BRUSSELS – Judging from the headlines, one might get the impression that the 400 million citizens eligible to participate in the recent European Parliament elections voted massively against the European Union. True, anti-establishment, mostly Euroskeptic, parties won about one-fifth of the vote. But to characterize the election result as a rejection of Europe simply is not quite accurate (or fair).
For starters, although much has been made of the argument that the EU is too far removed from its citizens, opinion polls have shown consistently that public trust in the major European institutions remains higher than trust in national institutions. Across the EU, the European Parliament still has higher approval ratings, on average, than national parliaments. Although the trust gap has narrowed somewhat in recent years, even the continuing recession, which is often blamed on EU-imposed austerity and the crisis in the eurozone, has only marginally reduced the European Parliament’s advantage over national parliaments.
Recent polls suggest that, across Europe, about 40% of the population still trust the European Parliament, whereas only 25% trust their national parliaments. Moreover, the European Parliament retains much higher trust than the US Congress, which has approval ratings that are now below 10%. Given the general loss of trust in parliamentary institutions on both sides of the Atlantic, the European Parliament is doing relatively well.