The collapse in trust in the EU and its institutions

I spent a few hours today revising and updating this paper, and was both astonished, and not surprised at all, to see the extent to which trust in the EU and its institutions collapsed in 2011. The figures below show the percentage of respondents in Eurobarometer surveys saying they trusted the institution in question, minus the percentage who said they didn’t trust it. The decline in 2011 is really quite dramatic. I am sure that the usual suspects will tell us that what Europe obviously needs is a better communications strategy. Personally, I think that less destructive economic policies would have a bigger impact.

(Source: Eurobarometer)

46 replies on “The collapse in trust in the EU and its institutions”

There does not appear to be a latest figure for trust in the ECB. Would love to see that by country. They are improving under Draghi but I don’t trust them in any respect.

@ All

The relevant section of the report reads as follows;

“Trust in the European Union has fallen since autumn 2011 and now stands at its lowest ever level (31%, -3 percentage points). At the same time, levels of trust in national governments and parliaments have recovered slightly (28%, +4 and 28%, +1 respectively). As a result, the gap between trust in national political institutions and the European Union is now very narrow.”

The Main Concerns of ‘Europeans’ at National level (Section II)
[The two most important issues facing their home country at the moment,: the two highest %]
1. Unemployment: 46%
2. Economic situation: 35%
3. Rising Prices: 24%
4. Government debt: 19%.

1. Government Debt: 37%
2. Rising Prices/ Inflation : 30%
3. Education System: 21%

Yet, European policy has and is being consistently driven by the German ‘debt’ view. One could be unkind about this and simply say that Germany does not give a rats rear-end about what the 46% of Europeans think. The most important factor is what 37% of German think.

Even as 46% of Europeans think unemployment is their biggest concern. The best that European ‘policy makers’ can offer is more unemployment and to starve the unemployed in an attempt to incentivise them to crush each other in a stampede for work that does not exist. There are myriads of policies and targets on debt but nothing on unemployment. Is that not strange?

Also note what Italy thinks:
1. Unemployment: 49%
2. Economic Situation: 42%
3. Taxation: 29%

Funny that! Italians do not see debt levels as the highest priority. They must be badly in need of re-education!!

Maybe if Europeans felt the people in charge knew what they were doing there could be some trust. The story of this economic meltdown is one of elite arrogance and incompetence, not to mention making out like bandits.

@ All

This seems to be an appropriate juncture to renew study of the paper by Richard Koo on balance sheet recessions to which Stephen Kinsella drew attention some months ago.

The only – major – flaw that I see in it – as a non-economist – is that not everyone loses when an asset bubble bursts, certainly not in Ireland. They may take some time to overcome their newly-acquired lack of ostentation but the future of the economy depends on them doing it as fast as possible.

Italy is in a position totally different to that of Spain. Italians are still willing to buy their own government’s debt.

The idea advanced by Koo that citizens should not be allowed to buy any bonds other than those of their own government is, of course, a non-runner. It is up to the governments concerned to persuade them to do so.

@ All

I repeat a post on another thread below as the links clarify – for me, at least, as a layman – the struggle between the two opposing economic approaches probably giving rise to the change in public mood in Europe. (Incidentally, I cannot see how Feldstein can be wrong when he says that it is daft for the ECB to buy only the bonds of governments having difficulties selling them).

@ All

FYI a link to the article by Martin Feldstein that (hopefully) works.

and the opposing view from Paul Krugman courtesy of today’s IT.

The truth lies, one would imagine, somewhere beteen the two. Feldstein’s approach, however, seems more rooted in the real world and a better indicator for likely future developments.

@Kevin O’Rourke

“I am sure that the usual suspects will tell us that what Europe obviously needs is a better communications strategy.”

PR Guy hasn’t gone away you know. He’s just in self-imposed exile with very limited access to the interweb. His official line is that Europe obviously needs a better communications strategy….. and a complete refresh in the leadership department!

It was 39 degrees C in Carcassonne today 🙂

@ All

The judgement and associated referral to the ECJ by the Supreme Court.

It may be noted that the amendment to Article 136 TFEU was insisted upon by Merkel in order to ensure that there was no legal doubt with regard to the establishment of the ESM (in the eyes of the German constitutional court).


