In recent years, Poland has been in a state of permanent dispute with the European institutions, the resolution of which is a condition for the allocation of substantial funds under the National Recovery Plan (Krajowy Plan Odbudowy). The Polish government, criticized for violating the rule of law, often refers to a sense of limited ‘sovereignty’, which, according to the opposition and some commentators, may in the future lead to a so-called Polexit, i.e., Poland’s exit from the European Union.
The second context within which we should place the reflections on the assessment of our EU membership is the international situation, more specifically Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. It has reopened the discussion about security in Europe and the ambivalent role of the European community as its guarantor.
The third, more local context, which seems to be only just emerging in public discourse, is the question of adopting the euro. It would be a remedy for rising interest rates, inflation, and increasingly unaffordable loans. Supporters of the European currency emphasize the benefits of adopting it, pointing out that countries, which have already adopted the euro, currently do not have the same economic problems as Poland does.
Meanwhile, regardless of the issues and concerns, Poles show overwhelming support for the European Union as such. According to a CBOS survey from the end of 2021, more than 88% of Poles declare themselves in favor of Poland’s membership in the European Union (‘Poland in European Union’, CBOS research report No 139-2021).
However, the situation is not as good as it seems. Polish presence in the EU is becoming noticeably more often contested in the public debate – primarily by right-wing political circles around parties such as Confederation (Konfederacja). Contempt for the European institutions is also increasingly often expressed by young people (or their voices are becoming more pronounced), which we could witness during the sessions of Sejm of Children and Youth (Sejm Dzieci i Młodzieży) – many young people’s speeches ended with radical words ‘And besides, I believe that the European Union must be destroyed.’
This is what prompted us to reflect on the phenomenon of Euroscepticism among youth and try to assess its scale. After all, for most of our respondents, the 18 years of Poland’s membership in the European Union coincided with their birth.
Thus, they do not remember the fierce pre-referendum debates, analyses of the costs and benefits of integration or the risks raised regarding the loss of national identity. Our respondents were born in the European Union, which for them was a given reality, neither negotiated nor won or imposed – it was simply given.
What does the European Union look like in their eyes? Can we truly speak of Euroscepticism among young Poles? And if so, what do they question and what they appreciate the most?
The result of our work is a report ‘Młoda Polska w Europie’ (‘Young Poland in Europe’), which presents the results of quantitative research, supplemented by the results of qualitative research, i.e., focus group interviews in which opponents of the European Union participated.
- The vast majority of respondents (85%) declared support for Poland’s membership in the EU. More than half of respondents (54%) also believe that Europe should be further united, although ¼ of respondents expressed a neutral opinion in this regard.
- Moreover, the majority of people surveyed (53%) agree with the statement that EU membership does not limit our country’s independence, but few respondents describe Poland’s influence on EU activities and decisions as satisfactory. A large number of respondents described this influence as insufficient, and a similar number of people expressed indecision in their assessment in this regard. Exactly 50% of respondents do not regard Polexit as a currently viable scenario, although also more than 1/3 of people did not have a clear opinion on this issue.
- The vast majority of respondents rated the effects of EU membership positively – as bringing more benefits than losses, both for individuals (62%) and for the country as a whole (70%).
- The largest number of respondents assess the impact of Poland’s accession to the EU as positive in regard to economy and infrastructure. However, in the case of the change in people’s values, the impact is unnoticeable for a significant group of respondents. The most divided opinions among respondents concern the impact on the level of bureaucracy in the country.
- A significant share of respondents described Poland’s international security after EU accession as greater than before (62%). Integration is similarly favorably assessed in terms of improving Poland’s position in Europe (60%), as well as its impact on the country’s overall development (61%).
- The idea of adopting the euro currency in Poland evokes mixed feelings. As many as 27% of respondents do not have an opinion on this issue. 40% of respondents are against the euro, while 33% are in favor.
- 76% of respondents feel that they are Europeans, and 85% feel that they are Poles. A sense of pride in being a European citizen is expressed by 69%, while a sense of pride in being a Pole is expressed by 72%.
- In the qualitative research, we wanted to look more closely at the group of respondents who described their attitudes as Eurosceptic. It turns out, however, that it is not a radical Euroscepticism and that the opponents of the EU also notice the advantages of being part of the European community.
- Presence in the EU is perceived by respondents as an ‘unpleasant necessity’ with slightly more disadvantages than advantages. The former includes bureaucracy, unclear regulations and procedures, which, according to respondents, hinder the development of entrepreneurship, the risk of limiting Polish sovereignty, the perceived ineffectiveness of the EU in conducting joint international policy in times of war, the possibility of Poland being flooded with ‘foreign culture’ and foreign people, a progressive talent drain to other countries, and a generally unclear vision of the EU’s future.
- Trade facilitation – an open market for goods, services, labor, EU subsidies for infrastructure development (although their impact on development is simultaneously questioned), a community structure that has the potential to be a platform for more effective international policy, and the accessibility of other countries in terms of tourism and education – are all much appreciated.
- The survey participants also agree that currently, there is no chance of Poland leaving the EU. They consider the Polexit scenario unrealistic and used as a ‘political bogeyman’.
- With regard to the adoption of the euro, the reluctance expressed in respondents’ statements is rather superficial and poorly justified. Typical fears of price increases are predominant. Respondents lack the reliable knowledge required to express themselves on these issues in depth. Among some respondents, however, the euro arouses curiosity and is an acceptable option as long as there are real benefits involved.
- Participants in the focus group interviews had difficulties defining the direction in which the Union could develop. They notice the disadvantages that might be associated with the admission of new countries – in their view, the EU will lose what remains of its efficiency and will be an ineffective entity, too diverse to achieve its goals. They express the expectation of a broader debate on European affairs that would not be one-sided and would give dissenting voices a chance to be heard.
- Interestingly, respondents tended to be favorably inclined towards the idea of Ukraine’s admission to the EU, although they indicated that this should be their independent decision and not coerced by someone from the outside. With voices indicating that the country would certainly benefit economically from integration, however, concerns were raised as to whether Ukraine would ‘fit in’ with the EU and whether it would be able to use this opportunity.
The report was originally published in Polish by Projekt: Polska with support of Fundacja Wolności Gospodarczej
Full version of the report is available here
Written by: Krzysztof Mączka, Maciej Milewicz, Miłosz Hodun