13 August 2015

A new poll from Opinium Research (which surveyed people from the UK, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal) has produced some interesting findings on the issue of ever closer union (as well as other issues including Greece and migration).

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As the graph shows, there is substantial differentiation across these countries in terms of where they believe the EU should be heading. Overall, only 35% supported moving towards ‘ever closer union’ while 49% believed the EU should stay where it is in terms of integration or that it should repatriate powers to member states (20% and 29% respectively).

Unsurprisingly, UK respondents were the least in favour of ever closer union and most in favour of repatriation closely followed by the Dutch. Somewhat more surprisingly, the French were third and proved to be less in favour of ever closer union than the Germans. This is one of the sentiments which Front National leader Marine Le Pen is trying to tap into.

Nevertheless, in terms of UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s push for EU reform such results are welcome. As we highlighted in our EU reform blueprint, ending ever closer union should and probably will be a key part of his reform plan. Of course this alone is far from sufficient. It needs to be tied in with practical issues such as safeguards for non-Eurozone states, refocusing the EU around the single market, making the EU more competitive and far more democratic. The results also show the pressure Cameron will be under given that many UK respondents want to see some powers repatriated. As we noted in our blueprint there are options to repatriate individual powers, but ultimately a change of direction in the EU is more important. Even if you bring a few powers back if the tide of ever closer union remains then the UK will be dragged to places it doesn’t want to go. Ultimately, ending the principle of ever closer union for all EU members would amount to a big change from the status quo.

Eurozone divisions

The poll also highlights another well-known issue – divisions across countries about how the Eurozone should progress. As we noted around the time of the five presidents’ report, Italy, Portugal and Spain are the most in favour of much deeper integration and a jump towards political and fiscal union. However, the position of France is again surprising from this perspective as its leaders are often in favour of integration. This reveals a number of tensions in the French position. Firstly, that its leaders are largely out of touch with what voters want to see on this issue, and secondly, that the country remains torn between its usual desire for EU integration and protection of national sovereignty. This might be partly down to the fact that it fears any integration will be driven by Germany.

Speaking of Germany, its results are also a bit surprising, although I have always believed Germans were willing to countenance deeper union due to their history and the belief that they will be able to largely control and dictate the terms of such integration. That said, it is not entirely surprising that they also post the largest number of people who believe the current level of integration is suitable – since they see the current set up with only small tweaks as sustainable. This helps to drive the large divergence between Germany and Netherlands, two countries which often agree on Eurozone policy issues (although there are also deeper cultural/historical factors). The Netherlands is very concerned about the plans for deeper Eurozone integration and will likely resist these as it does not want to be on the hook for paying for things without having much influence (unlike Germany).

All this ties in together in the need for different levels of integration in the EU between those inside and outside the Euro, as well as generally much greater flexibility within the EU to account for these different desires. However, fundamentally it also highlights challenges for the Eurozone to figure out exactly what it wants to be and bridge the big gap between different populations.