The ‘elite incompetence’ is a very plausible cover for the banditry.
Banditry in the form of wealth not accepting its losses and being supported all the way by EU institutions and creditor country bandits in is what has been going on from the start. Very successfully going on. Lets hope a tipping point is reached soon.

As somebody, who has actually won a legal case against the EU, in relation to the illegality of its renewable energy programme, see draft findings of 04.05.2012 below, I have no hestitation in saying I have never come accross an organisation so unprofessional and arrogant as the EU Commission, where the ultra vires behaviour of its officials is systematic.

I would also point out that it is not just me, who has demonstrated this in the legal situation:

There is a fundamental flaw in the construct of the EU Commission, which within its role as so called ‘Guardian of the Treaties’ has absolute discretion (outside of its obligations under the Aarhus Convention, which it ignores), in relation to what it enforces. To this must be added the fact that the EU Citizen is effectively denied access to the European Court, see above plus Plaumann judgement, to challenge its acts and omissions.

The present behaviour of the EU Commission has reached a stage where it is a direct threat to the economic welfare and democratic traditions of Europe.

Move one. Move on. Nothing to see here. … Oh look, they don’t like their national governments either. … and sure aren’t the poor dears in the EU’s institutions having a tough time of it with two opposing economic approaches … and how about that Irish Supreme Court …

Five posts that say KO’R has hit a nerve at DOCM’s client.

Good man, Kevin. Someone’s listening. They may not like what you have to say, but they are listening.

@ Pat Swords

I do not think that it is the powers of the Commission that are at issue here but those of the Member States in relation to their commitments under the treaties. On your basic point about the difficulty of individuals in challenging decisions by the Commission, I came across this on the web.

@ Mrs PR Guy

How is the book coming on?

And have you come across Minervois Les Carretals since you arrived ?

@ JR

I think there are two stories. A widening of the gap between rich and poor for sure but surely there are more competent ways to run a single currency than 25 failed summits in a row.
It does appear as though Olli Rehn will end
up as a Finnish Dick Roche.

I wish I was a member of the 92% who can easily understand the colour coding but unfortunately I’m not and therefore will never benefit from this post. My loss.


This issue of access to the European Courts is not nearly as simply as your link implies. In fact it is on the schedule of the UNECE Compliance Committee for their meeting in September. Others have been trying to ensure that the proper Rights due are provided, but there is still quite a long way to go. You can follow the on-going legal arguements at the end of the webpage below:


I think the main reasons are obsessed with debt is that they are scared to death the periphery might default at some stage and send their life savings to money heaven.
The main reason the Italians are not obsessed with debt is that they know the periphery might default etc etc.
The next few days will tell us whether Mario is Super or not. If he fails to deliver shock and awe then the Punt will be back in our pockets by Dec 31.


I think Draghi will deliver. He has done as well as can be expected to date given the formidable opposition he faces.
He will finally have to decide whether to put the broader interests of Europe above those of a domineering and myopic Germany. Merkel is led by the opinion polls with her only objective being re-election.
Schaeuble, on the other hand, seems more and more like Europe’s answer to Iran’s Achmadinejad.
His interpretation and complete misrepresentation of the June summit communique signed by the Chancellor on behalf of Germany would have done credit to Achmadinejad any day.

@ Tull

It will drag on way beyond Dec 31. This is going to be messy and slow. A bit like getting Liverpool back winning Premiership titles.

@DOCM @6.17

May as well repeat my response here as well – for the benefit of a ‘layman’ non-economist such as yourself …


The ontologically challenged market fundamentalist and financial system skewed Professor Feldstein has been anti-Euro ab initio and his assertion that:

‘The peripheral eurozone countries became over-indebted in the last decade because the bond market failed to provide a signal that debts were too high. ‘

might well have been written by Dear Lorenzo as both strolled the corridors of philistine power in Harvard. He is simply spinning the ‘feckless peripheral’ thesis which leads to the idiocy of the ‘conflationist fallacy’ while ignoring the role of unregulated capital flows at the root of the crisis.

@Kevin O’Rourke

Walter Hallstein (prof, german, wehrmacht, CDU member), first president of the Commission, warned against the continuing power of Franco_German Gaulism in arguing that the Commission needed to take control.

