Poll shows support for EU at 35-year high across bloc

Most Europeans have positive opinions about EU membership. (Reuters pic)

BRUSSELS: Support for European Union membership has hit a 35-year high across the bloc, with a strong majority of citizens saying it has been a force for good in their country, even in the UK, which is set to leave next year.

The Eurobarometer survey commissioned by the European Parliament showed that 67% of EU citizens thought that membership had benefitted their country, the highest level since 1983. Just 23% took the opposite view.

Italy, where an incoming Eurosceptic government is worrying Brussels, was least enthusiastic; just 44% of Italians said benefits outweighed disadvantages compared to 41% who said the reverse. Nonetheless, that marked a turnaround from last October when 48% were negative and 39% positive.

The UK, which will make good in March on a 2016 referendum vote to leave the EU, was the next least convinced of the benefits of membership. But 53% still thought it had been a benefit, outnumbering those thinking that it has been disadvantageous by nearly two to one.

The poll was published to mark a year until the next election for the European Parliament, when Britons will have no vote. The election will be held on May 26 in most of the other 27 EU countries. Parliament President Antonio Tajani forecast that the contest would set parties which believe in European integration against those bent on halting it.

The 67% positive rating for the EU across the bloc marked a rise from 64% in October and 60% in surveys a few months before and after the UK’s Brexit vote. The low point in recent years was 52% in 2011, at the height of the sovereign debt crisis in the eurozone.