Statistics is a fascinating thing. No matter your field of interest; if you want to know how well the greens scored in your district in the last election, or the percentage of middle-aged couples who contemplate divorce – just Google it, and you’ll probably find more numbers and figures than you could possibly ask for. Not to mention what you can actually prove with statistics; your thesis doesn’t have to be more than just remotely accurate, given that you pair it with some persuasive graphs. But one of the most appealing features of statistics, in my opinion, is the possibility to compare and, hopefully, draw some new conclusions.
The European commission regularly publishes its Eurobarometer; statistical surveys of the public opinion in the EU. The latest survey was issued in mid-November, and lays out some interesting numbers worth taking a closer look at.
The issue measured was the European's perceived connection to their union (or – to be accurate – their "attachment to the EU").
The results? Well, to be honest – they weren’t too impressive. Whereas more than 80 percent of the respondents in EU27 felt attached to their home country, merely 46 percent had the same connection to the EU. Moreover, this is a number in decline; a similar survey from 2010 brought forth a majority of 53 percent who felt attached to the EU. Considering the ambitions of enlargement and deeper European integration, the result doesn’t bode well. There are significant differences between the member states, though, ranging from 72 percent in Luxemburg to a meagre 27 percent in the UK.
So far for the numbers, but what about reality? What does it actually mean to have an attachment to the European Union, and where does it come from? Lacking the facilities to conduct sophisticated research, I’ll simply refrain to the good old practice of empirical evidence.
My personal journey towards Europeanness got a somewhat sluggish start, born and raised in Sweden as I am. A northern and remote country, in the past (in) famous for its “neutralist” policy and recently designated as a budget hawk – no wonder we didn't reach more than a 37 percent attachment. However, at the age of 22 I felt the need for a change. So I packed my bags for a couple of months in – the UK, as previously mentioned placed at the very bottom of the attachment-list.
To be honest I didn’t feel much attached to the UK either, studying English in an all-Swedish class and sharing a seaside apartment with four other Swedish girls. It wasn’t like we didn’t try; dressed to the teeth we encountered an endless number of Brighton’s “one drink – 1 pound” student nights, and had dinner at our local pub “The fortune of war”. We even went to London to see a production of “King Lear” – in old English. But the English culture appeared to be more impenetrable than that, and the Britons themselves remained something of a riddle to us. I returned home with some new good (Swedish) friends – and a deep attachment to ketchup and Primark.
Nevertheless, the experience had been good enough to give me a taste for going beyond the boundaries of Sweden, and in August 2010 I was repacking my bags – this time for a year on Erasmus. Again, the destinations weren’t exactly optimal from a European feeling perspective, as I headed for the Netherlands and Denmark – both low-rankers in our “attachment-list”. Fortunately, there were counterbalancing factors; the program I attended focused on European journalism, the class consisted of students from many different countries and the schedule included several study-trips and journalistic projects outside the NL and Denmark – in ten months I visited 9 countries. When it was time to return home, I did so with several new (international) friends and a significant better understanding of Europe with all its differences and similarities.
We’re approaching the end of this statistical anecdote. For the time being I live in Belgium and have thus eventually managed to settle in a country with something like a genuine European feeling. 58 percent of the Belgians asked felt attached to the EU, which makes the country third on the list (just below Luxemburg and Poland). The fact that I now work in an EU institution myself should certainly push me in the same direction. Nevertheless I feel some hesitation, still not sure about what this attachment actually means, and in doubt whereas it’s even possible to develop such to something as huge and multi-facetted as the European Union.
But what I, on the other hand, do feel an attachment to is Europe and all the people I've met while travelling, working and studying abroad – and that's what makes me feel European. So to conclude – as good and interesting as statistics might be, the real challenge for the EU in order to approach its citizens would probably be to facilitate it for them to go outside their own country. We will probably never reach a 100 percent attachment in all member states, but we could certainly improve the current bleak results.
(And as for my fellow Swedes, the prospects for a more fully-fledged embracement of the EU are now bright, as a major obstacle was recently removed. International media might have focused heavily on Dalligate and the cherished Swedish snuff, but they disregarded another significant event – the European Food Safety Authority's decision to permit salty liquorice).