What we witnessed during the crisis was the reemergence of full-blooded Franco-Geman Gaulism and its UDID [unilateral delaration of its independent dictatorship] completely sidelined the Commission as well as all other member states to say nothing of their democratic citizenries. The pernicious nationalist influence of the Bundesbanke on the ECB may also be viewed as Guallist. 50 years after Hallstein’s warning he is ignored by both the CDU and the ECB.

Separate the Banks from the Sovereigns (conflationist fallacy – not there yet)
Commission to take power over Franco-German Gaullism (not there yet)
Sever the link between the Bundesbanke and the ECB (not there yet ..

25m unemployed in June in the EU27 according to data published Tuesday is testimony to the failures in the region.

There is mistrust on both sides and one need not look any further than Ireland to find that some groups – – farmers, public sector and professionals – – have been largely shielded from the bitter winds of the recession – – while some of the unemployed have no hope of getting sustainable work again.

Irish GPs have had a big jump in income since the crash.

It’s strange how the related issues of growth have disappeared from the headlines.

Few of course want to look beyond soundbites and President Hollande has found that it’s easier to talk about the issue than provide credible remedies.

Even if Draghi can wave a magic wand, the challenges remain and the pre-2008 world is not coming back in the West.

The recovery in US economic growth which began in 2009, months after President Barack Obama entered office, is the first since 1975 when public spending actually fell. Total public outlays have fallen at an annualised rate of 1.5% while in the previous five expansions, dating back to the mid-1970s, public spending grew at an annual average of 1.9%.

An IBEC group this week dreamed of the Irish food sector creating 30,000 jobs by 2020. However, Prof Alan Matthews recently said: “Less than 7% of Irish farmers are under 35 years of age, and 45% are over 55. While this demographic structure has characterised Irish farming for some time, it is an unpromising basis as a platform to launch a major increase in output.”

M. Hollande has forced PSA Peugeot Citroën, the car company, to agree on no forced layoffs, but Lucas Léger of France’s Institute for Economic and Fiscal Research says the French car-making sector is plagued with some of the highest labour costs in the world – – “about 50% of which wind up in government coffers, not workers’ pockets.”

There are no simple solutions.


Interesting to listen to Morning Ireland regarding the non impact Tourism Irelands efforts have had in delivering thousands of Londoners to this Isle during the Olympics. Some tourists (non UK it must be noted) were interviewed and the response which was most notable was that despite the recession tourists were shocked by the prices still being charged in this country for virtually everything it seems. Whether we like it not we still have a serious problem with pricing be it property, VAT, airports, tolls, GPs, Professional charges,rates, education, insurance, food, petrol & diesel, gas, electricity etc etc. . Most if not all the cost probelms lie somehere between Brussels and Kildare Street.

It seems fairly obvious that until the impact of Govt is removed to its most negligible amount throughout our economy I’m afraid our competitative cost disadvantage will remain a painful reminder that the Celtic Tiger excess is alive and kicking.

Surely the US data shows that there’s a simple solution, for America at least. Borrow some of that cheap money the markets are mad to lend you and ramp up government spending and maybe cut some taxes – hey presto – you’ve got a robust, high employment, economic recovery.

@Yield or Bust

“Celtic Tiger excess is alive and kicking..”

Yes it is in certain areas but our tourist industry is also being devastated by official policy towards cultural tourism. Recent commentary by Robert Ballagh (Ir Times) and and Joseph O’Connor (radio) have pointed out that despite over 30% of tourist coming to Ireland in part because if its cultural heritage, many of these places now have restricted opening hours etc. Gavin Kostick has made the same point several times.
The official policy seems to be driven by the Moore McDowell’s myopic view of a tourist venue as a direct cash source, ignoring the tourist spend in non heritage sites.

On a trip to Wexford last spring on a long holiday weekend, the Tourist office in Enniscorthy, closest to 1798 rebellion area, was closed for the weekend.

So where do people go in the rain? To the pubs perhaps!

The Dept of Arts Heritage , which includes the National Library / Museum suffered (from memory) a cut of approx 27% in its budget this year, the largest of any department.

