While nearly 90% of EU citizens feel the rule of law, free elections and freedom of expression are of great importance, only 60% said they’re satisfied with the state of democracy in the EU.
The results come from an Eupinions survey that focused on democracy and polled respondents across the 27 EU countries.
“The results show that among considerable portions of the population, the standards set and shared by citizens are not being met – at both the EU and member state levels. This underscores the need for political action,” said Isabell Hoffmann, Europe expert at Bertelsmann Stiftung.
Eupinions was developed by Bertelsmann Stiftung in cooperation with Dalia Research for research on European opinion.
The researchers behind the survey see the Covid-19 pandemic as playing a major role in people’s responses.
“For politicians across the globe, the COVID-19 pandemic is a stress test for governance,” their report summarized.
“Curbing the coronavirus pandemic calls for swift and strong executive action. Indeed, many government leaders have resorted to extraordinary and sometimes draconian measures, which include placing restrictions on individual movement, introducing physical distancing requirements, and mandating businesses to close.”
The report said that while the lockdown measures are clearly intended to address public health needs, they create avenues for states to place further restrictions on fundamental democratic rights.
“Current measures run the risk of allowing leaders to engage in more lasting executive overreach and thus undermine key liberal democratic norms in society,” the report said.
“Concerns about pandemic-related democratic backsliding and the risk of weakening public support for appropriate measures underscore the importance of examining how European citizens view democracy and the rule of law.”
An average of 58% of respondents across the EU said they have faith in their government’s ability to manage the Covid-19 pandemic, but there were major differences across countries.
While a majority of respondents in Germany (74%), the Netherlands (69%), Italy (55%), Spain (54%) and Belgium (53%) said that they trust their government is doing the right thing in response to the coronavirus, this is only true for a minority of French (47%) and Polish respondents (40%).
The survey also found that EU citizens are more satisfied with democracy in the EU as compared to their own country, overall. Satisfaction with how democracy works in individual EU member states is as low as 54% in places.
“As the pandemic and the restrictions it involves continue, concern has grown in recent months that public satisfaction with democracy may suffer,” the King Baudouin Foundation, which was involved in the survey, said in a press release.
Around 12,000 people were surveyed across the EU, including in-depth interviews with citizens in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain.
The results vary by country: In the Netherlands, 74% of those surveyed gave democracy in their country high marks, with Germany close behind at 70%.
Belgium and France fell towards the middle at 54%, and the bottom includes Spain (46%), Italy (40%) and Poland (35%).
Poland was also at the bottom of a separate survey that asked citizens about their trust in government, in which Belgium came in third-to-last.
On average across all EU member states, just over half (54%) of citizens are satisfied with the state of democracy in their country, according to the Eupinions survey.
Still, experts saw cause for hope.
“Across Europe, perceptions of what constitutes a robust democracy are very similar. This is an encouraging sign and proves that the EU is not only an economic union but, above all, a community of values,” said Hoffmann of Bertelsmann Stiftung.