The Eurobarometer survey carried out in November 2012 was noteworthy mostly for the darkness mired in its pages. Not only, it found, do Europeans not trust their own governments, but they are inherently distrustful of the European Union itself.
A matter of trust
68% of Europeans do not trust their national government, with just 28% trusting their national parliament. Distrust is extremely prominent in the soon to be 28th EU member state, Croatia, where 75% of respondents admit they distrust both the government and the parliament. 80% of EU citizens do not trust political parties.
In Belgium, fundamentally the home of the European Union, 76% of respondents distrust political parties. In fact, every indicator measuring trust deteriorated in this country. A majority (56%) of respondents feel things are going wrong in their home country. In Ireland, that number is 47% - but 66% of Irish respondents feel Ireland would not fare better alone. The country is split as to how satisfied we are with our democracy; 40% are dissatisfied with democracy at EU level.
Just half of Europeans feel that their voices count in their country; a shockingly small number at 50%, demonstrating yet again the democratic deficit that often crops up as a debate topic on this website. 45% of Europeans do not trust the European Parliament; 44% do not trust the European Commission; 48% do not trust the European Central Bank. Ireland currently holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union; a body distrusted by 43% of European citizens. 57% of respondents feel distrustful of the European Union as a whole. 68% believe it to be inefficient; 51% believe it to be technocratic.
We could go through the numbers for years, and the point would still be the same: Europeans do not trust Europe. And in Ireland, the Irish people trust neither their own government, nor Europe - but we’re aware that we can’t make it on our own. Majorities of respondents in Ireland feel they are at least fairly well informed about the European Union, and almost 70% of Irish people feel in some way as though they were EU citizens.
The issues are plain to see on our streets. Ireland’s current unemployment rate is at 14.1%. Across Europe, the number is 12.1%. There are 26,521,000 unemployed people in the European Union today: a figure larger than the entire population of Nepal.
For the young people, it is even worse - if that were possible. 24% of all young people in Europe - 5.69 million - are unemployed. That is a 1.5% rise since March 2012. That means that since March 2012, an additional 184,000 young people have lost their jobs.
When asked in the Eurobarometer, 48% of European citizens quoted “unemployment” as one of the most important issues in their country. In Ireland, that number was 65%.To put that into perspective, a mere 2% of Europeans quoted “terrorism” as a core concern. Ireland, a country infamously divided by terrorism during the Troubles, registered a 0% concern for terrorism, despite the notable and frightening increase in paramilitary activity there since the start of this decade.
53% of people in Ireland believe that the worst is yet to come. 41% admit that they live day to day and are unable to make plans. This means that almost half of the Irish have trouble with basic daily expenses: bills, groceries, utilities, education and so on. This means that young people are having trouble completing third level education, and that families are facing increasing debt, taxes, and charges, along with falling disposable income. With sadness, the truth must be acknowledged that thousands and thousands of young Irish people have heard the call of emigration- and they have answered in their droves.Rising above crime, terrorism, immigration and taxation, unemployment and the economic crisis are the core concerns in the collective mind of Ireland. The desperation for work is palpable nationwide; it doesn’t appear to get better but we are still making room for the continuing pain.
Ireland was an economic monster in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The Celtic Tiger was roaring, with the economy growing over 9% on average until 2003 and almost 6% thereafter. In 2008, the Economic and Social Research Institute forecast that for the first time since 1983, Ireland was to experience negative growth. They were sure that recovery would come swiftly.
As we now know, Ireland was the first European country to enter recession. The property bubble burst and consumer spending collapsed. Ireland’s towering economy was a house of cards, and it fell fast. In 2009, the economy contracted by almost 7% - a burning thump to the stomach of the nation. Accepting the €67.5 billion bailout from the IMF and EU in November 2010 meant that we accepted austerity. We have paid for scandal after scandal, our banking system corrupt into depravity. Not one financial criminal has seen the inside of a prison, but we are more than happy to lock up small time thieves who are trying to feed their families.
Today, as you read this, there are 294,000 unemployed people in Ireland. It is a huge figure in its own right, and bigger than the entire population of Barbados. I am not surprised to know that Ireland does not trust its own government - and I am even less surprised to know that Ireland does not trust the EU. This hangover has been going on for five years. Doleful acceptance has brought us this far, but clearly this acceptance has come at a high price for those who seek to govern.