What do Europeans believe about the crisis and the possible way out?

European Parliament meeting: Feeding Europe in times of crisis. (EP Audiovisual Services, 17/10/2013).

European Parliament meeting: Feeding Europe in times of crisis. (EP Audiovisual Services, 17/10/2013).

Despite the falling level of citizens’ confidence in EU institutions during the past few years from 55% in 2007 to 44% in 2012, a recent Eurobarometer survey found that respondents insist that the EU is best placed to regulate banks, with 54% of the respondents supporting this view. This is a direct proof that Europeans do not trust their national authorities when it comes to setting rules for the financial industry. They prefer Brussels to undertake this task, on the hope that central regulation would be less biased in favour of the lenders.

The Netherlands is a very characteristic case of that. According to Eurostat, 55% of Dutch had, at the end of 2012, an overall confidence in EU institutions. When it comes to banks however, the Eurobarometer survey found in June 2013 that the public opinion in this country is overwhelmingly in favour of the Brussels authorities, as better placed to regulate the financial industry with an astonishing 72%. As mentioned above, people fear that national governments are prone to favour the lenders, a belief based on the hidden but obvious ties between sovereigns and banks. Asked by the Eurobarometer about “Regulation and cap on bankers’ bonuses”, the Dutch again respond en mass in favour, with an equally overwhelming 69%.

Eurobarometer

The abovementioned findings come from the European Parliament Eurobarometer (EB79.5) survey entitled, “One year to go to the 2014 European election”, conducted in June 2013. Concerning the banks, there are major differences between euro zone and non-euro zone respondents, ranging from 11 to 18 percentage points. The former are more likely to believe that measures, like support for banks in difficulty, would be more effective on European level, while the latter insist that financial measures would be more effective, if implemented at national level.

Understandably the same diversification between Eurozone and non-Eurozone citizens is noted, when it comes to confronting the economic crisis. More than 55% of the former category of EU citizens answer that the best way to counter the crisis is that their country adopts measures in coordination with the other member states. Half of non-euro area citizens (50%) agree with that.

It’s also very interesting to observe which measures are considered more appropriate to counter the economic crisis. More than 72% of all EU citizens believe that the key measures to confront the ongoing crisis are those designed to create jobs and combat unemployment. The next options are measures “stimulating growth” with 35% and “supporting purchasing power” and “combating inflation” with 34%-35%.

The euro

However, when it comes to the role of the euro in mitigating the negative effects of the crisis, all EU citizens have an overall negative idea. In June 2013, 54% of them completely disagreed with the proposal, that “the euro has mitigated the negative effects of the crisis”. Two years ago this percentage was a bit less at 51%. On the positive side, around 38% agreed last June that the euro played a positive role in confronting the ongoing crisis. Not surprisingly though, this percentage was less in September 2011 with 34%.

This increase of positive views about the euro between 2011 and 2013 is understandable. The reason is that, during the last two years, it became evident that confronting the crisis was not a short-term affair. Such a widespread recognition must have disturbed deeply a large part of Europeans. The 4% increase between 2011 and 2013 in people believing that the euro played a positive role is probably the outcome of the intense propaganda that more dreadful possibilities may lie ahead. Some EU governments kept brandishing in their rhetoric such threats as those, and mainstream media wilfully promoted the whole affair.

Not to forget that all along the past two years Greece was threatened with an exit from Eurozone and a total economic collapse. The Greek tragedy was ‘used’ by other troubled governments, as a dreadful phantasm to ‘convince’ the public opinion in their countries, that severe austerity measures were the only way out of the crisis. By the same token the Greek tragedy was ‘used’ all over the world in order to help many governments in their efforts to enforce unpopular policies.

In conclusion, EU citizens appear rather ‘terrorised’ by the ongoing crisis and more so by the recognition that this is not a passing affair. Bit by bit governments and media seem to insist, that this crisis is not a banking and financial issue, which may be cured with the use of monetary measures and strict controls on banks. On the contrary, they want to convince the public opinion that unpopular measures in the labour market and the social protection front are the only options to formulate a sustainable answer to the problem.

Obviously the final solution that Europe will choose will be formulated on the political arena. This is of course an ongoing procedure and that is why the entire political spectrum in many European countries has totally changed during the last two to three years. Naturally there is more to come.

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