It is not just prices that are killing tourism. To link in to the theme of the thread, our own government ‘institution’ is doing a fine job in killing tourism.
There is no bigger insult to a tourist than a door closed in their face.
They cannot complain to the door. They just don’t come back.

If the moderator allows the it, The Robert Ballagh letter is worth reading in full:

“Sir, – A few years ago I found myself, against my better instincts, greatly encouraged by remarks made by the great and the good at the Farmleigh Forum, organised by the previous government.

We were told how important the arts are in our society and how the arts must play a central role in our recovery. More recently we hear a lot about the value of cultural tourism, particularly in the context of the initiative “The Gathering”.

Well, how foolish was I to believe that such aspirations might translate into positive action.

Last week, when travelling back to Dublin from Galway by train I had a truly revealing experience. On the journey I struck up a conversation with some people from the US who were without question cultural tourists. Now even though this was their first trip to Ireland, they came well informed. I listened with interest as they outlined their various encounters with Irish cultural life. They first travelled to Sandycove to visit the Martello Tower, made famous by James Joyce, only to discover that it was closed. After this disappointment, they returned to Dublin and went to Synge Street to see the home of George Bernard Shaw to discover that it too was closed.

They then decided to change tack and check out the visual arts scene.

Sadly, no luck there! They found that most of the National Gallery was closed and that several rooms in the Hugh Lane Gallery were also closed due to staff shortages. Luckily they didn’t venture out to Kilmainham because there they would have discovered that the Irish Museum of Modern Art is also closed.

After Dublin they travelled west to find that the Nora Barnacle Museum in Galway was not open to the public and that the tower in Sligo, once occupied by WB Yeats, was closed due to flood damage.

So, having listened to this disappointing litany, the only emotion I can admit to in relation to our present cultural infrastructure is one of shame. – Yours, etc,”

@ Pat Swords

Thanks for the link. The poor performance of the Commission in recent years is certainly an element in the increased disenchantment of the European electorate with the institutions of the EU. The lack of focus and sensitivity in its operations can be attributed, to some extent at least, to its excessive size, a fact in which the Irish electorate played a major part, insisting on retention of “our Commissioner”, in the context of the second Nice referendum.

@ All

It will be interesting to see the details of the SC’s judgement on the issue of sovereignty. With any luck, it will help lay the ghost of the Crotty judgement.

On the subject of poor performance, the misappropriation of public funds in Member States to meet the mandates of the ECB, and the consequences of this misappropriation for sovereign borrowing costs are certainly an element in the increased disenchantment of the electorates of Member States with the institutions of the EU.


No amount of PR will do the EU much good, I’m afraid. As you point out in your paper, ‘Europe is currently stuck between..two modes of governance’, either intergovernmental or a more fully fledged ‘federal’ procedure. Its political status thus remains ambiguous in the eys of European citizens.

Since the Constitutional Treaty was rejected, and abandoned, in 2005 it is arguable that the European Union no longer has the capacity to evolve as a cohesive federal entity commanding either political or cultural allegiance from citizens across the Union. In the best of times, the EU is viewed at most as a benign regulatory force, acting as a sort of procedural umbrella over the competing interests of its member states. Respect or levels of public trust in its institutions remain fragile, since the actions of those institutions are not underpinned by any sense of transnational political or cultural identification. In the depths of a crisis then, it’s hardly surprising that trust in the EU should fall off a cliff. Citizens may equally express loss of faith in their national political institutions and individual political parties, but there’s always a way back for them within the political cycle. ‘Europe’ has a much bigger mountain to climb.

A further major problem for the EU is that at national level the media represents European issues in national terms, as for example, in utilising national sources to interpret developments. EU coverage, particuarly in a crisis situation, is inevitably skewed towards conforming with national values and national audience expectations. National politicians do the same thing, understandably since their own political survival depends on it. ‘Speaking up for Europe’ is not likely to garner many votes.

@ Veronica

“Since the Constitutional Treaty was rejected, and abandoned, in 2005 it is arguable that the European Union no longer has the capacity to evolve as a cohesive federal entity commanding either political or cultural allegiance from citizens across the Union.”

The problem with this statement is that the document in question was, to give it its formal title, a “Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe”. About the only accurate word in the description is the word “treaty”. The Norwegians, for example, might suitably have been miffed at being included in Giscard’s grand project (incidentally, prefaced, in Greek, with a quotation from Thucydides).

