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Euroscepticism in the EU: Trade, Trust and elected Mep's

Euroscepticism in the EU: Trade, Trust and elected Mep's
02/02/2016

The 2014 European elections were one of the biggest signs yet of increasing euroscepticism across Europe. Member states with the highest number of elected Eurosceptic MEPs include Hungary (71%), the UK (60%) and Greece (57%). But does the political makeup of the European parliament truly reflect the trust and attitudes of each country's own citizens?

Surveys of "Trust in the EU" (ECFR, 2014) quantify how much the public of each country "tend to trust" the EU. As a means of comparing this to how each country actually elects it members of the European parliament, the graph below displays these ECFR ratings of trust & public support for the EU and % of actual pro and eurosceptic MEPs elected in 2014.

Each of these EU countries elected an average of 78% pro MEPs - but this often conflicts with ratings of "Net Public Support of the EU. For instance, The Czech Republic, Germany and Spain show great levels of distrust of the EU, however elected the lowest number of Eurosceptic MEPs. This suggests that whilst the public who were surveyed have reservations of trust in the EU, membership is still is still seen as valuable. Some national political party manifestos place much emphasis on the value of being part of the world's largest single market, and place importance on EU trading benefits e.g. the free circulation of goods between member states. Furthermore, on average, each of the above country's intra-EU trade makes up over 60% of their total annual exports (Eurostat Report, 2011), perhaps this is why the public chose to elect more MEPs with the intention of reforming the EU, not leaving it it.

Each member state has a set of similar or unique reasons to distrust the EU. Most commonly, for those in the euro area, the Eurozone crisis has triggered a breakout in an aversion to the euro and the unified monetary policy.

GERMANY As the biggest economy in Europe, Eurosceptism in Germany has most likely been spurred on by repeatedly bailing out other EU member states due to unbalanced fiscal policies in the eurozone. This has resulted in some opposition to the euro in Germany, but not exiting the EU. In fact, surveys in 2012 showed that 65% of German participants would choose to return to the Deutschmark (EurActiv, 2013). It was also in 2013 that the anti-euro Alternative for Germany party (AfD) was founded. The 7% of eurosceptic MEPs elected in 2014 are all from this new party.

FRANCE France is often regarded as a highly Eurosceptic country, however, only 34% of France's elected MEPs in the 2014 European elections are self-professed Eurosceptics. Public support for the EU dropped in France from +22% to -10% between 2007 and 2012 (Eurobarometer, 2007; 2012). This reflects trust in the EU before and after the peak of the economic crises. Following this, many French citizens have come to oppose the Euro, in fact in 2010 60% surveyed agreed that the Euro was "bad for the French economy" (EU Observed, 2010). Seemingly, the French eurosceptism is also "soft"; opposed to specific EU policies rather than EU membership in its entirety.

HUNGARY In the 2012 European elections, Hungary elected the highest number of Eurosceptic members of parliament. Almost 80% of Hungary's total exports in 2010 were within the EU; despite this, the country elected 15 Eurosceptic MEPs in the 2014 elections (71% of Hungary's potential seats). Hungarian trust in the EU also took a dive in surveys from +32% in 2007 to -7% in 2012 - following the worst of the global economic crises. The Eurosceptic views elected in 2014 are mainly split between the hard Eurosceptic ideology of Jobbik in the EFD Fraction (Europe of Freedom & Democracy Group) and the soft-eurosceptics of the Fidesz Faction who oppose the Euro. Currently, Hungary uses Forint (HUF) currency and seen the highest growth in the EU in the second quarter of 2014 (3.9%) (KSH, 2014).

ITALY In the 2014 European elections, Italy elected the most Eurosceptic MEPs it has in years (30%), following the creation of the 5 Star Movement party (founded after the 2009 elections). This trend also correlates with the fact that Italian support for the EU reduced from +30% to -22% in surveys from 2007 to 2012 (Eurobarometer Opinion Polls, 2007; 2012). Possible reasons behind the country's increasing eurosceptic stance have been linked to disappointment in the Italian government and mistrust in European Institutions (The Local, 2014).

SPAIN Since 2007, Spain's support for the EU has dramatically declined and were the least trusting of the EU in 2012. Spanish trust in the EU decreased from +42% (2007) to -52% in 2012 (Eurobarometer, 2007; 2012), yet none of the elected MEPs in May 2014 are hard Eurosceptics. This might be explainable by the 68% figure of Spain's total trade (Eurostat, 2011) which is intra-EU. This suggests that whilst citizens may feel a high amount of distrust for the EU, the advantages of trading within the EU as a member state is an overriding factor. The EU is the world's largest single market, with transparent rules, regulations and less trade barriers for members - perhaps the reason why most countries will stay.

UK The United Kingdom elected a record number of MEPs from the anti-EU party UKIP (24). Only 40% of MEPs elected in 2014 were in favour of continued EU membership or referendum. Now, the United Kingdom is the 2nd most Eurosceptic member of state in the EU. Parties such Labour argue for a promising economic future in the EU, however despite the 54% of intra-EU trade shown below, parties such as UKIP are against membership because of border controls, blackout risks and perceived threats to public services. Now, with a record high number of Eurosceptic Members of European Parliament, and decreasing national trust in the EU (-13% Support in 2007 to -49% in 2012), the question of leaving the EU has become more debatable than ever.

TRADE IN THE EU The EU is the world's largest economy in the world and largest trading block; top trading partner for 80 countries and the most open to developing countries (European Commission, 2014).

Research shows that most eurosceptic views are of the "soft" type; which focus mainly on specific EU policies, most notably the adoption of the Euro, ECB monetary policy and austerity. Whilst each member state benefits from the Union's huge single market and free trade, perhaps membership can be beneficial without over-ambitious hopes of political integration and a common currency.

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