Geographies in Depth

Support for the EU has changed since Brexit – and not in the way you might expect

A Bulgarian seamstress manufactures EU flags in a factory in the town of Parvomai, some 160 km (99 miles) south east of the capital Sofia, December 13, 2006. Bulgaria is set to join the EU on January 1, 2007 along with its neighbour Romania.

Popular support for the EU is growing, especially in the UK Image: REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

Andrea Willige
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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The possible impact of Brexit is a key discussion point at the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting 2017. For more information, watch the Britain and the EU: The Way Forward session here.

When the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union in June, disgruntled voices could be heard in many places across Europe, suggesting that Britons might not be alone in their disillusionment with the EU.

But a new study by the German-based Bertelsmann Foundation offers a very different view. Rather than confirming such widespread disenchantment, it found that popular support for the EU has grown across Europe since the Brexit vote.

Perhaps most surprisingly, the biggest increase in support was found in the UK.

Change of heart

The biannual Eupinions survey asks around 15,000 respondents in member states whether they would vote to remain or leave the EU. Polled in March 2016, only 49% of Britons said that they would vote to remain. This was almost identical to the figure of 48% of voters who backed remain in the referendum on 23 June.

However, in August – only two months after the Brexit decision – Bertelsmann’s pollsters found that pro-European sentiment had risen to 56%, an increase of 7%

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Approval of EU membership was found to have grown around the rest of the union too, a trend Bertelsmann ascribes to the repercussions of the Brexit vote. "The looming Brexit seems to have been the best advertisement for the EU," said Aart de Geus, the foundation's chairman and CEO.

Trending data for EU membership, vote to stay
Image: Bertelsmann Stiftung, Eupinions, August 2016

A Brexit boost

Across Europe, 62% wanted their countries to remain EU members, up from 57% in the foundation’s previous survey in March 2016.

Among the six largest countries, the number of "remainers" in Germany rose by 8% to 69%, and pro-EU sentiment in Poland grew by 9%, reaching 77% overall. There were smaller increases in France and Italy. Only Spain saw a minor decrease, dipping from 71% to 69%.

Desire to leave the union declined across the board, from 30% to 26%. Despite a small decrease, Italy continues to have the largest share of people (41%) who would prefer to cut ties with the EU.

Trending data for EU membership, vote to leave
Image: Bertelsmann Stiftung, Eupinions, August 2016

Less abstention

The number of those who say they would abstain from voting in an in/out referendum now stands at 12% across the EU, with a downward trend in many of the bigger economies.

 Trending data for EU membership, would not vote
Image: Bertelsmann Stiftung, Eupinions, August 2016

This might be an indication that the UK referendum has made voters across Europe realize their vote matters. And they might be pushed to use it.

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