New Chatham House study: The Future of Europe: Comparing Public and Elite Attitudes

A major Chatham House study examining European attitudes on issues from identity and integration to the future of the EU has been released – a year on from Britain’s vote to leave.  

Based on a unique survey of more than 10,000 members of the public and 1,800 ‘influencers’ from politics, the media, business and civil society, the study compares these ‘public’ and ‘elite’ attitudes within and across 10 EU countries. The survey was conducted in between December 2016 and February 2017 in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom.

The Future of Europe: Comparing Public and Elite Attitudes reveals both significant divisions and threads of commonality across the continent. Importantly, it shows a lack of consensus among the elite over future EU integration – and a pronounced divide within the public on issues of identity. It highlights the split in attitudes between elites and the public over Europe’s future, but also reveals a surprising alignment in their attitudes in areas such as European solidarity and the EU’s successes and failures.

Its authors argue that Europe’s leaders must ‘engage frankly with political realities’ and do more to address the gap between their own attitudes and those of the public on deep social challenges around integration and identity. They add that the study contains ‘important implications’ for the debate over Europe’s future, which should be reframed to reflect the ‘profoundly different outlooks’ across the continent.

The paper is authored by Professor David Cutts, Associate Fellow, Matthew Goodwin, Visiting Senior Fellow, and Thomas Raines, Research Fellow, with the Chatham House Europe Programme.

Here you can find the full copy of the report and summary in English and German.

Some key findings from the survey reveal:*

The elite are split on whether the EU should have more powers. 37% think the EU should get more powers, 28% support the status quo, while 31% think the EU should return powers to member states. 

The public are much less likely to feel they have benefited from the EU. Only 34% of the public feel they have benefited from the EU, compared with 71% of the elite. A majority of Europeans (54%) think their country was a better place to live 20 years ago.

48% of the public and 62% of the elite think Germany plays a positive role in the EU. 28% of the public and 23% of the elite disagree.

Elite respondents were most likely to identify peace as the EU’s greatest achievement, while for the public it was freedom of movement – but both groups identified the same top five achievements: peace, the Schengen area, freedom of movement, the single market and the single currency.

At majority of the public (55%) and a plurality of the elite (43%) thought another member state will leave the EU within a decade.
Among the elite sample, politicians are the only sub-group where a plurality disagree with this. 

The public and elite are committed to an EU based on solidarity. 77% of the elite and 50% of the public think that richer member states should support poorer member states.  Only 18% of the public and 12% of the elite disagree.

*EU averages are calculated with the UK data excluded.

Thomas Raines, co-author, and Research Fellow on the Europe Programme at Chatham House, said: With the improving economy and relative political stability that could follow this year’s elections we could see a once-in-a-generation opportunity for genuine political and economic renewal in the EU. But to move towards that, leaders will first have to step beyond a one-dimensional debate over ‘more’ or ‘less’ Europe.  Our data reveals a broad diversity of perspectives among Europeans, across the continent as a whole and between states, that goes beyond a binary split. The debate over Europe’s future should be reframed to reflect the breadth of views across the continent and give space to critics – delegitimizing opposing voices and values may only serve to bolster anti-EU sentiment.’

 Co-author, Professor Matthew Goodwin said: More than ever, it’s essential to understand how those wielding influence across Europe think about its key challenges, how their views differ from the wider public, and how points of disagreement between the two sides could possibly be addressed. The survey contains unique data with important implications for the debate over Europe’s future. It reveals the extent of divisions between the general public and this ‘elite’. To move from crisis Management to political and economic renewal, European leaders can’t ignore the fact that they’ll need to do more to address the gap between their own attitudes and those of the public, particularly when it comes to solving deep social challenges. Likewise any attempt at progress towards deeper EU integration will be undermined if it fails to rest upon broad public consent as well as having the support of the elite.’

The Future of Europe: Comparing Public and Elite Attitudes is the result of a project made possible by funding from Stiftung Mercator, the Robert Bosch Stiftung, the King Baudouin Foundation and ERSTE Stiftung.