I’m Dr Jan Eichhorn. I’m a Chancellor’s Fellow in Social Policy at the University of Edinburgh. So, Jan, the EU has been confronted with many challenges over the past few years, from migration to the Eurocrisis. What implications have these had on public opinion about the EU? It’s really interesting that we’ve seen, throughout the crisis, a decline in confidence in EU institutions across most European Union countries. So, there has been more scepticism about quite a few of the European institutions, and that’s consistent across most countries. However, that doesn’t mean that all Europeans suddenly dislike the European Union, necessarily. Sometimes, criticism can also be a sign of maturity of opinion.
And we see that, in particular, still in a lot of the Eastern European countries, where the governments often are, obviously, very sceptical - public attitudes actually quite pro-European Union, in many ways. So, it’s quite complex. While we do see that people aren’t necessarily satisfied with the status quo, we do also see that - in particular, in countries that have recently joined - there are sometimes very positive attitudes. How do public attitudes on the EU compare between the UK and other European countries? Now, on many views, the UK is an outlier. So, there are people who like or dislike the EU in all European countries. And, in particular, countries that have been hit by crisis situations - people are more sceptical.
But, the amount of people who really want out of the EU is hardly anywhere as high as in the UK. The UK is, by far, the country where people are most fearful, even, of European integration, migration, the undermining of one’s own culture. And has the highest proportion of people in most surveys who want to come out of the European Union. So, in other words, I think, we could say that, in the UK, Euroscepticism is most likely to actually translate into an attitude of wanting to leave, whereas, in other countries, Euroscepticism does not necessarily lead to that outcome. What are the views in other EU member states on the UK’s EU referendum debate?
So, it’s pretty clear that in - across most countries in the European Union, the majority of people would like the UK to remain a member of the EU. However, the extent to which they do this varies quite a lot. So, if you ask this question in Poland, in Spain,
or in Ireland, it’s up to 70 or 80% who say: The UK should definitely remain. If you ask the question, however, in France, for example, or Sweden, this percentage drops. It’s still a plurality, or even a majority, of people who want the UK to stay, but the number of people who want it to leave also increases quite a lot. The reasons for this are many-fold. So there are some people who think the UK is a positive partner, actually. For a lot of them, it’s also, you know, about own opportunities. So, there are a lot of different motivations that make people think the UK should stay or not. But, overall, the majority of people would like the UK to remain.
And we know that age can be an important factor in determining whether someone’s in favour of staying in or leaving the EU. Do we know why that’s the case? Now, in the UK, in particular, what we have seen is that especially younger people identify with a greater variety, if you wish, of kind of national orientations. So, amongst the older generations, in the UK, hardly anyone identifies as ‘European’. The younger you get, the more likely you are to say that you identify with things beyond your own country. It’s not the majority, but it’s a larger proportion. More young people - a lot of young people nowadays have grown up not knowing anything different than this very open kind of framework.
It is important to know, though, however, that - while in the UK, the younger you are, the more pro-European you are - this is not the case in all other countries, necessarily. These age patterns vary across the EU. In Poland, for example, the older you are, the more pro-European you are, and that probably has to do with the history and the development. So, we have to be careful, and should not assume that, because we find something in one country, that it applies everywhere else, too. What roles does the media play in shaping public opinion on the EU? It’s really interesting when we look at the media, and we know that it’s really complicated.
Because, often, we look at media content and say: Ah, the papers are saying that, and therefore we assume that people believe that. But, actually, if you look at the UK, for example, where we have this very strong, political media, actually - the UK is the country in Western Europe that consistently has one of the lowest levels of trust in the media, actually - and, in particular, the print media, so, for example. So, a lot of people are aware that you shouldn’t take everything at face value. So, we need to be a bit more nuanced with this.
What we know is that, in countries where the media is more polarised, is that people often read media, not to necessarily gain information, but in order to confirm views. So, the more polarised you have it, the more that’s the case. If you look at countries like Germany, where the media is less polarised, it’s slightly different how media usage is. So, it’s very difficult to say what the media ‘does’, exactly. It’s not just a cause of something - it’s also, in a sense, often, the media is a manifestation of actual public opinion. So, it’s a really complex interplay, and we should be quite careful when we assess the impact of media on public opinion.