AFP highlights a new poll showing support for the EU is flagging ahead of elections for the European Parliament.

The poll, commissioned by YouGov, shows that over the past 25 years, the percentage of Britons who think belonging to the EU is a good thing has fallen from 43 percent to 31 percent.Those who think the EU is a “bad thing” has risen to 37 percent, up from 30 percent.

And while the bloc has expanded eastwards to boost its membership to 27 states, voters have become more and more reluctant to support greater integration. Just one in five backs the idea now compared to one in three in 1995. The poll shows 33 percent want a less integrated Europe “with the EU amounting to little more than a free trade area”. And the number of people who want Britain to pull out of the EU has almost doubled, from 12 percent to 21 percent.

Many observers believe voters will opt for fringe parties in the elections in a protest against the main parties, whose MPs have been embarrassed by damaging revelations about their expenses.

The Economist, which commissioned the survey, adds:

Attitudes split roughly along party lines. Conservative voters are the most Eurosceptic (as well as, by a small margin, the most likely to vote). Liberal Democrat supporters are, surprisingly, slightly less keen on Europe than their Labour counterparts, even though the Lib Dems are officially the most Euro-friendly party.

There is also a correlation with age, with older voters leerier of Brussels than their younger compatriots. One explanation is that a cohort of greybeards have fond memories of life with a less powerful EU. Another, says Peter Kellner, head of YouGov, is that, like conservatism, Euroscepticism may come with age.

While Euroskepticism in the UK is hardly surprising, it’s not an isolated phenomenon.  Time‘s Leo Cendrowicz explains “Why So Few Care About the European Parliament Elections.”


Some blame the E.U. as a whole for appearing remote, abstract, bureaucratic and dull. The Parliament itself is all of that — and less. It lacks visible personalities, and doesn’t even have a ruling party or opposition to make it clear what is at stake. Instead, power is split among the big political groups — the conservatives, the liberals and the socialists — who rule largely by consensus. “This makes it difficult for people to see how their vote matters,” says Karel Lannoo, CEO at the Centre for European Policy Studies think tank. “Since they do not do anything like elect a European government, they do not feel they can change anything.”

If the structure is flawed, so is the content. The Parliament is often seen as a retirement home for washed-up national politicians. Its debates often drift towards a pomposity that is only amplified by translation into 23 official languages. The body’s monthly commute from Brussels to Strasbourg, a nonsensical legacy of French pride, merely reinforces suspicions that MEPs spend lots of money to scant effect.

Simon Hix, a professor at the London School of Economics and author of What’s Wrong with the European Union and How to Fix It, observes that the elections tend to serve as referenda on national political issues rather than addressing European ones. “It’s not a genuine contest for power at the European level,” he says.

The EU has slowly evolved in its 52 years from a coal and steel cooperative into the world’s largest free trade zone into something more.  It’s not quite a confederation, much less a “United States of Europe,” but neither is it a meaningless body.  Indeed, the fact that it still exists after all these years is extraordinary when judged against Europe’s long history of internecine violence.

At the same time, however, “Europe” is still more vision than reality.  And, given political scandals and a major economic recession at home, it’s no wonder that people are paying scant attention to events in far-off Brussels.

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council.

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