There is a rather strong public opinion about the future of the European Union, not only in Hungary, but in the majority of the Union’s countries. It can be felt that the number of Eurosceptic parties that attack the Union, and support for them, in several areas increased much more than what can be seen through the figures of several national elections. However, there are many who think that future challenges can only be faced by further enlargement and deepening of the European unification process. The objective of our analysis is to reveal and assess groups thinking differently about the European Union’s future. Based on a database of Eurobarometer 2012 research, we present the levels of social support for various trends at European or national level, and the factors that lead to the high proportion of those thinking sceptically about the Union. For this purpose, by using the relevant variables, and instead of using the less known base data, we created a complex indicator which characterises opinions about the Union.
The objective is to analyse the relationship with the EU in a complex way, instead of the traditional, and often simplifying, questions (Is the country’s EU membership good? Are you pleased with the Union?). Based on people’s opinion about the European Union’s current and future situation and the support for certain growing trends, we distinguished three categories: the people who supported all the issues related to the stronger integration are called federalists; those who express their objections towards the Union’s current situation, but all in all have confidence in the EU’s future are described as moderate EU-supporters. Finally, those who have an expressively negative image of the Union’s current situation and actually don’t expect any improvement in the future are Eurosceptics. The analysis focused on the factors that give rise to Euroscepticism.
31% of Europeans share federalist opinions, 32% are Eurosceptics, and 37% are moderate EU-supporters. Great Britain stands out from among the Eurosceptic group, with six out of ten people: thus, the absolute majority of Brits are rather sceptical and pessimistic towards the current and future situation of the Union. There are three other countries where the proportion of the sceptics is outstanding: Sweden, the Czech Republic and Portugal, where 43%-46% of people belong to this category.
Stronger cooperation is supported mostly by the Slovak, Slovenian
and Greek societies: almost half of the citizens said they support stronger financial, defence and foreign policy cooperation, and even the idea of common European parties. These are the countries where the proportion of federalists is the highest.
Figure 1: Proportion of Eurosceptics in member states of the Union, 2012
The same goes for Hungary. The proportions related to the entire European society are well represented by our country: 31% of Hungarians are Eurosceptics, 33% are moderate EU-supporters and 36% share federalist opinions. We can see that among Hungarians, the proportion of the people being sceptical towards the Union is not higher, and a third of the society is definitely in favour of deepening the integration. However, it is worth taking into consideration that in EU terms Hungarian scepticism towards the EU can be considered average. In the Central and Eastern European region, it is only the Czech Republic where the Eurosceptics form a wider group. In the neighbouring countries and the Baltic area, the proportion of sceptics is characteristically below 25%.
Age plays a significant role in each member state. This is proved mainly by the fact that in most countries, the proportion of Eurosceptics is the lowest within the youngest generation, i.e., those 15-24 years old. This connection is visible even in Hungary: within the youngest generation the proportion of Eurosceptics is 26%, while within older groups it is uniformly 32-33%.
The impact of education is clear: it is true of each country that those spending more time educating themselves are less Eurosceptic than those who invest less time in education. However, it is instructive that Hungary can be listed among the countries where education has a much smaller impact – the time spent learning is not so significant in determining one’s Eurosceptic standpoint. Otherwise, Hungary differs from other countries of the region in this regard: since in the post-Soviet countries that acceded in 2004 the time spent on education is reducing significantly the proportion of the Eurosceptics.
Income variation also showed a strong connection: among the people in dire financial position, the proportion of Eurosceptics is 70% higher than in case of those where monthly utility bills do not cause problems. This is a criterion that is valid in Hungary to a lesser extent: the proportion of Hungarian sceptics among those in financial difficulties is 47%, and among those with stable conditions it is only 26%.
In about a third of member states (e.g. Bulgaria, Lithuania or France), the proportion of Eurosceptics is significantly lower among the citizens living in big cities. Hungary is such a country, too: in the countryside (37%) the proportion of Eurosceptics is 1.5 times higher than that of Eurosceptics living in big cities (24%). There are much smaller variations in other countries: thus, there are some countries where the countryside shows a lower proportion of Eurosceptics than big cities, but typically there is no significant difference.
Based on the grouping and the analysis, we can see that European society is fairly divided in its attitude towards the Union. There is a strong Eurosceptic group that thinks the situation is bad and they are pessimistic when considering the common future, but federalists form a group of a similar size that supports stronger cooperation. The opinion of those standing in the middle is characterized by moderate euro-optimism, but they also have serious reservations. It is worth noting that certain societies are getting dangerously polarized: Greek society is almost breaking along two standpoints: there are few people with medium and moderate views.
Looking at the map, we see that the spread of Eurosceptic standpoint has less clear historical-geographical causes, and it is not related to the Union’s membership either – we can’t list every West-European country among Eurosceptic countries. It is also a fact that the least sceptical countries are among those that joined in 2004. The distribution of Central and Eastern European countries behaving similarly in many respects is also spectacular: it is sufficient to think of Eurosceptics of the Czech society (above 40%) and the Romanian society (below 20%).
However, the role of the classical demographical variables is rather strong and similar in the majority of member states. Among the young, the proportion of Eurosceptics is actually significantly lower everywhere: this can be surprising on the one hand, since the young have traditionally been the strongholds of radical parties – who are often against the EU. On the other hand, we know that today’s youngsters are the group that makes the most use of the possibilities offered by the European cooperation – regardless whether the issue is about learning, travelling or employment. Such data may lead to the conclusion that these benefits have their effect: personal experiences strengthen the positive image of the Union.
Another important thing is that in every country, financial security is a criterion showing a strong impact: among the people living in a bad situation and with difficulties, the offensive and rejecting attitude towards the Union is getting stronger. The phenomenon known from the professional bibliography that people fighting with everyday living challenges often blame the players and powers that are bigger than themselves: the European Union fits into this role perfectly.