Spend together, but how, and under what conditions? At a time when the European recovery plan of 750 billion euros still clashes with the firm opposition of Warsaw and Budapest, a new study sheds light rich in lessons on the concerns of European citizens. Published on November 25 by the European Council for International Relations (ECFR), a European research center, it is particularly interested in “frugal” (Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden), initially reluctant towards such common expenses – they have even been called a “tight-fisted club” – in which Finland is also associated.
But, according to the ECFR, the opinion of their inhabitants, more subtle, does not amount to stinginess. On the contrary: the survey reveals that eight out of ten respondents in these countries reject the idea that “The European Union (EU) is spending too much money”. Only 20% support this proposal in Sweden and Austria (compared to 17% in France), 22% in Denmark, and 24% in Finland and the Netherlands.
This contrasts with the arguments put forward by the governments of these countries at the start of the negotiations. In a column published by the Financial Times of February 16, their leaders, Sebastian Kurz (Austria), Mark Rutte (Netherlands), Mette Frederiksen (Denmark) and Stefan Löfven (Sweden) thus affirmed that they did not want to spend more than 1% of their gross national income on Europe. Their reluctance focused in particular on the common debt envisaged to finance the plan, and the high share of subsidies (390 out of 750 billion euros).
However, it is not so much “spending more” that preoccupies their citizens, but “spending badly” – and, in particular, the risk of wasted funds and corruption in recipient countries. A particularly strong concern in Austria (48%). “These results show that the label “frugal” does not reflect the opinion of the public, judge the authors of the study. Although the formation of this coalition may have borne fruit tactically during the negotiations on the stimulus package, the future positioning of these leaders within the EU should be informed by a deeper understanding of the position of their citizens. “
The study does not specify which states in particular bear these fears of waste and corruption: the south of the euro zone? Eastern Europe? Should we conclude that national clichés die hard between member countries? “In part, yes, but not completely: these fears put their finger on a real problem which, if it is not solved quickly, will turn into a time bomb”, worries a MEP.
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