Germans say “yes” to Europe -- but demand a more direct say
Bertelsmann Stiftung survey shows that few are aware of this year’s EU elections
Four months before they are scheduled to take place, more than two-thirds of Germans are unaware that elections for the European Parliament are set for June. Those are the findings of a representative survey recently carried out by the Bertelsmann Stiftung. In addition, only 43 percent of respondents plan to go to the polls. Most of those queried, moreover, say they would like to have a more direct say in European affairs -- by directly electing an EU president, for example, or through EU-wide referendums -- and that new forms of participation are needed if they are to get involved in the future. Two-thirds of those surveyed also say they personally would be willing to get involved to support European issues. On February 13, 2009, the Bertelsmann Stiftung and the Heinz-Nixdorf Foundation will be launching a BürgerForum Europa (CitizensForumEurope), in which those interested in doing more at the European level can come together to develop suggestions for the future of the EU.
Many Germans -- 67 percent -- do not realize that elections for the European Parliament’s next five-year legislative period are being held on June 7. Only 9 percent of the survey’s respondents know that elections are set for June, something a full 80 percent of respondents 39 years or younger are unaware of.
At the same time, 43 percent of those surveyed said that they intended to go to the polls, with 24 percent saying they would definitely not or “probably not” vote. Some 31 percent said they were considering participating.
While the rate of participation is therefore unlikely to be high, many Germans are demanding a more direct say in European Union affairs all the same. Three out of four say they would like to have the possibility of holding a Europe-wide referendum, as laid out in the Treaty of Lisbon. Almost as many (69 percent) say they would like to be able to vote directly for an EU president.
One in five says he or she is willing or very willing to get involved to support European issues. Moreover, 44 percent of those queried say they can envision getting more involved, but that they don’t feel enough possibilities exist to do so. Some 35 percent openly admit that they are not very willing to get involved.
Overall, Germans feel that the EU is playing a stabilizing role in light of the current financial and economic crisis. Of those queried, 61 percent say they wish the EU were doing more today to ensure the necessary economic and political developments will take place over the next 10 years, while 32 percent say they wish the EU were playing a smaller role.
At the same time, many respondents expect the EU to gain in influence, with 47 percent saying that EU member states will grow closer and become more of a “United States of Europe” over the next decade. Some 40 percent do not expect any significant change in the current situation, and only 11 percent assume that individual member states will once again become more important than currently is the case.
According to Dr. Robert Vehrkamp, director of the Future of Europe program at the Bertelsmann Stiftung, the findings show that most of those living in the EU feel it has a critical role to play in overcoming the current crisis. “Even if relatively few people know when the coming elections will take place, the public wants the EU to play a greater role all the same,” he says. “The EU is not in crisis. It is functioning -- and the public knows it. At the same time, people will only become more enthusiastic about the EU and get involved once additional methods for participating are in place.”
According to Vehrkamp, politicians have not been willing to utter the phrase “the United States of Europe” in recent years. “Yet most people are very realistic,” he says. “They understand all too well that the individual member states are too small to have any real influence in the world. And even if the financial crisis is causing individual states to consider their own interests, Europe will continue to grow closer together in the future and will increasingly speak with one voice on the global stage.”