Visegrad views on EU at odds with policy

By bne IntelliNews November 18, 2016

At odds with the stance of their respective governments, Czechs are the most sceptical in Central Europe that EU membership is good for their country, while Poles are the most convinced, a survey released by the European Parliament on November 18 shows.

Brussels has been confronted bitterly by Warsaw over the last year, which has added to longstanding antipathy from Budapest and spats with Bratislava. Despite the best efforts of Czechia’s outspoken president, however, Prague has largely sought to distance itself from its troublesome partners in the Visegrad Four. Yet the views held by voters in the various countries appear largely at odds with all the stances of their governments.

Just 32% of Czechs think that membership of the EU is a “good thing,” the Eurobarometer poll reports. Only in beleaguered Greece is the population less impressed with life inside the bloc.

At the other extreme is Poland, where a surprising 61% are happy to be in the Brussels club. The Eurosceptic ruling PiS party may find that uncomfortable, although a look at the country’s Baltic neighbours Estonia and Lithuania (63% and 67%) might suggest security is a significant driver of the popularity of the EU. Latvia, with a larger ethnic Russian population, lags at just 48%.

Certainly, PiS did little to hide its Euroscepticism ahead of winning a landslide victory around a year ago. The party remains the country’s strongest, despite declaring a “cultural counter revolution” against Brussels.

That push is part of an increasingly close partnership between PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski and Viktor Orban - the long-term Brussels-baiting Hungarian prime minister. While less than half of Hungarians are EU fans, after six years of persistent conflict led by Orban it’s revealing that 47% still have faith in the bloc the Central European states joined with such enthusiasm in 2004. That said, that’s the same level as in the UK, which has just voted to leave of course.

As Slovak prime minister over the last five years or so, Robert Fico has also often rowed with Brussels, although the issues tend to relate to specific topics: Greek bailouts, migrants, Russian sanctions, gas flows to Ukraine. In general, as leader of the smallest of the Visegrad states and the only member of the euro, Fico’s Smer party has tended to talk up membership. He only has half of his compatriots convinced, however, with just 54% keen.

At 81%, Luxembourgers are the happiest of all with life inside the EU. The Irish (74%) and Dutch (72%) are the next biggest supporters.

While the populations in Central & Eastern European states are largely less enthusiastic than those further west about EU membership now, they are clearly convinced that joining was beneficial. That’s presumably because richer western states have been paying for development funds that are handed out further east.

Again it’s the Czech republic, perhaps the most developed of the CEE states, that is least impressed, but still 61% of those polled agree that membership of the EU has been beneficial on balance. Hungarians and Latvians are largely in step with that view.

The rest of the region is far more certain which side the bread has been buttered, occupying much of the top of the ranking. Lithuanians lead with a whopping 86% convinced membership has been good for the country. Not far behind are the Poles (81%), Estonians (80%) and Slovaks (79%).



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