Citizens’ feeling of belonging to the European Union has reached an all-time high this year, according to the last standard Eurobarometer survey (fieldwork conducted in May 2015). Asked whether they feel they are citizens of the EU, 67% of the respondents said “yes” and 31% said “no”. When this question was first asked by the Eurobarometer in spring 2010, 62% answered “yes” and 37% “no”. This year is also the first time that the feeling of belonging to the EU is shared by the majority of citizens in every single member state (with the partial exception of Greece, where the public opinion is equally split between “yes” and “no”). Back in 2010, the majority of citizens in five member states did not feel part of the EU.
As is it clear from the wording of the question as well as from the survey results, to ask about the feeling of belonging to the EU is something different from asking about the citizens’ attitude towards the EU. For many years the Eurobarometer has been asking citizens whether they think that their country’s membership in the EU is a good thing, and to what an extent they trust the EU institutions. The feeling of belonging to the EU does not necessarily coincide with a feeling of trust in the EU itself, and for this reason public opinion’s stance on these issues follows different trends.
The percentage of people who felt they were citizens of the EU remained stable from 2010 to 2013. It has started to grow since spring 2014. Eurobarometer’s authors argue that this growth is probably influenced by the European Parliament elections held in that period. Yet the trend has not reversed after the end of the electoral period, and the feeling of belonging to the EU has further increased among citizens since then.
My guess is that the 2014 European elections tell only part of the story. If we look back at the last months and years, what we see is that all the main issues discussed in the public sphere in the EU have a clear European dimension: the economic crisis, the euro crisis, the issue of immigration and asylum, the confrontation with Russia, and so on. It is a couple of years that most of the issues making headlines in the different EU member states have such a clear European dimension. This is unprecedented, and it naturally feeds a feeling of interconnectedness of European citizens’ problems and destiny.
One might like it or not, but a European dimension of economy and politics now exists (as I have argued elsewhere). It has become more and more difficult to pretend that it does not, and to ignore it. I guess that this is the main reason why a growing number of people are aware of their belonging to this common political and economic space. They feel that they are citizens of the EU because they hear, feel and touch the EU in their everyday life more than ever before. Some of them are not comfortable with this fact, yet they cannot fail to recognize such a reality. If this is true, we can expect the feeling of belonging to the EU to remain around its all-time high in the next surveys, or possibly increase even further.