The reality is that the EU is a sui generis construction which adapts the concept of “federalism” by putting the states making it up in charge of the execution of its policies unlike a classic federation where the division between federal and state powers is nearly absolute. This model is well adpated to the heterogeneity of Europe and the secret of the success of the EU.

I know, I know! The euro is in difficulty but that does not mean that Europe is about to turn its back on 50 years of peaceful development.

The Lisbon Treaty is, effectively, a more accurate statement of what was negotiated in the failed “constitution”. One of the changes was to make the European Council a full instution of the EU and its decisions subject to review by the ECJ, a fact which the Irish Supreme Court has seized upon and has allowed to ask it to give an opinion in respect of the decision with regard changing Article 136 by simplified procedure cf. link to text of referral above.

On the issue of “political and cultural allegiance”, both the failed “constitution” and the Lisbon Treaty make a point of underlying the need to respect the cultural identities of the member states.

As to the vital issue of “political allegiance”, as the post by Edward underllines, it waxes and wanes with the fortunes of the entity on which it depends.


Perhaps I did not express myself clearly enough, but I think my point may have escaped your argument.

There is an ambiguity about the political status of the EU institutions which may, indeed, have a great deal to do with the ‘incremental’ model of political development since its foundation, particularly the principle of showing respect for cultural diversity among member states and so on. National political institutions, good , bad or indifferent, command allegience of citizens because there is an implicit sense of political and cultural engagement with them. They are, intrinsically, ‘of us’ even when it seems they are not governing ‘for us’. Even though what the EU institutions do may affect the daily lives and activities of citizens in more profound ways than some of the actions of national government, that same sense of engagement doesn’t hold for a host of reasons; not least of which is that the EU is represented to citizens both by politicians and the media as primarily a regulatory agency, or a supranational coercive power, rather than as part of the ‘natural’ democratic order.

In our own case, it’s reasonable to argue that it is a mixture of fear and greed that motivates our EU engagement – fear that we might lose out ( as in the Fiscal Treaty referendum) or naked self interest (as was the case with EU structural and cohersion funds’ and CAP access in the past), rahter than any allegiance to the concept of ‘Europe’ per se.

It seems to me that loyalty to a concept of ‘Europe’ is rather confined anyway. As expressed in Kevin’s paper (p17), in class terms: “the unskilled in rich countries, and the less mobile everywhere, may have less to gain from international economic integration than the skilled or mobile.” Philosophical engagement with a concept of ‘Europe’ thus may be even further limited to specific elite groups – senior civil servants, MEPs, other political groupings and business and civil society lobbyist/NGOs. The broader civil society has not hitched up to European ideals. As things stand they can’t; because the European institutions are too shallow, and too politically weak, to permit such identification. Hence the ‘push’ from the EU is always less tractible than the ‘pull’ of national institutions.

My counterargument is that the political allegiance to Europe doesn’t ‘wax and wane’ in the same way as allegiance to national political institutions; it simply doesn’t exist in the same way. Nor can one envisage the circumstances in which it could be made to exist: there are too many barriers to it at this stage. I noted the media representation barrier in my previous post. Kevin’s paper references some economic ones. Then there are linguistic, racial tensions and cultural barriers that also lie dormant, but readily flare up in times of tension.

Please don’t get me wrong: I’m an old europhile! I think, though, that we need to have a debate about what Europe means and what is being created, whether through small incremental steps or big bold initiatives, and how the present chasm between national political arenas of power and a European polity may be bridged.

Apologies for the length of this response to your interesting reply to my first one, which has inspired these meandering further thoughts on this topic.

@ Veronica

Many thanks for a very thoughtful and eloquently expressed reply. I would not disagree with any of it. Indeed, my disparagement of the “constitution” is based on the reasoning that you advance. It was pretending to be something that it was not i.e. a step to the creation of a federation which would attract the type of necessary political – and visceral – support required.

