CE3 countries divided over greater European integration

The European Union (EU) published its latest "Standard Eurobarometer" at the end of November 2018. Among other things, this survey provides insight into the attitude of the population of the small CE3 countries (Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary) towards the EU and greater European integration.

The majority of the population in all three small Eastern European countries believes that their country is better equipped for the future inside rather than outside the EU. The reasons clearly include financial aspects as well as the desire for economic prosperity. Poland, for example, has been the largest net recipient of EU funds since 2009, and Hungary and the Czech Republic rank fourth and fifth in the league table of net recipients in terms of the corresponding figures for 2017. However, the recent EU survey has also shown that the incentives to join the EU go beyond this financial aspect, with the desire for peace and democracy, i.e. key European values, also playing an important role.

If, however, the notion of European integration is carried over to the theme of membership in European Economic and Monetary Union and, by extension, the introduction of the euro, the latest EU survey reveals considerable differences of opinion. A key finding is that the Czech public rejects most strongly the adoption of the single European currency while displaying the least confidence in the ECB as a European institution. Conversely, the Hungarians on the whole are surprisingly open to both developments. The Polish public lies between these two poles, with the majority opposing the introduction of the euro while showing confidence in the ECB.

A possible explanation for these conflicting attitudes of the Czech and Hungarian public in comparable underlying conditions is the reputation of the national central banks of these respective countries. A Czech central bank that is largely politically independent and proactive contrasts with a Hungarian central bank governed by a chairman who is regarded as a political confidant of Prime Minister Orban. Given the increasing dissatisfaction of Hungarians with the policies of their national conservative government, this initially surprising openness towards Europe should come as no surprise.

Despite these partly encouraging results, cooperation with these countries at the European level will remain difficult, as the respective governments often put their own interests first. The upcoming European elections on 26 May are unlikely to offer much relief either, as populist and often nationalist parties are gaining popularity in these countries too. Shaping Europe will therefore remain a difficult undertaking, even after the elections.

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