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Europeans fearful of recession and energy disruptions

People across Europe have a grim view of the economic outlook for 2009, according to a new survey of European Union citizens.

At the same time that Europeans are worrying about their wallet, they are also fretting about recent developments in the Caucasus, with three out of five thinking the Georgian conflict could have a negative impact on the EU’s energy security. “The new Eurobarometer reflects the difficult times in which we currently live. Citizens are clearly very concerned by the economic crisis,” Margot Wallstrom, EU commissioner for institutional relations and communication strategy said about the regular European Commission survey released on Thursday. She in particular noted that despite growing concern about many different global issues, support for the EU has not however dropped since the spring, saying this „suggests that people see the EU as part of the solution.”

More than two-thirds of EU citizens (69%) consider the situation of their national economy to be bad, a 20% rise since last year, while 58% of Europeans consider the bloc’s economy as a whole to be in a bad shape - a 31% increase since 2007. Asked about the world economy, 71% of EU citizens also thought it was in a bad way. The survey was carried out shortly after the collapse of the Lehman Brothers investment bank and the publication of commission forecasts announcing an EU-wide economic slowdown and recession, but still some time before the crisis had fully developed. Over half of Europeans now expect employment (53%) and the economy (51%) within their countries to worsen next year. Inflation and the economy are now the two most important issues, Europeans indicated (37% each).

Meanwhile, trust in the EU has continued to decrease gradually. General support for EU membership has increased by 1% since spring 2008, reaching 53%, yet the figure still marks a drop on last year (58%). Irish respondents were the most positive, with 79% saying that their country has benefited from EU membership, followed by Estonians (78%), Slovaks (77%), Danes and the Dutch (76%). Hungary, which has been facing serious economic problems during the financial crisis, was the only country where the majority of the respondents (51%) said EU membership has not been beneficial. Ahead of the crisis, support for membership had been an even 50%. The United Kingdom and Cyprus (46% each) also maintained a majority of respondents sour on the 27-country bloc.

Trust in the European institutions has also worsened. Support for the European Parliament (51%) dropped 1% since spring and four since 2007, the commission received the same ranking as in spring (47%), but dropped 3% since last year, while the European Central Bank dropped 2% since spring. On the other hand, the number of respondents who answered that they explicitly do not trust these three institutions has increased markedly, with those distrustful of the commission rising to 30% up from 27% in the spring and those lacking faith in the parliament climbing to 31% also up from 27%. The central bank fared the worst out the EU institutions, however, with the number of those distrusting the ECB rising 6% to 30% up from 24%. (Reuters)