In early 2017, 10 years since Romania joined the European Union and following a year 2016 that brought serious challenges to the European bloc, this country is still one of the member states with the most optimistic outlooks on Europe: 67% of Romanians are confident in the EU as compared to the 50% European average. Nevertheless, 10 years ago optimism was stronger, both in Romania and elsewhere in the EU, with figures standing at 75% in Romania and 69% among the EU citizens.
The data are laid down in the autumn 2016 Standard Eurobarometer conducted last November and based on representative samples in all 28 member states. The survey is a good starting point for an analysis of Romania’s confidence in community institutions since 2007 to date, as Angela Cristea, head of the European Commission Office in Bucharest explains:
Angela Cristea: “10 years after Romania joined the EU, Romanians continue to have confidence in the EU. This confidence level, although decreasing, is above the EU average. Figures show it now stands at 52%, whereas 10 years ago it reached 65%. Meanwhile, the Europeans’ confidence in the Union stands at 36%, on average. Unfortunately, Romanians have less confidence in their national institutions. But if we look back, we see that confidence in national institutions has increased over the past 10 years. The conclusion is that while Romanians’ confidence in EU institutions is decreasing, confidence rates for national institutions are going up. In my opinion, this is closer to normal. We notice, for instance, that confidence in the national government had increased by 10% in 2016, as compared to 2007.“
Although they are quite optimistic about the EU in general, Romanians are more sceptical or pessimistic about everything related to their own country: 60% of the Romanians say their country is going in the wrong direction, and 29% of them believe the country’s economic situation will worsen. Another 40% of them say the situation will stay the same. Another relevant issue highlighted by the latest Eurobarometer is how Romanians relate to the priorities of the European public agenda, as compared to the other European citizens.
Angela Cristea: “Immigration and terrorism are regarded as the main challenges Europe is currently facing, although the percentage of Romanians who listed these two elements has decreased as compared to 2015. The free movement of citizens from the other member states is viewed in a favourable light, whereas that of citizens from third countries is perceived rather unfavourably. In the Romanians’ opinion, the most realistic objectives of the Europa 2020 Strategy are employment and the reduction of school dropout. (…) The values which, in the Romanians’ view, best represent the EU are human rights (38% in the case of Romanians, as compared to the European average of 34%), democracy (32% of the Romanians, compared to the European average of 31%) and peace (27% in Romania, as against a 39% European average). Romanians believe that what brings European citizens closer is geography. This is followed by shared values, the observance of the rule of law and solidarity with poverty-stricken regions. In contrast, Europeans put culture first, followed by history, values and the economy.”
Since some of the goals in the Europa 2020 Strategy are viewed as realistic by three-fifths of the respondents, we can say that, overall, Romanians are well informed on EU policies. The same conclusion may be drawn with respect to their support for the priorities of the sitting European Commission. However, sociologists have their interpretation of the data referring to the Romanians’ level of information as well as their state of mind, as compared to other Europeans. Manuela Stanculescu, a sociologist with the Romanian Academy’s Research Institute for the Quality of Life says:
Manuela Stanculescu: “We are very similar to the other European citizens in many respects. But we do have a characteristic feature: everything that has to do with Romania, from national economy, to unemployment, the direction the country is going to and so on, is considered to be the lowest in Europe. We are extremely critical of ourselves. Secondly, we have a very positive image of Europe. Not to mention how much we love the US! 38% of us believe that things in the US are great, whereas only 17% of the other Europeans share this opinion. The fact that our confidence in Europe is lower than 10 years ago means we have become more realistic. I would also say that most of our opinions on Europe are caused by poor information and the mirage of foreign countries.”
Bogdan Voicu, another sociologist with the Romanian Academy’s Research Institute for the Quality of Life, has his own explanation for the difference between the European and the Romanian citizens’ rate of confidence in EU institutions. He takes ideology as a starting point.
Bogdan Voicu: “We know there is a huge difference between the Western and Eastern European countries, in terms of their citizens’ confidence in the EU. For Western Europeans, joining the EU meant a limitation of their national sovereignty, a surrender of decision-making power to Brussels, whereas in the East, this didn’t matter. In the East, the EU and NATO membership or the friendship with the US was a basic guarantee of those states’ independence and importance. If we take Poland for example, we see that Poles had high confidence in the EU institutions before joining the EU. Shortly afterwards, the level of confidence started to decrease, as citizens gradually realized that Poland was in no danger and that it could play an important regional role. Romania is yet to reach that point. Also, military conflicts near national borders make countries more interested in possible sources of defence. This is how I understand the fact that Romania still has the highest level of confidence in the EU, although it is one of the poorest member-states.”
With so much confidence in EU institutions, the public in Romania is expected to get more involved in the debates around the White Paper on the future of the European Union launched by Jean-Claude Juncker.