Better since Brexit? How Europeans feel about the EU

Europeans are less positive towards the European Union than they were a year ago, but on the whole views of the EU are mainly far more positive than a decade ago and more optimistic than before Brexit, a new survey has revealed.

EU flags in Brussels
How do Europeans feel about the EU? (Photo by JOHN THYS / AFP)

Some 45 percent of respondents to the EU-wide Eurobarometer survey said they have a positive image of the EU, which reflected a 7 percent drop compared to a year ago, but higher than in 2013, when only 31 per cent had a positive image of the bloc.

Some 17 percent of people in the EU had a negative image of the EU, a rise of 5 percent compared to a year ago, but again the proportion of people with negative views was lower than a decade ago when it stood at 28 percent.

Countries where people had the most positive views towards the EU were Ireland (72 percent) and Portugal (70 percent), followed by Luxembourg and Sweden (both 64 percent). At the other end of the scale were Slovakia and Greece (31 percent), and France, Austria and Czechia (35 percent).

Views of EU membership changed after Brexit

The survey revealed a general positive perception of EU membership, with 61 percent of respondents viewing their country being part of the bloc as a ‘good thing’. Although that figure reflects a drop from the 65 percent who viewed EU membership as a good thing one year ago.

The figure has increased however since the UK voted to leave the EU in 2016, when it stood at 53 per cent.

Ireland again, together with Luxembourg and Lithuania (all at 84 per cent), top the list of countries where people view EU membership positively. Slovakia, Greece and Romania are at the bottom of the list.

The positive trends are seen, at least partly, as a result of Brexit.

“We saw this in 2016, we saw it in 2019 again, in the individual data throughout the countries, that yes, Brexit had this impact on how citizens see the European Union. You might even go a step further and say that certain political narratives that might have been present in a number of countries until the exit of the United Kingdom very quickly disappeared afterwards,” said Philipp Schulmeister, the European Parliament’s Director for Campaigns, at the press conference to present the survey.

The parliament’s spokesperson Jaume Duch Guillot said that Brexit had a smaller impact in countries like Spain and Portugal and “in countries that historically have always been in favour of being members”.

But the impact of Brexit was seen more in those states where there was already a public debate about being in or out of the EU.

The survey was published to mark one year until the next European Parliament elections, which is planned between the 6th and 9th of June 2024 depending on the country.

When it comes to the future of the EU, more than half of citizens in all EU countries are optimistic, except in France and Greece, where the share is 45 percent.

Overall, 54 per cent of respondents said they are satisfied with the way democracy works in the EU and 71 percent said the EU had an impact on their daily lives.

However, 50 per cent saw a decline in the living standards and 65 per cent were not happy with the measures taken by their own country to tackle the cost of living crisis.

In terms of priorities for the future, respondents want the European Parliament to focus primarily on poverty and social exclusion (38 percent), public health (33 percent) and climate change (31 percent).

This article was published in collaboration with Europe Street news.

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Commission official: ‘Up to Sweden how strict it is on Brexit applications’

An official from the European Commission has defended its decision not to take action on Sweden's strict treatment of late applications for post-Brexit residency, arguing that it is up to member states how to apply the Withdrawal Agreement.

Commission official: 'Up to Sweden how strict it is on Brexit applications'

In an email sent to The Local, the official confirmed the latest data, published at the end of last year, which showed that 22 percent of residence applications from UK nationals under the Withdrawal Agreement had not been successful in Sweden. The official said this was similar to the rejection rate for Swedish citizens’ applications in the UK. 

“Through its regular monitoring in Annual reports under Article 159(2) of the Withdrawal Agreement, the European Commission is aware of the fact that Sweden has a high rate of refusal of residence applications under Article 18(1) of the Withdrawal Agreement,” the official said. 

But they said that this in itself did not indicate that Sweden was failing to apply the UK Withdrawal Agreement correctly. 

“As long as there is no indication that a Member State in question is incorrectly applying the Withdrawal Agreement rules, it is not for the Commission to tell Member States how strict or lenient they should be when processing late applications,” the Commission official said.

READ ALSO: Brits in Sweden still in limbo years after Brexit deadline

Two EU lawyers The Local spoke to earlier this summer said that they believed that the Swedish Migration Agency had not been correctly applying the proportionality test to late applications, and had been too narrow in its interpretation of what constitutes “reasonable grounds” for a late application.

They also said that they believed the Migration Agency had been overly strict on what level of employment or savings UK citizens were required to have to qualify as resident in Sweden under EU law, and to therefore be qualified for post-Brexit residency.

SEE MORE: Why did Sweden reject Brits for post-Brexit residency

But the Commission official said that when it came to the late applications at least, Sweden was entitled to take the position it had done. 

“If the host State authorities reach the conclusion that a late applicant did not have reasonable grounds for missing the application deadline, they do not have to deal with the application on substance,” the official said.

“This means that someone who would have qualified for the residence rights under the Withdrawal Agreement might not be granted those rights if they missed the application deadline and did not have a valid reason for doing so.” 

READ ALSO: Is Sweden getting EU law wrong on Brexit cases? 

An unusual high rejection rate, the official continued, did not mean that Sweden was breaking the terms of the EU Withdrawal agreement. 

“The fact that there are negative decisions being taken by Member States under Article 18 of the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) does not, in itself, indicate that those Member States apply the Withdrawal Agreement incorrectly,” they said.

The Migration Agency had carried out a review of refusals, they said, checking a selection for “legal quality”, something The Local has previously reported on.

The Commission had received the Migration Agency’s review, they said, but had yet to complete its analysis of the findings.