The Desert of the Real

The Desert of the Real

Originally Published by Visegrad Insight

By Benjamin Cunningham

Though it almost never seems that way, Europeans actually feel quite good about the European Union.

There were only two member states (Cyprus and Austria) where a plurality of people had a negative view of the EU in a Eurobarometer survey released in July 2015. Perhaps even more surprising to the casual observer is that Europeans are highly optimistic about the future direction of the EU. In twenty-six countries, a majority of people feel the EU is going in a positive direction (all but Cyrpus and Greece), and this is especially so in the Visegrad Four where the statistics enjoy healthy majorities — 67% in Poland, 62% in Slovakia, 61% in Hungary, and 57% in the Czech Republic.

The results are clear. Europeans, including V4 citizens, like being part of the EU. In fact, the race is not even close, and, contrary to what a few tensions and struggles would suggest, positive public opinion is pulling more and more ahead.

The most popular single feature of the EU is the free movement of people, goods, and services, in other words, the Schengen Area. Unlike other trans-European projects, Schengen membership is still a draw for those outside of it, and the free travel zone includes four countries that are not even EU members.

In Bulgaria, a non-Schengen country, 57% of people say they support joining the Schengen zone, with just 12% opposed. Juxtapose this with how Bulgarians feel about potentially joining the Eurozone — 65% are opposed — and you get a picture of how popular free travel really is.

It seems that if there were ever a single issue which most Europeans could agree on, it would be this free movement, but that does not suggest that it is free from attack. At the time of writing this article, this right was being threatened and, indeed, had been temporarily suspended in much of Central Europe. The crisis of the Schengen zone “cuts to the heart of the political spirit of the EU” notes Benjamin Tallis of the Institute of International Relations in Prague. “Schengen created a common border without creating a common migration system,” he added.

While Europeans may well support the EU as an idea, that concept is actually not uniform; it is often under the influence of various and disparate views.

Benjamin Cunningham is a Prague based writer and journalist. He contributes to The Economist, The Guardian, and Politico and is an opinion columnist for the Slovak daily Sme.