Checking the barometer. What do we think about the European Union? Thankfully, the European Union tells us. Its executive publishes a survey called the Eurobarometer, which asks various questions of people living across the Continent, including: do you tend to trust or not to trust the EU? The positive responses from the UK and from the EU as a whole are shown in the graph above. Of course, all the usual caveats about opinion polls apply – but they can still be useful things, so long as we don’t get overexcited about them.
Lower than average. So, without getting overexcited, it’s striking how the lines for the UK and for the EU are similar in one way but dissimilar in another. The similarity: their peaks and troughs occur at the same times. The dissimilarity: those peaks and troughs, and everything in between them, are much lower for the UK. In the latest set of Eurobarometer results, for November 2015, only 23 per cent of respondents from the UK said that they tend to trust the EU, compared to an EU average of 32 per cent.
Rivalling Greece. In fact, the UK’s trust in the EU isn’t just lower than the average – it’s pretty much the lowest there is. Again in the latest set of results, only two countries responded less favourably than we did: Greece (18 per cent) and the Greek part of Cyprus (17 per cent). But, as the graph to the right demonstrates (click for a larger version), their despondency has a shorter history than our own. We’ve been below them both in 16 of the last 22 surveys.
Down, down, down… Another thing that stands out from the latest survey is its downwards momentum. Our trust in the EU has declined by 6 percentage points since the previous survey; Greece’s has gone down by 8 points; Cyprus’s by 6. And it’s not just the least trusting nations that are feeling this way. The proportion of Germans who trust in the EU has fallen by 11 points from 39 per cent to 28 per cent. The migrant crisis – or perhaps, more truly, Europe’s response to it – is leaving a mark on public opinion.
…but out? With the referendum coming, all of these findings may cheer those who wish for Brexit. But there may be less cheer after the referendum actually happens. If, as seems likelier than not, the country votes to remain in the EU, we’ll still be left with the terribly difficult question: how can a Europhobic nation exist comfortably within the Union? The answer isn’t likely to be contained within David Cameron’s draft EU deal. Perhaps it will never be found.