18.09.23 EU Review

Three Europes: There are varying levels of support for Ukraine across the EU

In a recent survey conducted by the 'Eurobarometer' in August, 70% of European Union citizens expressed their belief that their governments should continue to support Ukraine. Despite ongoing debates regarding arms shipments, the belief that Europe has grown weary of the war appears to be, at the very least, overstated. However, the extent of this support varies between the three major regional groups within the EU. Poland, the Baltic States, and Scandinavia exhibit the highest levels of solidarity with Ukraine, while Central and Southern European countries display comparatively lower levels of support. Nevertheless, the pan-European stance remains influenced by the public opinion of the largest and oldest EU member states. In these countries, the majority of citizens continue to endorse a wide array of support measures, including military aid, with slightly over half of respondents in favour of these.

European citizens are rather critical of the general state of affairs on their continent, with only 26% believing that the European Union is heading 'in the right direction’. While 39% hold the opposite view, according to the latest 'Eurobarometer' poll conducted in 27 EU member states. These figures appear remarkably low in comparison to Russia, where, since the war began, over 60% of those surveyed have told sociologists that Russia is moving in the right direction. Prior to the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, however, the numbers were more modest, with roughly equal proportions of satisfied and dissatisfied citizens (around 45%). European figures in this regard, however, are similar to the usual distribution of answers to the same question in the United States. In recent years, about 30% of Americans have said that their country is moving in the right direction when surveyed by Morning Consult. Moreover, American opinions are highly polarised, with Democrats tending to give positive responses during a Democratic presidency and Republicans providing negative ones.

Thus, respondents’ lower satisfaction with the state of affairs in democratic countries generally suggests a greater engagement in political and public discussions. For example, in the 'Eurobarometer' survey, despite relatively low assessments of the general state of affairs, we see a high level of consolidation of public opinion regarding the goals and principles of EU policies on most issues.

As such, 86% approve of last year's EU initiatives to limit the impact of rising energy prices on consumers and companies. Over 85% of Europeans continue to support sustainable resource utilisation policies, while 82% endorsed joint purchases of gas to replace Russian supplies. Approximately 75% believe that the Russian invasion of Ukraine highlights the need for closer military cooperation among EU member states. About 50% of those surveyed are confident that the EU better guarantees values such as human rights, equality, social support, tolerance, and openness compared to other countries in the world. However, only 26% say the same about the EU's policies of 'progress and innovation.' In other words, low assessments of the state of affairs do not necessarily equate to low appreciation of European institutions and key policies.

At the same time, satisfaction levels vary among different countries and correspond to their populations' stances on various pressing pan-European issues. Higher approval ratings for the state of affairs are observed in the Baltic States (40-50%), while at the other end of the spectrum, Belgium, Austria, and France report lower satisfaction levels (only 17-19% are content with the general course of events there). However, even more telling is the level of dissatisfaction (the proportion of respondents who believe that things are moving in the wrong direction). It is highest in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria (with 48-52% stating their dissatisfaction), as well as in Greece and Cyprus (58-59%). These same countries constitute the group of European 'Ukraine sceptics'.

Across the European Union as a whole, a solid 70% of those surveyed expressed confidence that the EU should continue its support for Ukraine. Traditionally, the highest levels of solidarity with Ukraine are displayed by Poland, the Baltic States, and Scandinavia, while the lowest levels are found in the countries of Central and Southern Europe, including Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Greece, and Cyprus.

When asked about the forms of support the EU should provide to Ukraine, 86% endorse humanitarian aid, and 77% still highlight the importance of accepting and accommodating refugees. Across Europe, an average of 71% of those surveyed support economic sanctions against Russia. However, support for sanctions remains below 50% in Hungary, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Greece, and Cyprus.

Public support for Ukraine in Europe, August 2023, % of those surveyed

Moreover, 65% of respondents across the EU are in favour of financial and economic support for Ukraine. But in Southern Europe, this position garners less than 50% support: 42% in Cyprus, 43% in Bulgaria, 44% in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary, and 47% in Greece. Austria, among the wealthier European nations, also gravitates towards the group of 'Ukraine sceptics' with a support rate of just 53%. Notably, Poland stands out with 78% of those surveyed expressing support for Ukraine's integration into the common market, at the same time, it has, along with Hungary and Slovakia, extended the blockade on Ukrainian grain shipments to Europe.

Further, 57% of respondents believe that the EU should support the procurement and supply of military equipment to Ukraine and provide military training. It is worth noting that in the winter and spring European opinion polls, the support for arms shipments to Ukraine was slightly higher at 66% (with a slightly different wording of the question). In terms of individual countries, the same groups identified earlier can be observed: the Baltic and Scandinavian countries demonstrate the highest levels of support for military shipments, ranging from 73% to 83%, while in Hungary, Austria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Bulgaria, and Greece, the support ranges only from 34% to 40%.

The 'Ukraine sceptic' faction does not exert any critical influence on the key areas of EU policy towards Ukraine. Their scepticism is effectively balanced by the pro-Ukraine stance of the Baltic and Scandinavian countries, as well as the position of the 'majors', the largest and oldest EU member states. On crucial issues such as sanctions against Russia or financial and economic aid to Ukraine, they display more confidence, with support ranging from 62% to 73% of those surveyed. However, approval of military shipments remains a source of 'uncertainty’. In Germany, for example, 51% approve of such shipments, while 42% do not. In Italy, the figures are 52% and 37%, and in France, they are 55% and 34%, respectively.

The survey data indicates that the perception that Europe has grown tired of the war in Ukraine appears, at the very least, to have been exaggerated. While the emotional fervour of last year's support has somewhat diminished, there remains confidence in the overall course of events and the need to counter the Russian threat. However, there are still geographical and thematic 'areas of doubt’, which were also noticeable last year.

The 'Eurobarometer' survey on the issues and priorities of the EU in 2023 was conducted online in 27 EU member states from August 24 to 31, 2023, with 26,514 EU citizens surveyed.