Irish are still among most keen on EU, poll shows


IRISH citizens are consistently among those in Europe most enthusiastic about the integration and membership of the European Union, the latest Commission Eurobarometer poll has confirmed once again.

Throughout the EU, although support for the integration of Europe remains relatively constant at 69 per cent, there has been a slight increase from 21 to 24 per cent in those opposed to integration.

Most significantly, there has been a continued fall in German support for unification, down seven percentage points in the spring autumn of 1995 and a further six percentage points in the spring of 1996.

Support rose in Portugal, Spain and Ireland (by three percentage points) with 81 per cent in the Republic now in favour, the third highest in the Union after Italy and Luxembourg. Some 75 per cent of Irish people surveyed also found membership "a good thing", while only 35 per cent in the UK did.

Only in Sweden, however, did those who believed membership was a bad thing" outnumber those in favour (42-29). The EU overall spread was 52 to 14 per cent in favour.

The largest fall in support for membership occurred in Belgium (down 17 per cent).

Regional variations in support for membership in Ireland show the strongest in the west (87 per cent) while Donegal is lowest (71 per cent). And Ireland topped the league of those who thought their country had benefited from membership.

In the UK, Northern Ireland (52 per cent) was just behind Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire in the league of support for membership, while at the other end of the scale only 23 per cent in Lincolnshire were positive.

If a referendum was held tomorrow, two thirds of all citizens would vote to stay in, while 16 per cent would vote to leave. Once again Ireland at 84 per cent tops the league of stayers while half of Swedes would vote to leave (38 per cent would stay).

The survey divides EU citizens into four types according to responses to questions group 1 hesitant about European integration (32 per cent) group 2 yes to a Europe which protects social rights (25 per cent) group 3 yes to an integrated, social Europe (25.5 per cent) group 4 no to Europe, nationalist (17 per cent). The first three broadly reflect progressively stronger attitudes to European integration, while the last is most preoccupied with national sovereignty.

Ireland has a strikingly large proportion of group I respondents (53.1 per cent), even though it has very wide national support for European integration, reflecting the more conditional nature of that support.

Two thirds of Irish respondents support the single currency compared to one third in the UK and 27 per cent in Sweden. In Germany 42 per cent favour it 49 per cent do not. Slightly more men than women favour the single currency which overall is supported by 53 per cent (33 per cent against).

Some 10 per cent of Irish people know the euro will come into force in 2002, and 63 per cent say they have not heard of the treaty changing Inter-Governmental Conference. Awareness of the latter is highest in Denmark (24 per cent).

Asked to select priorities for the European Union, Irish respondents put the fight against drugs and crime, and then fighting cancer and AIDS at the top of their list. At the bottom were "European Army", and "Paying less attention to economy and social justice". Europe wide the fight against crime and drug trafficking also came top.

Asked whether they saw the need for an elected European government, 60 per cent in Ireland said they did.

On enlargement, Irish respondents join the middle ranks of enthusiasts, reflecting perhaps fears of the effects of enlargement on funding. Throughout the EU some 53 per cent say funding to lesser developed regions should be tightened up to limit costs when enlargement happens, while 22 per cent say they should receive funding on the basis of the same criteria, even at greater cost. Eleven per cent say the countries of eastern and central Europe should not be admitted.

The survey was conducted by interviewing 65,000 people in the 5 member states between February and March of this year.