A substantial majority of the populations in the Visegrad Four states believe they have benefitted from EU membership, according to the European Parliament’s latest Parlemeter poll released on October 18.
The poll’s results are in stark contrast to the populist, eurosceptic rhetoric from political leaders in the region, especially so-called “illiberal democrats” such as Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
Enthusiasm for EU membership was well above the average in the EU28 across Poland (where 84% of respondents said they had benefitted), Slovakia (74%) and Hungary (72%). Hungarians and Poles also believed things were going in the right direction in both their home countries and the EU as a whole, in contrast to most CEE/SEE respondents who thought things were going in the right direction in the EU — but not in their home countries.
Only in Czechia, where just 56% of respondents said their country had on balance benefitted from EU membership, was the percentage in favour below the EU wide average of 64%. Czechs also thought things were going in the right direction at home, but not in the EU. Czechs are heading to the polls in an election Andrej Babis’ eurosceptic, anti-immigrant ANO party is widely expected to lead.
Looking at the wider CEE/SEE region, the highest level of enthusiasm for EU membership was recorded in Latvia, with 88% believing they benefitted, putting it third overall after Ireland (90%) and Malta (89%). Similarly high numbers appreciated the benefits of EU membership in Estonia (81%), showed the survey, which also indicated somewhat more keenness on membership among the new member states to the east, while the most negative were Italy, Cyprus and Greece — the only three members where less than 50% of respondents though EU membership had brought net benefits.
There was also a very clear consensus among the eastern EU members that the greatest benefit it had brought them was new work opportunities. Respondents in all countries from the region except Estonia and Slovenia rated work opportunities the top reason why their country had benefited. In Estonia and Slovenia the primary reason was also economic; they appreciated the contribution the EU had made to their country’s growth.
The emphasis placed on the economic benefits of EU membership and most respondents’ enthusiasm for membership is food for thought for political leaders in the region.
In Hungary, Orban has been at loggerheads with the EU for years, but the attack on the European Union has become a centrepiece of his policies since the refugee crisis in 2015.
Hungary adamantly rejects the EUs refugee resettlement quotas and even after a recent ECJ’s ruling it is not willing to admit its share of 2,300 asylum seekers. The recent ruling on EU refugee resettlement quotas opened the door for the “Soros Plan,” which Brussels will now try to force on Hungary”, Orban reportedly told MPs earlier last month, as his government continues to demonise businessman and philanthropist George Soros.
The government has even launched a national consultation entitled “Stop Brussels,” focusing on six specific issues. The questionnaire called on people to stand up for national independence to support the “government’s efforts to combat mistaken proposals on the part of Brussels”. The European Union responded in a swift and surprisingly stringent tone, saying that claims and allegations made in the consultation were factually incorrect or highly misleading and in statement posted on its website rebutted point by point each objection.
Similarly, Poland has been at odds with Brussels over Warsaw’s adherence to the rule of law principles since the nationalist right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party took over in late 2015.
The spat has resulted in a deepening isolation of Poland in the EU and a worsening of Warsaw’s relationships with key member states such as France or Germany.
The 2017 Parlemeter survey, which interviewed 27,881 citizens in the 28 member states, confirmed the citizens’ increasingly favourable view of the EU, continuing a trend visible in surveys since 2016.