Popular support for EU declines as bloc grapples with expansion


Support for European Union membership among EU residents is declining as the bloc grapples with expanding eastward, according to a survey released by the European Commission. Sentiment dropped 10 percentage points in Hungary.

Fifty-three percent of EU citizens believe their country's membership in the 25-nation trading bloc „is a good thing,” down from 55% in a similar survey six months ago, the commission said. The drop in enthusiasm was led by eroding sentiment in the UK and Hungary, it said. The EU, which took in 10 mostly eastern European nations in 2004, is about to welcome Romania and Bulgaria on January 1, while entry talks with Turkey were partially frozen last week over the Ankara government's refusal to recognize EU member Cyprus. Most of the new members are struggling to qualify to adopt the euro, an EU requirement; only Slovenia has passed the euro criteria and will join the single currency club at the start of the year. „Now there is a much more negative atmosphere around the union and that is why the work is much more difficult,” Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen told a Brussels press conference today to mark the end of his nation's six-month EU presidency. Support for EU membership is strongest in Ireland, where 78% of respondents see it as a good thing. Sentiment dropped 10 percentage points in Hungary, to 39%, and declined 8 points in the UK, to 34%, the commission, the EU's executive body, said in its report.

The percentage of Europeans who think being in the EU „is a bad thing” rose to 16% from 13% in the spring, the commission said. The Eurobarometer poll was carried out between September 6 and October 10 and covered 30 countries in Europe. Support for EU enlargement „tends to be considerably higher in the 10 new member states than in the former EU-15 countries,” the commission said. Support for expansion is strongest in Poland, with an increase of 4 percentage points from the spring survey, while sentiment fell „significantly” in the UK and Spain. „A majority of citizens are in favor of the European Constitution, with the highest level of support being in Poland,” the poll showed. The percentage of respondents supporting the constitution rose to 53% in the latest survey from 47% six months ago. In France and the Netherlands, the two countries that rejected the constitution by referendum last year, public support has increased since the spring poll. Dutch support for the constitution rose 6 percentage points to 59% since the last poll and in France support rose 5 percentage points to 56%. (Bloomberg)


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