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EU: Union-Wide Poll Shows Expansion Losing Key Support

Brussels, 17 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Results of the latest European Union-wide poll, conducted in April and May by the EU's "Eurobarometer" statistical agency, indicate that public opinion on expansion may be cooling in member states where it has previously enjoyed strong support.

The poll results were released today in Brussels. Statistically relevant -- at least 3-percentage-point -- dips were observable in Italy, Denmark, Sweden, and Spain. Germany and Belgium also recorded slight decreases in support.

Traditionally, enlargement has enjoyed its strongest support -- exceeding 50 percent of the population -- in Scandinavia and the "southern" countries of Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Greece.

Overall, EU-wide support for enlargement stands at 43 percent, down 1 percent since last autumn's poll. Enlargement remains a highly polarized issue among the EU public, with 35 percent of all the Union's citizens saying they oppose it. Clear majorities against expansion exist in Germany (35 percent for, 42 percent against), France (35 for, 47 against), and Austria (33 for, 49 against).

The only countries where enlargement has gained significant support are Britain and Ireland. Remarkably, Ireland recorded an increase of 7 percent over last autumn's Eurobarometer figures, with 59 percent of those interviewed saying they think the EU should expand.

This result lends credence to those who argue that the majority of the Irish public actually supports enlargement, despite Irish voters' rejection of the Nice Treaty in a referendum early last month.

Ireland's rejection of the treaty is generally attributed to fears among the electorate that the document, if ratified, would mean a loss of national sovereignty and traditional Irish neutrality. The EU has since adopted a firm position that enlargement will be impossible without the full ratification of the Nice Treaty.