Why EU election results are no surprise
May 26th, 2014
06:17 PM ET

Why EU election results are no surprise

By Bruce Stokes, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Bruce Stokes is director of global economic attitudes at the Pew Research Center. The views expressed are his own.

Europe’s voters have spoken – and what they had to say has shaken capitals across the continent as far right and some far left parties made significant gains in elections to the European parliament.

The results did not come as a complete surprise – there was widespread apprehension in Brussels ahead of the polls over the public’s mood and its implications for both the future direction of Europe and for national politics. Recent public opinion surveys had indicated disgruntlement among electorates in the wake of years of economic stress, with growing antagonism toward immigration and minorities.

Ironically, this electoral backlash came despite a slight rebound in positive economic sentiment in the region, and despite some polling indicating somewhat more favorable views toward the European Union as an institution. Yet even before the results were in, in an election that French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has described as an earthquake, a Pew Research Center survey had revealed a widespread perception among the public that the EU was out of touch, intrusive, inefficient and unwilling to listen.

After a dramatic decline in the wake of the euro crisis, the Pew Research survey, conducted in late March and early April, found that EU favorability was actually on the rise in France, the United Kingdom, and Germany. And faith in one of the EU’s founding principles – that European economic integration is good for their own country – was up in the U.K., Poland and Germany.

But elsewhere, ratings for the EU have yet to return to pre-crisis levels. Italians, in particular, are increasingly critical of the institution and are divided over whether to keep using the euro as their currency. And Greeks, who have suffered most from the economic downturn, remain deeply skeptical of many aspects of the European project.

Public sentiment was particularly damning when it came to how the EU touches citizens in their everyday lives.

A median of two-in-three Europeans thought that the European Union does not understand their needs, while a similar median voiced the view that the EU is intrusive in their daily lives. Meanwhile, 57 percent of those surveyed think the EU is inefficient.

Finally, in what may be the most telling public criticism of the EU, a median of about seven-in-ten Europeans expressed the view that their voice does not count in the European Union. The greatest frustration was found in Italy (81 percent) and Greece (80 percent). But even in Germany, two-thirds of the public has a favorable view of the EU, a strong majority said average citizens lack influence in Brussels.

Concern about immigration have fueled public antagonism. Majorities in Italy, Greece, France and the U.K. expressed a desire to curb immigration, in part because many believe that immigrants fail to assimilate, contribute to crime, and that they take citizens’ jobs and government social benefits. Such sentiment was particularly strong on the right in a number of nations. Nearly three-quarters of French on the right want to limit immigration, but only 40 percent of French on the left agree. Similarly 62 percent of Spanish on the right and 57 percent of Germans on the right want fewer immigrants compared with a third of the Spanish left and just over a quarter of the German left who support constraints on immigration. Given such sentiment, it is little wonder that the right wing French Front National and eurosceptic parties in Italy have also promised to push anti-immigrant policies in the European Parliament.

This weekend’s election results have underscored the discontent among Europe’s publics, and are a reminder that both Brussels and national governments will face new political challenges in the wake of the election. But while the scale of the gains may have been unexpected in some quarters, the disillusionment felt by many across the continent should not have taken anyone watching closely by surprise.

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Topics: Elections • Europe

soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. George patton

    Judging by these elections, it appears that there may be hope for Europe after all. The current European leaders are no more than puppets for the right-wing thugs in Washington as they wait and carry out each and every order with total obedience regardless of how the ordinary people feel. Uniting Europe was never a good idea and never will be!!!

    May 26, 2014 at 8:09 pm |
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

      It is very difficult for me to perceive the Obama administration as "the right-wing thugs in Washington."

      May 27, 2014 at 7:36 am |
    • m. laurent

      We don't want to be in NATO to be involve in a war far away from our wishes in Ukraine.We would like to be able to find a job in our country for us and our children .And perhaps not to be foreigner in our own country for social help,job,houses to rent. Living for me in a social house after living in a garage for many years was a chance .When I see some immigrant destroying some social houses ( HLM) it's a shame to let do such a thing.If they prefer to go on private housing and pay three more time why not to go? It's easy to bite the hand that fed you but you have one day to see at least the kind guy no more kind as usual !!!!!!!!

      May 28, 2014 at 8:28 am |
  2. asdadas

    this guy's accent! god disturbing!

    May 27, 2014 at 5:03 am |
  3. George Patton

    There goes that joker stealing my name again. He must be a fan of Sarah Palin. Uniting Europe was an excellent move. They are a stronger force to deal with, both financially and militarily.

