Press release | A wake-up call for Europe: Citizens more worried about natural disasters than armed conflict shows report by Debating Europe

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Brussels, 06 May 2024 – Ahead of Europe Day and one month before the entire Union goes to the polls, a new report by Debating Europe, the citizens engagement unit of Friends of Europe, shares the top concerns of citizens. The report shows that climate-related natural disasters are seen as a more immediate threat within the EU than potential armed conflict. This came as citizens generally felt a sense of protection being members of NATO, but also worried about an overreliance on the alliance, with the idea of a unified EU army described as unlikely.

The study “2024 Voices – Citizens speak up!” was conducted in seven EU countries – Belgium, France, Italy, Germany, Poland, Spain and Sweden – drawing on responses of more than 2,000 citizens. Those who participated were asked about the most pressing issues currently facing Europe in focus groups and in their native languages. The topics included climate change, democracy, inclusive and sustainable growth and safety and defence.

Widening social inequalities have left citizens feeling excluded, disenfranchised and cynical as they perceive politicians don’t listen to them and lack the will to act on solutions. Debating Europe is committed to harnessing the collective intelligence of citizens via focus groups to develop and refine policy ideas that truly reflect their aspirations, creating a more inclusive, sustainable and forward-thinking Europe”, said Adam Nyman, Director of Debating Europe.

 

>>> CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL REPORT <<<

 

Here are the main findings on each topic across the seven countries:

CLIMATE

The main culprits are the big business corporations.” – Pelle, 31-40, Germany

Climate change remained a source of considerable anxiety among citizens, often described as “the greatest challenge of our times”, with participants stressing the need to make up for lost time following decades of indecisive action. Noteworthy, given the current security threat posed by Russia and the political shift to matters of defence that is already dominating this year’s elections, much of the discussion regarding security was dedicated to climate-related natural disasters, which were seen as a more immediate threat within the EU than potential armed conflicts.

 

ECONOMY

Growth for the sake of growth is absurd and dangerous.” – Carmen, 18-30, France

The one-two punch of COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine painted the picture of an EU vulnerable in the face of global shocks, with participants repeatedly calling for a reduction in Europe’s dependence on importing essentials, such as food and energy. Despite labour shortages being a common occurrence, inviting foreign workers to fill in the gaps was rarely seen as a top priority by any of the demographics or countries involved.

 

SECURITY

Security and protection should be regulated at the European level.” – Jakob, 18-30, Belgium

Participants expressed a general feeling of safety, believing that foreign aggression against EU countries was unlikely due to most EU countries being NATO members. At the same time, there was a feeling of uneasiness about relying too much on NATO for protection given the uncertainty around the next US leadership after this year November’s elections. On the other hand, the idea of forming a unified EU army was generally described as a political and logistical quagmire that was unlikely to come to fruition any time soon.

 

DEMOCRACY

A healthy democracy needs citizens participation.” – Lucia, 66+, Italy

Across the entire study, citizens saw politicians as weak, ineffective and unwilling to go against their interests and felt largely disconnected from the political process. There were worries that civil rights were being eroded, with free speech and the right to protest highlighted as key concerns. Surprisingly, lowering the voting age to 16 proved one of the most contentious topics in the study.

 

Here are the main findings on each country:

BELGIUM: Government not acting fast enough in tackling climate change

We all know that the responsibility lies more with the developed countries.” – Béatrice, 31-40

Belgians don’t trust their government to act fast enough to address climate change, with the Flemish-speaking citizens having even less trust than the French-speaking citizens. Citizens expressed concerns about the country’s lack of preparedness for natural disasters, highlighting recent floodings in Wallonia. The EU was the most trusted actor by Belgians to combat climate change who want to see big polluters being taxed and eco-friendly products made more affordable.

 

FRANCE: Citizens want stricter environmental laws and more EU enforcement

Solutions are there; now it’s about making a political choice.” – Maëllie, 18-30

French citizens who took part in this study were angry about politicians’ lack of courage and action and called for the biggest polluters to be properly taxed. French citizens are also worried about the state of democracy in France with the use of fast-track legislation, which allows governments to pass bills without a vote from the legislature, being pointed out as a huge source of concern.

 

GERMANY: Germans more open to the European army than other Europeans

I didn’t feel the threat because we are part of NATO.” – Ahmet, 18-30

Because of historical reasons, and given the current shift to security and defence, German citizens are more open to the idea of a unified EU army and feel that a collective army would be more accepted than bolstering the national army. Participants noted a shortage of skilled labour and complained about a lack of migration policies that could solve some of these shortages by allowing in labour force from outside the EU.

 

ITALY: Citizens worried about state of democracy

The government is using decrees too often to overcome the Parliament.” – Irene, 18-30

Italian citizens are worried about the state of democracy in Italy with the use of fast-track legislation that allows governments to pass bills without a vote from the legislature being pointed out as a huge source of concern. Corruption, bureaucracy and old-fashioned economic and educational systems were all identified as structural problems that need reforms, such as in the tax systems to address income inequalities, increasing salaries of essential public service workers and allowing for more flexible work arrangements.

 

POLAND: Green transition is a matter of national health

Is enough being done by stakeholders such as the EU?” – Jan, 31-40

Polish citizens consider the green transition as a matter of national health. This came as participants noted Poland’s dependency on coal and reliance on old cars and that older generations often oppose climate action because they believe it is being enforced on them by the EU. Citizens called for the green transition to account for people working in polluting sectors, such as those working in the coal mining sector.

 

SPAIN: Water scarcity is a major concern for the future

Climate change must be at the top of the EU’s political and legal agenda.” – Ana Begoña, 18-30

In Spain, participants mentioned water scarcity as a major concern for the future. While acknowledging that much of Europe was still in a privileged position, citizens saw dwindling water resources as a pressing global issue and believed that proactively addressing it was crucial. Much of the conversation regarding a just transition was centred around rural areas, with the consensus being that sustainable agriculture was central to an inclusive green economy.

 

SWEDEN: Youth absent from party politics

Influencers have so much more influence than members of parliament.” – Sara, 18-30

The study showed that Swedish youth tend to abstain from active participation in civil society with their lack of involvement in party politics or activist groups being apparent. Compared to other EU countries, participants described Swedes’ engagement in different societal movements as passive because they say citizens take democracy for granted. On national security, respondents mentioned political extremists as potential threats and particularly referenced radical groups who engage in provocative acts, such as burning the Quran and criminal gangs.

 

– ENDS –

Contact us

For more information or to request an interview, please contact:

Catarina Vila Nova
Press and Communications Officer
catarina.vilanova@friendsofeurope.org
press@friendsofeurope.org

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