Europhilia? – A commentary on the Ups and Downs of Greek Public Opinion on the European Union (EU)

Survey: The image of Europe in Greece today
© Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom Greece and Cyprus

A veritable treasure trove

On 212 densely printed pages, we find a large collection of data with thousands of pieces of information. The report is a veritable treasure trove for all those concerned with Greece and the country's relations with Europe.

On a general note, due to the sheer size of the data, the analysis of surveys will always have to be selective - and give focus. The idea is to analyze and comment on the figures - and in a next step, to discuss these in a political and historical context.

Where there is light, there is also shadow, we say in my language. Applied to the results of the survey, we could also say: Where there is shadow, there is also light.

At the very beginning stands a negative finding. How else should we interpret that today merely 48 percent of Greeks have a positive opinion of the European Union? This comment is all the more appropriate given that the percentage of Greeks with a positive opinion of the EU was almost twice as high back in 2008, at a - downright sensational - 83 %.

That was in 2008, before the financial crisis, which not only upset the lives of the vast majority of Greeks, but at the same time triggered the most serious crisis in relations in Greece's forty years of EU- membership. The wounds the crisis has created - on both sides - are far from healed. This is especially true for the Greek side, as this study demonstrates at various points.

Incoherent picture

I spoke of light and shadow - and could also apply the image of the glass being half full or half empty. For me, the most astonishing message of the current study is the "duality", one could also speak of incoherence of the Greeks' views on their relationship with the EU.

While - as mentioned at the beginning - more than half of Greeks today do not have a positive opinion of the EU, at the same time 58 % believe that EU membership has benefited them.

In the better years - i.e. before the crisis - this figure was a staggering 94%. It would be interesting to examine how the negative opinion and the statement that membership is useful go together. The numbers reveal an almost schizophrenic relationship. This duality of negative opinion and Europhilia is also reflected in the finding that 74% of Greeks say that their country belongs to the EU. It is interesting to note that - unlike other figures - this indicator is stable over the decades.  In 2008, the group of people who said that Greece did not belong to the EU was 25%, the same as today. Greece’s EU opponents are politically at home at the extremes, on the left and right fringes. Remarkably, 30% of SYRIZA supporters would rather see their country outside the EU.

We find further evidence of the Greeks' Europhilia in the answers to the question of whether it is better for the country's future to be inside or outside the EU. Here, 71% of people are in favor of a future inside the EU.

The relevance of the survey is increased by the fact that it also covers current political events. I will limit myself here to two findings of particular interest in my eyes.

The enlargement of the EU to include new members is a topic of great importance, not least for Athens' relations with neighboring countries in the Balkans. 47 % of respondents are in favor of admitting new members; as many as 43 % are opposed to this eventuality. I find the results even more interesting when we look at the countries in question. The highest level of acceptance is recorded for Serbia's admission, at 69 %; the lowest level of support is for Turkey's EU membership, standing at just 13 %. Rejection of Turkish admission is 92 % among New Democracy (ND) supporters, significantly higher than among SYRIZA (74 %) and KINAL (80) followers.

EU vs. US

That party political leanings play a role in foreign policy preferences is reflected also in the results on the question of whether people trust the EU or the U.S. more to solve important international issues. Here, 38 % give their vote to the EU. One might think this is a respectable result. From a historical perspective, however, this figure documents a drastic loss of confidence among Greeks regarding the EU's competence to solve international problems. For in 2008, 81 % of Greeks believed the EU was more relevant than the U.S. in this field. The big beneficiary of the EU's fall from grace is the United States which has risen from a meager 2 % (in 2008) to 24 % today on this issue. What is most remarkable is that among ND supporters, trust in the U.S. is higher than trust in the EU to resolve international conflicts.

This brings me to my final observation – where again, a "dualism" is difficult to overlook. The answers to the question about the importance of common policies in the EU fall into the Europhilia category. 76 % of Greeks favor a common EU defense policy and 73 % favor a common EU foreign policy.

However, the commitment to a unified European policy reaches its limits when it comes to the war in Ukraine and the European responses.  The EU has taken a clear position on this matter enacting a series of sanctions packages against Moscow. Among the majority of Greeks, this European strategy does not find support - on the contrary, 55 % of respondents believe economic sanctions punishing Moscow for the aggression against Ukraine should not continue.

Demoscopic surveys, like this one on Greek attitudes toward the EU, offer a treasure trove of data. As such, the numbers are objective, provided the respondents tell the truth. The experts’ analysis and interpretation of the data help contextualize the information, interpret it, and reach conclusions. At this stage, subjective criteria, once again, take on a role.

The analysis was written by Dr. Ronald Meinardus, political analyst and commentator and a Senior Research Fellow at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP) where he also heads the Mediterranean Program, for the publication of the survey "The image of Europe in Greece today". 

The image of Europe in Greece today: commentary by Dr. Ronald Meinardus

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© Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom Greece and Cyprus