A new report, published today by NatCen Social Research, reveals that fewer people in the UK feel any sense of European identity than do those in any other country in the European Union. The report – ‘Do we feel European and does it matter?’ – is the second in a series of briefing papers exploring Britain’s relationship with the European Union in the run up to the referendum as part of the ESRC-funded project ‘What UK Thinks: EU’.
According to the latest Eurobarometer survey, as many as 64% of people in the UK deny that they feel in any way ‘European’. In contrast, just 25% of people in Germany and 36% of people in France feel that way.
Moreover, while people in some other European countries, such as Sweden, have become more willing to describe themselves as European over the past 20 years, there is no evidence of a similar trend in the UK.
Indeed, according to NatCen’s British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey, just 15% freely choose to describe themselves as ‘European’, little different from the 17% who felt that way in 1999.
However, the low level of identification with Europe may not prove decisive in the referendum on Britain’s membership. According to BSA as many as 51% of those who do not feel European wish to stay in the EU.
For many voters what matters more is whether or not they think membership is economically beneficial for Britain.
Amongst those who believe that closer links with the EU would be beneficial, 88% favour remaining in the EU. Conversely, of those who believe that closer EU links would harm the UK’s economy, 70% favour leaving the EU.
Rachel Ormston, author of the report and Head of Social Attitudes at NatCen Social Research said:
“Relatively few people in Britain feel European, and this has been the case ever since Britain first joined the EU in 1973. But those who lack a European identity are divided in their views; just because we don’t feel European doesn’t necessarily mean we think we should leave the EU.
While the low level of European identity provides an important backcloth to the campaign, in the end it is arguments about pragmatic considerations, such as the benefits to the economy of remaining in or leaving the EU, that are more likely to win the day.”
For more information or a copy of the report contact Sophie Brown: firstname.lastname@example.org, 020 7549 9550 or 07734 960 069 or Leigh Marshall: Leigh.Marshall@natcen.ac.uk, 0207 549 8506 or 07828 031850
- The ‘What UK Thinks: Europe’ website can be accessed at whatukthinks.org/eu. It provides a comprehensive collection of polling and survey data on attitudes in the UK towards Europe, data on what the rest of Europe thinks about the EU, and impartial commentary and analysis on the evidence of the polls. It is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of its initiative on ‘The UK in a Changing Europe’.
- NatCen Social Research is an independent, not for profit organisation. We believe that social research has the power to make life better. By really understanding the complexity of people’s lives and what they think about the issues that affect them, we give the public a powerful and influential role in shaping decisions and services that can make a difference to everyone.
- The UK in a Changing Europe – UKandEU.ac.uk – promotes independent, rigorous, high-quality academic research into the complex and ever changing relationship between the UK and the European Union. We provide an authoritative, non-partisan and impartial reference point for those looking for information, insights and analysis on UK-EU relations.
- The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK’s largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK’s future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policymakers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective. The ESRC also works collaboratively with six other UK research councils and Innovate UK to fund cross-disciplinary research and innovation addressing major societal challenges. The ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded mainly by the Government. In 2015 it celebrates its 50th anniversary.