    May 27, 2014 at 8:03 am |
  4. Tom Posey

    Good grief, George at 8:09, are you a supporter of Paul Bryan? What lingo! No one really cares to listen to such mumble jumble. This clown has got to go!
    It's that simple.

    May 27, 2014 at 8:07 am |
  5. Tom Posey

    George, Tom, good morning. The only thug around here is that clown stealing names @8:09. This jerk never quits. I saw that he stole my name in the Liberal Arts Education thread spewing all kinds of right-wing mumble jumble under my name!
    This clown wouldn't know the difference between a chemical engineering degree and a physical education degree teaching volleyball to a bunch of 7th graders.
    This clown has got to go!

    May 27, 2014 at 8:14 am |
  6. Patrick

    George, Tom, and Tom again, you said it all!

    May 27, 2014 at 8:16 am |
  7. J. Foster Dulles

    I suppose that sooner or later this jerk will steal my name, too. Before he does, I just want to say that I totally agree with George(8:09) above. No wonder Patrick gave up blogging here. I only wish that CNN would do something about this name thief as he's spoiling it for the rest of us.

    May 27, 2014 at 8:36 am |
  8. Tom Posey

    Sir, J. Foster Dulles is a personal friend of mine. And I truly doubt that he would appreciate you stealing his name. I will be sure to text him in his New York City business office as he is a financial advisor for major corporations at a particular firm. I doubt that he has the time to respond to such silly behavior that you exhibit here on these blogs.
    Futhermore, I will be in contact with the CNN editorial staff as to what can be done about your constant adolescent behavior interfering with these adult threads. Good day sir.

    May 27, 2014 at 9:21 am |
  9. j. von hettlingen

    It is true that EU citizens in general have "expressed a desire to curb immigration". Generally speaking, EU citizens are also migrants, if they move from one EU country to another, but they are protected by the law. Unfortunately many Western Europeans see the downside of the EU eastward enlargement, which had encouraged an influx of new EU citizens into the old member states. They are less welcome as many say they compete for social benefits and jobs with the locals. Other migrants are refugees fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East. They cross the Mediterranean in rickety boats and put pressure on the EU to find a solution.

    May 27, 2014 at 10:18 am |
    • m. laurent

      Thrue about 2 third of French have father or mother or big father or mother foreigner .Why because first world war and about 1 and half million dead,a real tragedy.After they was mainly Italien,Polish,Spanish,Portugal immigration.Not really welcomed to after a while fully integrated in French society .For muslim it's a bit different because of religion.They see women like not at the same level,and they don't trust us .Why do we have to trust someone who don't trust us in our own country ? “O you who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians as Awliyaa’ (friends, protectors, helpers), they are but Awliyaa’ of each other. And if any amongst you takes them (as Awliyaa’), then surely, he is one of them. Verily, Allaah guides not those people who are the Zaalimoon (polytheists and wrongdoers and unjust)”
      [al-Maa’idah 5:51 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KG_qu5kZgB0

      May 28, 2014 at 8:49 am |
  10. John Smith

    America is the root of all terror. America has invaded sixty countries since world war 2.
    In 1953 America overthrow Iran's democratic government Mohammad Mosaddegh and installed a brutal dictator Shah. America helped Shah of Iran to establish secret police and killed thousands of Iranian people.
    During Iran-Iraq war evil America supported Suddam Hossain and killed millions of Iranian people. In 1989, America, is the only country ever, shot down Iran's civilian air plane, killing 290 people.
    In 2003,America invaded Iraq and killed 1,000,000+ innocent Iraqi people and 4,000,000+ Iraqi people were displaced.
    Now America is a failed state with huge debt. Its debt will be 22 trillion by 2015.

    May 27, 2014 at 1:56 pm |
    • J. Foster Dulles

      Well said, John. Thank you for your input.

      May 27, 2014 at 4:04 pm |
    • John Smith

      I love America!

      May 27, 2014 at 10:33 pm |
  11. rupert

    @dazzle. Facepalm to u
    You quack.

    May 27, 2014 at 10:28 pm |
  12. J. Foster Dulles

    @4:04 Sir, will you please stop using my name? I do not appreciate it one bit.
    Grow up. What are you, 14 years old?
    Get a life please and post under a different name.

    May 27, 2014 at 10:31 pm |
  13. Jake

    "many believe that immigrants fail to assimilate, contribute to crime, and that they take citizens’ jobs and government social benefits." This is not a belief, its a fact.

    May 28, 2014 at 1:21 pm |
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    June 3, 2014 at 6:54 pm |
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  16. Panther

    This was just a reflection of a script. It was really a surprise how the elections played out.

    August 23, 2018 at 2:48 pm |
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