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EU citizens not scared of potential Brexit

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or not? This is the question facing more than 46 million Britons who are entitled to vote on 23 June 2016. Yet the outcome of the referendum will not only affect the United Kingdom. International trade relations and the geopolitical weight of the EU could suffer in the event of a Brexit. Here, the results of a Europe-wide opinion poll show what EU citizens think of the threat of the United Kingdom exiting the EU.

For EU citizens outside of the United Kingdom, a Brexit is not an option. If it happens, however, few fear specific consequences for their country. This is shown by a new analysis from “eupinions”, an EU-wide, representative opinion poll commissioned by the Bertelsmann Stiftung. 54 percent of EU citizens want the United Kingdom to remain in the EU; however, more than one in every five of those questioned (21 percent) want the United Kingdom to leave. Those who fear consequences for their own country are in the minority, with over two thirds of participants not expecting any repercussions for their homeland in the event of a Brexit.

In addition to the EU-wide results, “eupinions” also provides representative figures for the largest EU countries. A uniform picture emerges here: opponents of a Brexit are clearly in the majority. While Spain and Poland are the countries most heavily in favour of the UK remaining (64 percent and 61 percent respectively), a slight majority of citizens in Italy (55 percent) and Germany (54 percent) are also opposed to the possibility of a Brexit. Compared to the other largest EU states, it is the French who can most clearly envisage an EU without their British neighbours. 25 percent of people in France are in favour of the United Kingdom‘s EU exit, while 41 percent oppose it.

Germans and Poles the most concerned

When it comes to the consequences of a Brexit for the EU and its member states, there is a lot of uncertainty among EU citizens. Although they fear that the European Union would be weakened, they do not foresee any negative consequences for their own countries. 45 percent of EU citizens outside of the United Kingdom expect the position of the EU to be worsened by the UK leaving the European Union. However, an equal proportion of 45 percent said that they did not believe anything would change for the EU. In terms of the changes that the participants could foresee, economic ones were at the forefront. 45 percent believe that a Brexit would economically weaken the EU, while a third of those questioned – around 26 percent – fear that the EU would suffer a loss of power without the United Kingdom. In Poland (51 percent) and in Germany (48 percent), a narrow majority is worried about the consequences of a possible Brexit. Among the French, Spanish and Italians polled, however, the opinion prevails that a British exit would not have negative consequences.

However, a clearer picture emerges when participants are questioned about consequences for their own countries. Two thirds of EU citizens (67 percent) outside the United Kingdom do not expect a Brexit to have an impact on their country. This mood is also reflected in the larger member states, such as Germany (63 percent), France (68 percent), Italy (68 percent), Poland (63 percent) and Spain (71 percent). Those who are relaxed and unconcerned about the prospect of changes for their country in the event of a Brexit are in the majority everywhere with at least 60 percent. “Even though many citizens are more preoccupied with their everyday concerns than they are with the results from London, all Europeans would lose out if the United Kingdom leaves,” said Aart De Geus, Chairman and CEO of the Bertelsmann Stiftung.

EU remains attractive for citizens of spite of everything

Although approval for the EU has shrunk in certain countries, the majority of Europeans believe that the EU needs more economic and political integration in the future. When participants were asked which way they would vote in a potential EU referendum, supporters of the EU outweighed its opponents everywhere: while support for the EU in Spain (74 percent), Poland (66 percent) and Germany (62 percent) is very clear, EU critics in France and Italy have the highest approval ratings. With 52 percent of the vote, the pro-Europeans in France only narrowly edge those in favour of an exit. The two camps are also close in Italy (54 percent versus 46 percent).

At the same time, there is support throughout the EU for more integration. 59 percent of all EU citizens believe that the EU needs more political and economic integration in the future. In all of the large EU states with the exception of the United Kingdom, this position has strong backing: Spain (78 percent) and Italy (71 percent) show the strongest support – despite the fact that Italy is divided on the matter of EU membership. With 49 percent, the French have the smallest figure in favour of more integration. “The desire for more integration shows that citizens still believe in the European project. Only a unified Europe is attractive in the long-term and can survive globally. A Brexit would therefore be a bad sign for all EU citizens,” said Aart De Geus.

“Eupinions” is an opinion poll tool that was developed by the Bertelsmann Stiftung together with Dalia Research and regularly questions the citizens of all 28 EU member states on European matters. The opinion poll took place in April 2016 and, with a sample size of 10,992 participants, is representative of the EU and its six largest member states: Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain and Poland.

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