Europe and Greece: a common destiny
The integration of Greece into the European community symbolized - and in fact was - a means for progress: ensuring national integrity after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus (1974), stability in Greek politics after decades of turbulent history, termination of economic backwardness and convergence with the other European societies and their high standard of living. Until the 2010s, being a pro-European, a supporter of the Union was almost a given; since Europe, in the eyes of Greeks, was - at the same time - an ideal and a social prerogative.
FNF’s public opinion survey on "EUROPE" reveals that the future of Greece is concomitant with the common European destiny. Almost 6 in 10 citizens (58%) positively assess the country's participation in the EU; a trend with remarkable stability since 2001 (60%) and 2012 (51%). Thanks to its European integration, Greece experienced social progress (58%), increased its influence in the Balkans and the world (46%), enjoyed economic stability and prosperity (43%), and strengthened its Democracy (39%). The final assessment is, in other words, positive; especially if one considers the country’s sensitive geographical position and the constant concern around "national issues", which EU membership has neither benefited nor harmed (40%).
Since the 2010s, the relationship between Greece and the EU has been changing, experiencing considerable fluctuations, without, however, ever reaching a point of a final rift. The painful socio-economic reforms imposed by the troika's (EU Commission, ECB, IMF) management of the Greek debt crisis have been recorded as a "trauma" in the collective unconscious and have caused major ideological and political shifts within the country that still determine the balance of its political system: the space from the Left to the Centre-Left - which was once distinguished for its internationalism or pro-Europeanism - appears much more hesitant towards Europe, its institutions, its policies, and its managerial competence than the Centre-Right, which was once occupied by intense ethnocentrism. Likewise, convergence with Europe remains an important issue at stake for the parties that managed it for decades (ND-PASOK/KINAL) compared to the parties that emerged from the "anti-austerity" tsunami during the 2010s.
Today, more than 7 out of 10 citizens (74%) believe that Greece belongs to Europe, returning to the level of 2008 (74%) - the year in which the highest rates of "Greek Europeanism" were recorded - after the pivotal 2010 when public opinion was split in half (47% pro - 49% against). Today, it is the country's equal participation in the EU that is being questioned (44% of respondents agree, 44% disagree). After all, it is no coincidence that in this survey all the economic components - that is the set of questions related to the economic/fiscal dimension of the EU - record lower acceptance rates, without, however, turning into revisionism.
Since the start of the debt crisis, Greek public opinion has been converging with the skepticism recorded in other European societies. A skepticism with roots in the rising economic inequality, the migration waves from Africa and Asia, the Brexit turmoil, the handling of more recent crises such as the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the energy crisis, as well as the very identity crisis of the EU. However, Greek skepticism differs essentially from the rigid Euroscepticism of other countries that forms distinct groups who challenge the status quo (e.g. Visegrad), strengthens the far Right (even in founding countries like France) or, more recently in Italy, it brings about a post-fascist party questioning the famous quote of Benedetto Croce, founder of the Italian Liberal Party, that “Fascism was a mere parenthesis”.
The overall citizen opinion on the EU should also be interpreted in this light: 48% is the percentage of those who view the EU positively and 50% of those who view it negatively. This 50-50 balance was not always stable. A positive opinion of the EU was held by 83% of citizens in 2008 and 64% in 2010. Similarly, the level of trust Greeks have in European institutions such as the European Court of Justice and the European Parliament is high (60% and 43% respectively), but as far as other community bodies are concerned (Council of Europe, European Council, European Commission) a significant decline is observed since 2008, with percentages stabilizing at around 32%-35%. Greek public opinion follows the overall trend of declining confidence in the EU and its institutions, also evident in the Eurobarometer surveys.
The decline of trust in European institutions does not necessarily imply a decline in the acceptance of the policies they implement. On the contrary, 72% of the citizens are in favor of a deeper Union, i.e., they support implementation of common policies in defense and the creation of a European army (75%), in foreign policy (73%), in energy (70%), as well as in fiscal policy (62%). A set of policies with federal characteristics that matches the success of other popular EU policies such as free movement of people, student exchange, or the European Structural and Investment Funds (or the National Strategic Reference Framework – “ESPA” – programs, as widely referred to in Greece).