In my view, such a federation is neither possible nor desirable. The reason is rather obvious. The heterogeneity of Europe does not allow it. This is where the euro comes in. It may well have been a step too far – and leading to an impossible trilemma as KOR argues – but I do not believe so. Ireland was effectively in a monetary union with the UK, for example, for many years without it ever being argued that the arrangement could not survive without political union. Belgium and Luxembourg had a similar arrangement up to the adoption of the euro.

It may be, of course, that what is required is a dominant economic participant that is also a nation state! I think that this is what we are going to get. Indeed, we already have it.

Incidentally, Quentin Peel on RTE just now was really excellent on the subject of the current status of the ongoing euro crisis, notably when he pointed out that Draghi does not seem to have his ducks in a row i.e. he has the necessary majority in the governing council of the ECB but not the vital support of the dominant economic participant; the Bundesbank. The position of Merkel is, as usual, ambiguous.

@ Veronica

Just to hand.


“The Bundesbank was “not just one of 17 central banks” in the euro zone, Mr Weidmann said, hinting it would not look on indefinitely as the ECB pursues a strategy German economists see as outside its mandate.

“We are the biggest and most important bank in the euro system and continue to have entitlements and demands that go further than some other central banks. Whether it’s interest rates or special measures, it always ends the same way: with the central bank expected to follow goals of fiscal policy,” he said.”

This is unbelievable stuff!

More ECB PR guff from DOCM.

What Weidmann said is quite believable, and fully consistent with a major strand of German thinking. It may not be consistent with the survival of the euro in its current form, but that is clearly not Germany’s only priority in the debacle, and there is considerable circumstantial evidence that it may turn out not to be Germany’s top priority either.

Strong stuff, yes. “Unbelievable”, only for purposes of spin.

Well done Draghi. He has flushed out Weidman. The BUBU has blown its cover and Weidman has made an donkey of himself.
Weidman has put it up to all the other ECB council members. By his version they only travel to Frankfurt to make up the numbers and get a nice lunch. His is the only vote on the ECB council.

Later in the article he threatens to thrown his rattler out of the pram, in not backing the communique agreed banking union, if he does not get his way.

No wonder European institutions have lost the confidence of European citizens. Is there a simple reason.
They have not been acting in the interests of European citizens.
They have to ask for Weidman’s permission to do anything.

“This is unbelievable stuff!”

@ Joseph Ryan

Indeed! I had Vosskuhle (senior judge in the German constitutional court) in mind as the likely candidate to light the torch paper but it seems that Weidmann is ahead at this stage.

@Joseph Ryan

No wonder European institutions have lost the confidence of European citizens. Is there a simple reason.
They have not been acting in the interests of European citizens.
They have to ask for Weidman’s permission to do anything.


To “anti-democratic” and “oligarchical” we should add “useless”.

In a wonderful current example ECB figurehead Draghi appears to have blown it. As American economist J W Mason noted in his excellent post Pain Is the Agenda: The Method in the ECB’s Madness “It’s hard to suppress a lingering suppression that central bankers are, after all, bankers.” and here we again see the tensions between between financial sector interests, European neoliberalism and Germany’s gold bug infestation have once again prevented any effective action from being taken.

Contra Draghi, we need some way to make EMU reversible.

The European Social Survey asks a bunch of questions about people’s trust (in police,legal system, politicians etc). The only European institution it looks at is the European Parliament. It shows a fall in trust for Ireland in 2010 (on a scale of 0 to 10) but I wouldn’t call it a collapse.
Bear in mind that towards the end of the period people are showing less trust in most things:

2002 5.1
2004 5.4
2006 5.3
2008 4.7
2010 4.1

For a look at our trust in politicians, see my

Indeed. The 2012 data will be available next year so we can compare further. The parliament may not generate as strong a reaction as ECB or the Commision anyway.


Ireland’s link to sterling was a unilateral exchange rate peg. It was not a currency union. This is a very large (XXL) misunderstanding.

What is depressing is to see the same parochialism, gombeenism and pork-barrel coming out of Brussels (and the ECB) as out of the Dail and Seanad.

I don’t think you can simply characterise it as distrust of “destructive economic policies” because I don’t really see any economic policies. I see a continuation at the European level of the Irish government’s long held strategy of “sit on our hands, hope for the best and win the next election”.

The feeble-minded response to the deficit/banking crisis is as much at the EU/ECB as it is at home.

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