, wants to use a so-called „Berlin declaration” to kick-start a debate on reviving the stalled EU constitutional treaty. Merkel wants to prepare a slimmer version of the treaty, rejected by French and Dutch voters in referendums in 2005, with the aim of having it ratified by 2009.
Britain, the Czech Republic and Poland have been the most resistant to any reference in the declaration to the constitution, but seem resigned to a coded reference to it in the declaration. Lech Kaczynski, the Polish president, said on Saturday: „We have reservations over some parts of the declaration, but if Poland did not sign it, we would be the only EU country not to do so.”
The FT-Harris poll, conducted between February 28 and March 12, found that 35% of respondents thought the constitution would have a positive impact on their country, compared with 27% who thought the opposite. By far the most negative response (48%) came from Britain. The treaty would give the EU a president and foreign minister, and lead to simplified voting rules and a reduction of national vetoes in areas of judicial co-operation.
US respondents were less enthusiastic than Europeans about the prospect of the EU doing more in fields such as the economy and the environment. (FT.com)