The rationale for sacrificing national sovereignty at the altar of European reform is eroding. Photo: Getty
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As Europe's economy slowly recovers, popular support for EU reform is falling

The time available to achieve European reform looks to be running out.

Many people think that Europe’s governing classes, the people who formulate so many of the laws and regulations that govern our everyday lives, don’t know and don’t care what we, the governed, think. The perceived disconnect between us and the "bureaucrats in Brussels" is, I suspect, one of the big reasons for the miserably low turnout at European elections (43.1 per cent across Europe last May).

But as a matter of fact they actually have a pretty good idea what we think (whether they care is a question I will leave to others). Twice a year, the Eurobarometer survey is conducted at vast expense by the European Commission to gauge public opinion across Europe. A random sample of around 30,000 citizens is asked for views on everything from whether the EU generates too much red tape (Yes - 73 per cent) to whether we trust political parties (No – 78 per cent). It’s an extraordinary resource, full of informational gifts, and it usually garners no attention whatsoever. This may be because it consists of over 100 excel-unfriendly tables, I don’t know. The data for the most recent edition was published at the end of July, as usual to a barely audible grunt of disinterest from the press. But this is a window into the mind of Europe, and there was one potentially unsettling story that emerged:

Europe’s citizens increasingly believe that the worst of the euro crisis is behind them. For the first time since the euro crisis began, a larger number of Europeans, 47 per cent, think the impact of the crisis on jobs has peaked than the 44 per cent who think the worst is still to come. That may be good news for consumer confidence, but there is a sting in the tail. As the euro crisis has receded, the rationale for sacrificing national sovereignty at the altar of European reform is eroding too. Modest economic improvements and a grinding familiarity with crisis conditions look to be in danger of breeding complacency. The need for European reform appears to be getting gradually forgotten.

This summer’s survey included questions on five specific suggestions for future European integration: financial services regulation; EU approval of member states’ national budgets; banking union; a financial transactions tax; and finally Eurobonds. Support for all has declined significantly since the same questions were posed back in November.

 

Support for Eurobonds down across the eurozone:

(Click on chart to enlarge)

Opinion on the introduction of Eurobonds remains roughly split along creditor-debtor lines: the Core strongly opposed, while electorates in the likes of Spain, France and Italy remain, on balance, in favour, though expressing far weaker support than even nine months ago. Notably the weighted average for the whole EU is now in negative territory for the first time.

Net support for a financial transactions tax across the EU has fallen from 35 per cent to less than 10 per cent since November. Even among the eleven countries that have signed up for it support is dropping, with four now showing a negative net balance. Where previously the priority was to counter the threat of financial catastrophe, now it appears to have shifted towards reclaiming fiscal autonomy.

 

Support for a financial transactions tax also down:

(Click on chart to enlarge)

One chink of light for European reformers is the broad support that still exists for Europe’s most recent reform - banking union - though that too has drifted somewhat.

 

Support for banking union down but still high:

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The sobering lesson from the latest Eurobarometer is that the time available to achieve European reform looks to be running out. May’s European elections, which saw an influx of eurosceptics to the European Parliament, were perhaps the most visible example of the falling appetite among European electorates for parties advocating a more integrated Europe. At the current rate, the focussing of minds required to reform Europe in order to avert the next crisis may fail to happen until the next crisis is upon us.

Richard Mylles is a political analyst at Absolute Strategy Research, an independent investment consultancy

Richard Mylles is a political analyst at Absolute Strategy Research, an independent consultancy based in London.

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Who's winning the European referendum? The Vicar of Dibley gives us a clue

These polls seem meaningless, but they reveal things more conventional ones miss.

At the weekend, YouGov released some polling on 30 fictional characters and their supposed views on Brexit.  If you calculate a net pro-Remain score (per cent thinking that person would back Remain minus the per cent thinking they’d vote for Leave), you have a list that is topped by Geraldine Granger, the Vicar of Dibley (+21), and ends with Jim Royle (-38).

