Age of anxiety detected in key European Union countries

by Ray Clancy on April 18, 2017

People in parts of Europe are becoming more pessimistic with research highlighting a growing trend in the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Poland and Sweden of widespread gloom and anxiety.

The pan-European study found low levels of trust in both European Union and national political institutions and less support for cultural and ethnic diversity at a time when immigration has become a major issue in many countries.

The research, led by British based think tank Demos, also found that the majority in every country apart from France regard globalisation as having been a positive force in their country, and there is generally widespread support for other aspects of social liberalism, including same sex marriage and women’s economic emancipation.

Some five think tanks contributed to the study to put together a snapshot of feelings in the six major countries in the EU and sought to find out views on the outlook for 2017 as well as an insight into each of their respective social, cultural, economic, historical and political environments.

France was found to be the most pessimistic with a distrust and despair taking hold in the run up to this month’s first round of the 2017 Presidential Elections, with the vast majority of citizens believing both further terrorism and financial crises are imminent.

The research recorded an ‘acute sense of economic and security concerns’ along with distinctly negative views about both globalisation and cultural diversity, compared to other EU member states.

In the UK the research detected a big divide between those who welcome globalisation and see leaving the EU as a positive move and those who have a more closed global attitude views on international cooperation, cultural diversity, frequency of international travel, and the breadth of social and work networks displaying a gulf.

People in Germany are concerned about the EU’s impact on their national finances and welfare system, and large minorities are also concerned about its capacity to erode national identity and compromise employment levels. It also found a significant gulf of understanding between German citizens and politians who dismiss concerns as generalised or misplaced.

Anti-immigration feeling has been growing in Sweden which has always been regarded as one of the more liberal countries in the EU. It detected a growth in nationalist views.

Poland remains strongly pro-European and in favour of globalisation, despite the election of a far right populist Government but Government supporters were found to hold much stronger fears of Islamic terrorism, migration and national security than economic matters.

While Spain stands as an exception to the trend towards far right populism but the research found that attitudes towards immigration are hardening and many citizens believe it should be reduced to help boost the economy and job prospects.

‘The picture painted by the research is certainly cause for concern for those who would like to see Europe, and a post-Brexit UK remain both internally cohesive and open to the world. There is no doubt that we are living through a transition that feels cataclysmic in nature, disruptive, challenging and potentially dangerous,’ said Sophie Gaston, head of international projects at Demos.

‘But the question as to whether this is the beginning or the end of something has not yet been decided. It is important that European governments, and the European Union itself, do not succumb to reactive policy making and short term thinking to try to stem the tide of populism, nationalism and authoritarianism,’ she added.

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