10 September 2014

Most Europeans would make concessions to keep Britain in Europe – new research

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Most voters around the EU believe their governments should do more to try to accommodate British concerns about its terms of membership, writes Sunder Katwala, so as to make it more likely that Britain would stay in the European Union. Only the French prefer that Britain should leave.

So says the new Transatlantic Trends survey, which includes polls in nine EU member states. The report finds that 51% of respondents believe more should be done to help Britain to stay, while 38% would rather see the UK leave than have concessions made to help them to stay.

There was majority support for this in seven countries – Sweden (56%), Poland and Greece (both 55%), Portugal and Italy (both 52%), and Germany and Spain (50%). Dutch respondents preferred to accommodate Britain, by the narrower margin of 45% to 40%.

There was only one country where most people felt it would be better for Britain to leave. In France, 42% support accommodating British concerns but 51% say that it would be better if Britain left. Half a century since General de Gaulle said ‘Non’ to British membership in the 1960s, it seems that the French would find it easier than other Europeans to say ‘au revoir’ to Britain’s reluctant Europeans.

57% in Britain said they would like to see the EU do more to accommodate British concerns, against 35% saying that it would be better if the UK left.

Asked if, on balance, EU membership has been good or bad for Britain, 50% of the British say it has been a good thing, with 41% saying it is a bad thing.

That is the lowest rate of support across the EU countries polled. Greeks still think EU membership has been, on balance, good by 53% to 42%, with the EU average being 65% support.

This comparative poll supports the theory that the British are moderate ‘milky tea Eurosceptics’ rather than strongly anti-European. Previous British Future polling has shown a majority public preference to stay in a reformed EU. The Transatlantic Trends survey shows that public opinion in Europe would like to see that too.

The domestic and EU-wide politics of reform and renegotiation remain enormously complex – as does the debate about a contentful EU reform agenda, or the possible terms of a UK renegotiation. It is likely to be one of the central issues of the next General Election and beyond but nobody has yet set out the terms of a possible deal that might give both Britons and Europeans what most say that they want.

The poll also shows that frustration at how governments handle immigration is a widespread phenomenon internationally.  Just one in four in the UK (26%) are satisfied with how the government is handling immigration, with 73% dissatisfied. There were very similar responses in the USA (23% to 71%) and a still higher level of dissatisfaction in Greece (75%) and Spain (77%).

Opinion is more balanced in Germany – with 46% satisfied and 51% dissatisfied with the handling of immigration.  There has been a very rapid rise in German migration, with the country’s stand-out economic performance in the EU seeing inward net migration figures at 437,000, a twenty year high, considerably outstripping the level of net migration in the UK.

Dissatisfaction was 60% across the EU, with Sweden (60% to 38%) standing out as the EU country where a clear majority were satisfied with the handling of immigration.

But the Transatlantic Trends survey is also the latest poll to demonstrate a distinction between majority dissatisfaction with how immigration is being handled and anti-migrant sentiment.

Most Europeans say that they have at least a few friends who are immigrants – 58% across the EU say that they do have friends who were born in another country, while 41% do not. There was a higher degree of contact in the USA, where 69% report having friends who are immigrants, while 30% do not.

58% of Britons say they have friends who were born abroad. Polish respondents (surveyed in Poland) were most likely to say that they did not (70%).

The poll captures mixed views of integration. In Britain 46% say that immigrants are integrating well and 50% that they are integrating poorly, close to the European average in this poll.

There is majority confidence about how the children of migrants are integrating: 63% in Britain and 61% across the EU say that the children of migrants are mostly integrating well. The Swedish and the French were more pessimistic about integration, with 48% in France saying that the children of migrants were not integrating well.

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