Problems with vaccine procurement have undermined confidence in the EU institutions, the ECFR survey found. The attitude of Germans and the French is particularly worrying.
Last year, residents of almost all regions of Europe felt that the level of governance in the broadest sense had improved, with the exception of the residents of Hungary and Poland. This may have been because democratic rights and institutions have been significantly weakened in these two countries in response to the pandemic.
A study by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) reports a rather unfavourable public attitude for the future of the continent. According to a survey of 12 Member States, including Hungary, in the spring, faith in the European Union has faltered as a result of the coronavirus epidemic.
Despite the Orbán government’s relentlessly Eurosceptic campaign, those who are distrustful of the EU or whose confidence in the community has been shaken since last year remain in the minority in Hungary, but the opposite has happened in other countries. In six Member States, the majority are already distrustful and losing confidence.
The depth of the crisis of confidence is shown by the fact that most French, Italian, and Spanish citizens said they were disillusioned with both the EU and their domestic political systems, and the majority of Germans believed that the EU was malfunctioning.
These are quite worrying signs for the future of Europe.
The research traces dissatisfaction back to a vaccination program that started slowly and chaotically earlier this year, compounded by the fact that the UK, which has just left the community, has quickly vaccinated its own population. However, the success of the recovery programme may have a positive effect on the perception of the EU – in eight of the 12 Member States, including Hungary, the majority of respondents expect the EU to provide key assistance in recovering from the coronavirus epidemic.
The fact that external shocks have pushed the EU from crisis to crisis over the last decade and a half may play a role in the loss of its prestige.
Between the global financial crisis, the debates over the Greek debt situation, the migration and refugee crisis, the Syrian civil war, issues related to asylum seekers, and the dragged-out process of Brexit, European leaders did not have a breather as the coronavirus epidemic hit the continent a few weeks later.
However, in the context of crisis management, decision-makers are making a tangible effort to breathe new life into the Union. In general, there is still a deep commitment to the EU:
in 11 of the 12 countries surveyed, the majority clearly feel that the EU membership was beneficial for their country, with 56 per cent in Hungary sharing this view.
Reopening, increasing vaccination, and economic recovery are expected to improve sentiment everywhere. The ECFR research concludes that European leaders are best placed to regain lost confidence by making the community a significant factor at the international level as well. Hungarians also want the EU to be a value-based community: 27.8 per cent would keep in mind the democratic values, and 26.3 per cent would protect European traditions and values while preserving strong nation-states.
A significant proportion of Hungarians believe that we handled the pandemic much or somewhat better than other countries. Roughly one-third (33.2 per cent) of the public thought that we had a better response to the crisis than the United States.
A survey conducted by Median showed that some Hungarians see the response to the pandemic through rose-tinted glasses: in that survey, 36 per cent of the voting population rated the deplorable Hungarian death statistics as relatively or very good; in the case of pro-government voters, the proportion was 53 per cent.