19.12.23 Review

United but divisible: Europeans generally agree on the need for military aid for Ukraine and increased spending on European security, but to varying degrees

European polls show that at the beginning of the second winter of the war, energy problems are not of particular concern to the residents of Europe: the energy crisis seems to have been definitively overcome. The main topics of concern are migration, the situation in Ukraine and the international situation, mentioned by 24-28% of respondents. At the same time, the polls show increased concern about migration issues in Germany (43-44%). Assessments of the economic situation are deteriorating, but support for Ukraine remains at a fairly high level. However, there is less unity on the issues of Ukraine’s European integration and arms supplies to Kyiv. ​​ Overall, around 60% of those surveyed support these measures. The highest level of polarisation surrounds the issue of arms supplies: in the Baltic region, 83–91% support this measure, while in some poorer southern countries, support stands at 31–43%. In Germany, support for Ukraine's accelerated admission to the EU has fallen markedly compared to the survey last spring, and is down to 54%. A stable majority of Europeans (65-79%) express support for policies to increase defence spending, expand military production, and coordinate EU defence and security efforts. Despite the extreme concern about the growing influence of the right-wing expressed by European media and the political class, the polls show that Europe as a whole retains a centrist majority, but maintaining this requires European politicians to be agile and react quickly to emerging crises and concerns.

The autumn edition of the Eurobarometer, a regular public opinion survey conducted in nearly 40 European countries, clearly demonstrates that Europeans consider the energy crisis caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine to be over. Concerns about the EU's ability to secure energy and rising prices associated with the energy crisis, which were at the top of the agenda last winter, have all but dissolved. Among the main problems facing Europe, 20% of respondents mentioned rising prices, which is 7 percentage points lower than in spring and 12 points lower than last winter. Concerns about energy problems are expressed by 11% of those surveyed, whereas in spring it was 16%, and last winter it was 26%. Concerns about the economic situation have also decreased, with 18% of Europeans naming it as a major problem last winter and now it's 14%.

This autumn, the main problems facing Europe, according to EU citizens, were migration and the war in Ukraine, which were each noted by 28% of those surveyed. Concerns about migration issues have grown by 4 percentage points. The war in Ukraine appears in the survey for the first time and has immediately taken the leading position. Previously, the main substitute for this issue was the answer option 'international situation', which was mentioned by 28% of respondents last winter; this time it has fallen to third place with 24%.

However, the situation varies significantly by country. For example, in Germany, immigration issues top the list of both the main problems facing the EU and the main problems facing the country, mentioned by 43–44% of respondents. Immigration is also seen as the most significant problem for residents of Malta (46%), Cyprus (47%), and the Netherlands (42%). The war in Ukraine is of greatest concern to residents of the Baltic region (over 40%), although it is surprising that it is mentioned rarely by respondents in Poland (22%).

The perception of the economic situation in Europe has remained balanced since the last survey, with 44% of respondents assessing it negatively and 45% assessing it positively. However, the assessment of the state of national economies, after a slight improvement in the spring of 2023, has returned to the level at the beginning of the war – on average across Europe, there are 35% positive assessments against 62% negative. Positive assessments prevail over negative ones only in six countries: Luxembourg, Denmark, the Netherlands, Malta, Poland, and Austria. On average, residents of affluent northern countries are more optimistic about their national economies than citizens of poorer southern EU members — in Portugal, Greece and Bulgaria, the prevalence of negative assessments over positive ones is fourfold. But, the situation is not much better in three of the five largest economies of the EU — in France, Italy and Spain negative assessments prevail over positive ones more than 2.5 times. However, according to sociologists, citizens of democratic countries tend to evaluate the current state of affairs and the economy much more critically than citizens of authoritarian countries. This is not due to objective indicators but rather to the fact that in democratic countries, discussions about current issues are constantly fuelled by the media and the opposition.

The level of support for Ukraine in Europe remains high. Despite concerns about migration, 84-89% of those surveyed support accepting refugees from the conflict zone and providing them with humanitarian aid. As Re:Russia has previously reported, it appears somewhat paradoxical that the nearly 6 million refugees from Ukraine have not created significant social tensions in Europe. 72% of respondents are in favour of providing financial aid to Kyiv and maintaining tough sanctions against Moscow. At the same time, significantly fewer Europeans support granting Ukraine EU candidate status (61%) and supplying arms to the Armed Forces of Ukraine (60%), with a slight decrease in support for both issues compared to spring 2023. On the issue of military supplies, there has been a 4 percentage point decrease, and there is noticeable polarisation: support for arms supplies in the Baltic countries ranges from 83–91%, while in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Greece, Cyprus, Austria, and Hungary, it ranges from 31–43%.

In general, as before, countries close to the theatre of war and Russia (the Baltic States, Poland), as well as richer northern countries, are more inclined to support Ukraine. To a lesser extent, support comes from southern, less affluent countries. Austria and Malta stand out from this pattern, where the economy is doing well but support for Ukraine is relatively low, and Portugal, where the situation is precisely the opposite. In France, Italy, and Spain, support for Ukraine is slightly higher than assessments of the state of their national economies.

The main donors to Ukraine in Europe at the moment are Germany, Norway, Poland, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden. In Germany, the main donor after the USA, assessments of the economic situation have significantly deteriorated. In spring, 51% of German respondents assessed the state of the country's economy as somewhat positive, while 45% viewed it negatively. Now the situation has reversed: 44% positive assessments versus 53% negative. However, the opinion of Germans has not changed much when it comes to providing financial aid and the procurement of weapons for Ukraine: 72% support the first measure and 61% support the second. At the same time, there has been a noticeable change on the topic of potentially granting Ukraine membership of the EU: support has decreased by 7 percentage points, down to 54% of positive answers.

The invasion of Ukraine has sharply increased the concerns of European Union residents about their own security. As a result, Europeans express fairly unanimous support for increased defence spending (65%), expansion of military production (69%), and deepening coordination in defence policy at the EU level (79%). The last point points to Europeans' declining confidence in the previous European security architecture, which was mainly provided by NATO structures. Support for these measures is lower in the poorer southern countries, but only in Slovakia is the share of those supporting an increase in EU defence spending lower than the share opposing such a decision. However, this unanimity has not yet been converted into concrete government decisions: rearmament and military construction plans are lagging behind.

European politicians and media are so concerned about the growing influence of right-wing parties that it may seem as if Europe has already been taken over by the right. However, extensive surveys covering many countries and not tied to local agendas show that this is not the case. In Europe, a stable centrist majority persists, but maintaining it requires political parties and governments to be nimble and to respond quickly to emerging crises and the concerns of European citizens.