It’s easy to mock this sort of thing, and plenty did: “pointless”, “polling jumping the shark”, and so on. Some even think pollsters ask daft questions just to generate cheap headlines. What a cynical world we live in.

But the answers to those questions tell you quite a lot, both about the referendum campaign and about voters in general.

For one thing, most of the fictional characters that people saw as voting to Remain are (broadly) nice people, whilst the Outers included a fair few you’d not want to be stuck in a lift with, along with other chancers and wasters. On one side, you have the Vicar of Dibley (+21), Mary Poppins (+13), Miranda (+11), and Dr Who (+9) taking on Hyacinth Bucket (-13), Tracy Barlow (-15), Del Boy (-28), and Basil Fawlty (-36) on the other. This isn’t really much of a contest.

Obviously, some of these are subjective judgements. Personally, I’d not want to be stuck in a lift with the Vicar of Dibley under any circumstances – but she’s clearly meant to be a broadly sympathetic character.  Ditto – with knobs on – Miranda. And yes, some of the Outer characters are more nuanced. Captain Mainwaring (-31) may be pompous and insecure, but he is a brave man doing his best for his country. But still, it’s hard not to see some sort of division here, between broadly good people (Remain) and some more flawed individuals (Out).

So, on one level, this offers a pretty good insight into how people see the campaigns.  It’s why polling companies ask these sort of left-field questions – like the famous Tin Man and Scarecrow question asked by John Zogby – because they can often get at something that normal questions might miss. Sure, they also generate easy publicity for the polling company – but life’s not binary: some things can generate cheap headlines and still be interesting.

But there are two caveats. First, when you look at the full data tables you find that the numbers saying Don’t Know to each of these questions are really big– as high as 55 per cent for both Tracy Barlow and Arthur Dent. The lowest is for both Basil Fawlty and Del Boy, but that’s still 34 per cent. For 26 out of the 30 characters, the plurality response was Don’t Know. The data don’t really show that the public think Captain Birdseye (-11) is for Out; when half of all respondents said they don’t know, they show that the public doesn’t really have a clue what Captain Birdseye thinks.

Much more importantly, second, when you look at the cross breaks, it becomes clear how much of this is being driven by people’s own partisan views. Take James Bond, for example. Overall, he was seen as slightly pro-Remain (+5). But he’s seen as pro-Brexit (-22) by Brexit voters, and pro-Remain (+30) by Remain voters.

The same split applies to Dr Who, Postman Pat, Sherlock Holmes, Miranda, and so on.

In fact, of the 30 characters YouGov polled about, there were just eleven where respondents from both sides of the debate agreed – and these eleven excluded almost all of the broadly positive characters.

So, here’s the ten characters where both Remain and Leave voters agreed would be for Brexit: Alan Partridge; Jim Royle; Del Boy; Hyacinth Bucket; Pat Butcher; Tracy Barlow; Captain Mainwaring; Catherine Tate’s Nan; Cruella De Vil; and Basil Fawlty.

That’s not a great roll call. And it must be saying something that even Outers think Cruella De Vil, Alan Patridge, and Hyacinth Bucket would be one of theirs.

Mind you, the only pro-Remain character that both sides agree on is Sir Humphrey Appleby. That’s not great either.

For the rest, everyone wants them for their own.

So what about those who say they don’t yet know how they will vote in the referendum? These might be the key swing voters, after all. Maybe they can give a more unbiased response. Turns out their ranking is broadly similar to the overall one – with scores that are somewhere between the views of the Outers and the Inners.

But with this group the figures for don’t knows get even bigger: 54 per cent at a minimum, rising to a massive 77 per cent for Arthur Dent.

And that’s because, lacking a partisan view about the referendum, they are not able to project this view onto fictional characters.  They lack, in the jargon, a heuristic enabling them to answer the question. Which tells you something about how most people answered the questions.

Philip Cowley is Professor of Politics at Queen Mary University of London.