12.07.23 Review

Losing The Energy War: A pan-European Survey shows significant improvement in the economic outlook, consolidated support for Ukraine and increased defence Spending

Russia has lost the energy war. The latest wave of the Eurobarometer, a major sociological survey of public opinion in the European Union, demonstrates that Europe has overcome the crisis caused by Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine and the reduction in supplies of Russian energy. The proportion of those who view the state of both national and pan-European economies positively has increased by 5% over the past six months. Concerns about rising prices are gradually diminishing, although they remain the greatest concern for Europeans. There remain extremely high levels of support for all measures to assist Ukraine, reduce dependence on Russian energy resources, and strengthen European security. Having paid a significant price (over 60% of respondents stated that their financial situation had worsened this year), Europe has successfully dealt with the crisis of energy dependence and now sees this as an achievement. Meanwhile, Russia almost instantly lost permanent access to premium and largely non-alternative energy supply markets, where it had steadily improved its position over four decades.

The June 2023 Eurobarometer survey reveals that Europeans believe they have largely overcome the energy crisis related to the invasion of Ukraine and the cessation of Russian supplies and now see signs of economic recovery. Concerns about the EU's ability to secure energy supplies, which was among the top three major issues worrying Europeans in February, had decreased in June: this was mentioned by 16% of respondents compared to 26% in February. Concerns about inflation, the main indicator of the crisis last winter, have also decreased, with 27% mentioning it, down from 32%. Instead, European citizens have become more concerned about migration, mentions of which rose from 17% to 24%, and climate change, particularly in Germany, where 36% of those polled mentioned it as a concern.

The proportion of those who view the economic situation in the EU as good has increased by 5 percentage points, reaching 45%. The ratio of positive to negative assessments of the European economy now stands at 45% against 44%, compared to 40% and 51% in winter. However, assessments of national economies are much worse, an average of 40% view these positively and 58% negatively across Europe. However, this ratio was even worse in the winter: 63% versus 35%. Nevertheless, the averaged assessment hides significant variations among residents of different countries. Positive assessments prevail in Belgium, Germany, Spain, Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Sweden, while negative assessments outweigh positive ones by two to four times in the Czech Republic, Greece, Italy, France, Hungary, Slovakia, and Latvia.

Europe has rapidly bid farewell to its dependence on Russian hydrocarbon resources. The conflict with Russia has pushed Europeans to unprecedented levels of support for the energy transition, which persists despite the perception that they have now overcome the peak of the crisis. 85% of Europeans surveyed believe that more investment in renewable energy sources is needed. 82% believe that increasing energy efficiency will make the EU less dependent on energy sources produced outside its borders, and an equal percentage sees the need to further reduce dependence on Russian energy resources.

The crisis has not been easy for Europeans. 61% of respondents stated that the war in Ukraine had a serious financial impact on them personally, 83% said it had affected the national economy, and 78% confirmed that they had to limit their energy consumption. However, contrary to the expectations of Russian authorities, who hoped that war fatigue and economic hardships would lead to the disintegration of the pro-Ukrainian coalition, the absolute majority of EU citizens continue to support measures to assist Ukraine. 88% of Europeans are in favour of providing humanitarian aid to those affected by the war (91% in February), 75% support financial assistance, 72% support sanctions (74% in February), and 64% are in favour of military aid. Overall, 56% of those polled by the Eurobarometer are satisfied with the EU's response to the invasion, and 54% are satisfied with the response of their national government.

Citizens of the wealthy countries of northern Europe (Sweden, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands) continue to demonstrate the greatest willingness to help Ukrainians, while residents of poorer southern European countries (Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Greece, Cyprus) are the least ready to provide continued support. At the same time, support for Ukraine in Poland and Lithuania is significantly higher than might be assumed according to their living standards. In these countries, the determining factor is anti-Russian sentiment, which significantly improves the overall balance of pro-Ukrainian sentiment in Europe.

The future course of events is likely to be influenced by public opinion in three countries. The largest amount of financial and military aid to Ukraine comes from the United Kingdom, Germany, and Poland. In the United Kingdom (where the Eurobarometer continues to survey its residents even after Brexit) and Poland, the willingness to help Ukrainians in every possible way remains significantly higher than the average across Europe as a whole, Germans, on the other hand, are slightly less willing than other Europeans to provide military assistance but are more inclined to provide humanitarian aid.

Of these three countries, the UK has the worst assessments of their own economic situation, with 18% having a positive view of the economic situation and 77% viewing this negatively. However, this is an improved situation from February (9% versus 87%). 40% of Brits continue to expect the situation to deteriorate, but this is 7 percentage points lower than it was previously. In Poland, assessments of the country's own economic situation are evenly divided: 48% have a positive outlook and 49% negative (the overall balance was negative in winter). Like in the UK, 40% here expect the situation to deteriorate, but the proportion of optimists has grown from 6% in February to 22%. In Germany, on the other hand, citizens view the country’s domestic economic situation positively: 51% of Germans think the economic situation is good and 45% think it is bad. Expectations for the future are similarly pessimistic here, with 15% expecting an improvement and 43% expecting a deterioration. However, prospective economic pessimism is a general characteristic of European public opinion and is associated with constant criticism of the government by the opposition, which dramatises economic problems as much as possible.

As a consequence of the Russian invasion, European public opinion is unanimous on the need to increase defence spending: two-thirds of respondents are in favour of increased spending, just as they were in winter. Moreover, 80% of respondents believe that deeper coordination in defence policy is needed at the EU level.