There has never been mass support among EU societies for the enlargement process. It has always enjoyed a greater popularity with the EEC/EU political elites rather than regular citizens. In the past few years, the number of people against further enlargement has exceeded the number of those who support it. In autumn 2013, soon after Croatia was admitted in the EU, over 50% of EU citizens opposed further enlargement compared to over 35% of those in favour. Since then, the attitude of EU citizens to enlargement has improved.
In autumn 2018, the Eurobarometer surveys showed that nearly 45% of EU citizens supported further enlargement while 45% were against it.
There are fundamental differences in how the respective EU societies approach further enlargement. In 2018, the support was the highest in the countries admitted to the EU in 2004-2013, particularly in Romania, Poland, Lithuania (65% for, nearly 25% against), Croatia and Hungary (over 60% for, over 30% against), Latvia, Cyprus, Slovenia (approx. 55% for, 35% against) and Bulgaria (over 50% for, nearly 30% against). A relative majority supported further enlargement in Estonia and Slovakia (over 45% for, approx. 35-40% against). Compared to these countries, the Czech Republic stood out for its negative attitude in this respect (less than 35% for, approx. 55% against). Next to new member states (enlargements of 2004-2007-2013), positive attitude was reported for the Spanish (over 70% for, 20% against), Irish (over 55% for, over 30% against) and Portuguese (50% for, nearly 40% against). Greeks were equally divided into opponents and advocates of the enlargement (with over 45% in each group, respectively). In the remaining countries of Western Europe, citizens’ attitude to enlargement was often (and in some cases clearly) negative. Swedes were relatively the least critical about it, with the number of opponents only slightly exceeding that of supporters, and were followed by Italians (nearly 40% for, over 45% against) and Belgians (over 40% for, nearly 55% against).
From the perspective of the future enlargement, its rejection by the French and Germans, that is societies of the most significant EU member states, is of particular importance (approx. 30% for, over 60% against). The position of Finns and Austrians on this matter was similarly negative, with other Western European societies being slightly less critical about it. The distribution of EU citizens’ opinions regarding the enlargement has remained unchanged for many years. The negative attitude represented by societies of richer member states may be related to negative trends observed in the countries that joined the EU in the enlargements of 2004-2007-2013. However, this poor reputation of the enlargement process is also driven by a generally insufficient knowledge of Western European societies about its otherwise very positive effects.
This material is a part of the report “Enlarged in diversity: The EU enlargement process and its perspectives” prepared by the Polish Robert Schuman Foundation.