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EU: Poll Shows Germans Ill-Informed

As Germany takes the lead in creating a vision of what the European Union could be in a few decades, a recent opinion poll has surprised German decision makers by suggesting that the average German knows relatively little about the institutions and people shaping the EU. RFE/RL's Roland Eggleston reports.

Munich, 25 May 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The European political world is studying the recent proposal by German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer for Europe to become a federation in which many national powers would be transferred to a supranational European government.

Fischer has also raised once again the idea that Germany should join a small group of "core" EU members, who would press ahead rapidly for European integration.

Yet while political leaders discuss Germany's future in a stronger EU, a recent poll in Germany suggests that many ordinary citizens know little about the present European Union.

The poll was conducted in March by the generally respected Institute for Demoskopie in Allensbach and commissioned by the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," a newspaper that strongly supports European integration. The FAZ said the outcome of the poll is a disappointment for Europe's boosters.

Fewer than 20 percent of Germans polled said they are proud to be European. The pollsters said the concept of Europe apparently fails to inspire a feeling of "belonging" among Germans. Many Germans did not even know that their country had held the EU presidency in the first half of 1999.

Two-thirds of those polled said that they would not notice if the media failed to report on European affairs from Brussels, Strasbourg, or Luxembourg unless it was a really important matter. Shown a list of 23 top European politicians more than 80 percent of respondents could not recognize more than five. The president of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, had a name-recognition of only 41 percent. The name most recognized -- with 76 percent -- was the EU commissioner for eastward expansion, Guenter Verheugen. But the newspaper suggested this was because he had a high-profile political career in Germany before transferring to Brussels.

Most Germans, the poll showed, believe in principle that central European countries should join the EU because they are "European." Yet Germans have doubts about how this can be achieved. More than half (54 percent) said enlargement would weaken the EU, while less than a quarter (23 percent) thought it would strengthen the union.

The newspaper that sponsored the poll said it is unclear whether the average German really supports European unity or believes that anything to do with Europe is complicated and incomprehensible. The same question could be asked in other EU countries.