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Heeding Europe’s Silent Majority

Populist and nationalist parties' recent electoral successes have fed a popular narrative that Europeans are souring on the European Union and want to "take back control." In fact, most Europeans not only support the EU, but also want it to take the lead in a broad array of policy areas that currently fall outside of its remit.

BRUSSELS – With just days to go before the European Parliament elections, this is a good time to reflect on why Europeans came together to form a political and economic union in the first place. And it behooves candidates to recognize what voters want from the European Union now.

Upstart populist parties have painted a negative portrait of the EU, claiming that it’s part of the problem, rather than the solution. Yet Eurobarometer data show that the share of Europeans who feel “fairly” or “very” attached to the EU grew from 46% in 2014 to 56% in 2018. And when it comes to the future, support for EU membership is strongest among younger voters; of those aged 18 to 29, 73% have a favorable opinion of the EU, compared to 58% among those 50 and older. Moreover, these pro-EU trends are also visible in countries with Euroskeptic governments, including Hungary and Italy.

Similarly, in November 2018, 68% of all Europeans surveyed by Eurobarometer said their country has benefited from EU membership, and only 30% said their country would do better outside of the EU. For comparison, consider that, despite being in a federal union for over 173 years, roughly one-quarter (26%) of Texans would support seceding from the United States.