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EU: Polls Show Growing Identification With Europe

London, 18 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- A top French official says the resignation of the European Commission should be a signal to governments to capitalize on public dedication and support for further European integration by embarking on sweeping reforms.

Gilles Andreani -- head of the Center of Analysis and Forecasting at the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs -- spoke (March 16) to the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London.

He spoke on the theme "The EU: Is There a New Self-Confidence?" -- a title chosen before the collective resignation this week of the European Commission amid charges of fraud and mismanagement.

Andreani -- who stressed he was speaking in a personal, not an official, capacity -- said the mass resignation amounts to a "constitutional crisis" that raises questions about Europe's future.

But he also said recent opinion polls show a greater confidence and adhesion among European publics to the EU integration process, with more and more people saying they are benefiting from it.

EU governments -- who, according to polls, are slightly behind public opinion -- should mobilize this "untapped pool of dedication and support" by reforming Europe's "governance and institutions." If they don't, Andreani said, the EU will face more crises like the one this week.

Andreani -- who studies trends across Europe -- says there has been "an upsurge in European self-confidence" in recent years.

But Europeans' feeling of identification with the European project, while strong, have not yet climbed back to the "very high levels" of the late 1980s and early 1990s. He said that intense identification may have had something to do with the emotion associated with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the liberation of Eastern Europe. Andreani called it a "very special period, in retrospect."

He said the key question in measuring the degree of adhesion and satisfaction with the EU is the "net benefit question": Do you believe your country has benefited from belonging to the EU?

In recent months, two-thirds polled across the 15 EU nations answered "yes" to this question. The stronger confidence about Europe's common future re-emerged three years ago, after a period of relative pessimism caused by an economic slowdown.

An October 1998 poll in France showed 77 percent thought that Europe's integration process was "a good thing" -- 10 percent higher than in 1997. Polls showed similar findings in other countries.

The levels of support for the European integration process and the euro in Spain and Italy are "unparalleled" anywhere in Europe. Italians see the two projects as affirming their identity as a "modern, decent European country, not left behind by the others."

But Germany bucks the trend. Polls suggest that only half of the German population feels it has benefited from closer European integration, while the other half says it has not.

Many Germans complained they had been deprived of a proper debate on both the Maastricht Treaty and the introduction of the euro and had not been given the chance to vote in referenda.

Some 70 percent of Germans polled said they felt a sense of "powerlessness" over the decision to join the single currency.

Andreani said, across Europe, the introduction of the euro has contributed to the growing self-confidence. This was the case even in Germany, where polls in December found that more Germans supported the new currency than opposed it "as if the mere fact of its arrival promoted the adhesion of the population."