Europeans may split over the war in Ukraine, survey says

Europeans may split over the war in Ukraine, survey says
A figure of Lady Justice with a blindfold covering her eyes and a set of scales. Credit: Unplash

A survey from the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) has found that public opinion in Europe is divided on its long-term goals in Ukraine, which may present problems going forward on whether Europe should prioritise peace, or justice, in other words, punish Russia for its actions.

In the first 100 days after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, European public opinion helped create a unified response. a new poll reveals that increasingly divergent views of European citizens could weaken this unity.

According to the poll, on the road ahead of the war in Ukraine, researchers fear that Europe will be divided on how Ukraine should best approach it. Two camps are emerging, with one favouring peace as soon as possible, and another supporting justice for Ukraine.

"The findings of the poll suggest that European public opinion is shifting and that the toughest days may lie ahead," wrote the researchers, political scientists Ivan Krastev and Mark Leonard.

The study comes as the European Commission will present an opinion to the European Council on accelerating the procedure for Ukraine's candidacy to the EU. The survey outlined the views of over 8,000 Europeans who reside in Finland, Sweden, Poland, Spain, Portugal, Germany, France, Romania, Italy as well as the UK.

So far, the Council has received positive results from the survey as 57% of respondents favour accession, while 19% are strongly against. Yet while Europeans largely feel solidarity with Ukraine, they are split about long-term goals.

Citizens are worried about the cost of economic sanctions and the threat of a nuclear war. Unless something drastic happens, many will oppose a protracted war. Only in Poland, Germany, Sweden, and Finland is there considerable public support for beefing up military expenses.

Peace v justice

There are more supporter than opponents of Ukraine's accession to the EU, but there are still differences between the countries. 32% of Germans are against Ukraine's membership bid, as are 28% of Italians and 26% of the French. In Finland, Poland, Sweden and Portugal, 10 to 12% of the population oppose Ukrainian membership.

Krastev and Leonard referred to divisions between so called 'peace' and 'justice' camps. The peace camp is the largest group, with 35% of respondents who want peace in Ukraine as soon as possible, even if that means making concessions to Russia.

But around 22% believe it is more important to punish Russia for war crimes in Ukraine. For the justice group, the war in Russia should first end when Russia is defeated. The remaining respondents of the survey do not want to belong to either camp.

The justice camp wants Ukraine to join NATO and believe that Russia will negatively impacted by the war when it ends. Peace advocates doubt the accession of Ukraine to the EU as well as cutting economic ties with Russia.

A question of European unity

The divisions could have a great impact on the coming months as Europe will determine its stance on how to help put an end to the war. Europe has until now been unified on its tough approach to Russia, yet if a compromise peace deal emerges, the citizens of the surveyed countries are less unified.

The researchers expect the peace camp to grow stronger if European sanctions against Russia do not yield results. Italians and Germans are the greatest supporters of peace at 52% and 49% respectively. Only in Poland was the justice camp the largest at 41%.

In terms of culpability, 56% of Italians consider Russia to be responsible for the war, while that number jumps to 90% among Finns. In total, 73% of respondents consider Russia at fault.

The researchers believe that governments will have to find a new language to bridge the gap between emerging camps to avoid polarisation within countries.


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