In the "Euro vs Drachma" dilemma, Greek society seems to have given its final answer by associating the single currency with a more certain future and a European way forward: 57% is the percentage of those who think that things are better with the Euro and 33% the percentage of those who think that things would be better off with the drachma. If a Grexit referendum were to be held tomorrow, 67% would vote to stay in the eurozone and 25% to leave, a trend that has remained steady since 2009 (with a short parenthesis during the Greek bailout referendum month, back in 2015). Variations, however, are recorded between different social groups. Larger shares of ‘leave’ supporters are detected among young people aged 17-34, who have not known any currency other than the Euro and literally grew up in the debt crisis, but also in Northern Greece where the strongest combination of unemployment, poverty, and political deficit is found. The workers/farmers and the smaller parties take a clear position to leave the Euro.
In times of crisis, the EU is perceived as a windproof protective “fence” by 77% of respondents, especially in view of an upcoming difficult winter for which the majority is worried about shortages in heating energy (73%), food, and basic goods (47%), and a solidarity crisis in the EU (69%). Specifically, on the issue of crisis management, criticism concerns the clumsy reflexes of the Union: although 66% evaluate the EU's response to the pandemic positively, Greek people negatively assess its handling of the war in Ukraine (63%), inflation (67%), the energy crisis (76%), immigration (79%), and, clearly, the Greek debt crisis (82%). This negative attitude, though, should not be analyzed as is, without considering the strong desire to deepen the EU. Greece has changed from a country that initially sought EU membership to satisfy its local interests, to one that renders special importance to the political development of Europe, mainly because it was often treated as an "exile" by the European family.
Finally, in an uncertain international environment of evolving crises and in such a neighborhood of conflicts as Southeast Europe, 78% of citizens want Greece to remain a member of NATO, 46% side with the West in the West-Russia conflict, 56% believe that the accession of the Western Balkans to the EU will bring greater stability to the Balkans and the broader region, while 38% trust the EU more than the US in dealing with international issues. In other words, we return to the original thought of K. Karamanlis the elder, for whom joining the (then) EEC was aimed more at security and less at economic prosperity.
A note on the weaker social groups
Those with lower education, those who make ends meet with great difficulty, the workers, the farmers, the unemployed, the weakest strata of Greek society, feel cut off from the European and global reality, at a time when the major parties - ND, PASOK/KINAL, SYRIZA - have shifted their attention towards the middle and upper groups of the population, those groups who feel benefited from European integration and globalization. Among these ‘have-nots’ the survey records the highest rates of negative opinion of the EU and its institutions, as well as a negative assessment of the country's European integration - mainly in terms of economic stability and prosperity. They align themselves with Russia and are generally suspicious of Euro-Atlantic institutions. They oppose any further deepening of the monetary union and believe their life was better off with the drachma.
An undeniably worrying picture saved by the fact that in a potential Grexit referendum they would eventually vote in favor of the Euro (51%).
These groups associate the fate of Greece with that of Europe and support the preservation of the European prerogative. They, also, encourage the deepening of federal policies such as common foreign, defence, energy, and fiscal policies. Their reservations towards the European project stem from the domestic political system’s inability to integrate these weaker groups into the European process and to convince them that the EU is not undermining national sovereignty; that it is not an elitist bureaucratic and wasteful "club" that lacks democratic legitimacy and transparency; that it does more than serving the business elites at the expense of the working class; and that it is not solely responsible for austerity policies and high levels of immigration.
Because it is in this way, the once "non-privileged" groups - who starred in the democratic course of Greek metapolitefsi - are now left naked to the hands of demagoguery of the left and the right, something that did already destabilize the country in the previous decade and may emerge even more unpredictable in face of the new challenges of the current decade.
The analysis was written by Alexis Routzounis, Research Director of Kapa Research, for the publication of the survey "The image of Europe in Greece today".