ECFR poll: Europeans strongly united on Ukraine, but there are risks to support

A year into Russia’s war against Ukraine, Europeans are unified in their support for Kyiv, but this unity should not be taken for granted, according to the findings of a poll published on March 16 by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR). 

Cost of living pressures, battlefield defeats for the Ukrainian army, and the return of migration as a political issue, could “blow up” a united European response to the war in Ukraine, according to the pan-European survey report by the ECFR.

ECFR’s new report Fragile unity: Why Europeans are coming together on Ukraine (and what might drive them apart), authored by foreign policy experts, Ivan Krastev and Mark Leonard, and underpinned by YouGov and Datapraxis public opinion polling from Britain, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Spain.

It reveals, one year into Russia’s war on Ukraine, that cracks within the Western coalition have shrunk, rather than grown, and that many political parties of the left and the right are now seemingly united in their support for Kyiv and the Ukrainian army’s fight to recover their lost territory.

It shows that public opinion in Europe is moving away from a position of ending the war as soon as possible, with territorial costs for Kyiv, and that perceptions of Russia have hardened – with 66 per cent on average across ten European countries polled now viewing Moscow as an “adversary” or “rival” of their country. Further to this, 40 per cent consider Russia to be weaker now than before the launch of its “special operation” in February 2022 (while only 13 per cent see it as stronger). 

Almost everywhere – with the sole exception of Italy – the prevailing opinion is that the EU is strong or stronger rather than weak or weaker than people had previously thought. This position was most evident in Portugal, where 58 per cent of respondents expressed this view, but also a majority, or plurality, view in: Denmark (55 per cent), Poland (54 per cent), Romania (51 per cent), Estonia (48 per cent), Spain (47 per cent), Germany (45 per cent) and France (41 per cent). Few Europeans – 19 per cent on average – say that the EU is weaker than they previously thought.

And, even in Britain, which is no longer an EU member state following Brexit, the prevailing view is that the EU is in a stronger, or as strong, state than one year ago (40 per cent “stronger” or “as strong”, compared to 32 per cent “much weaker” or “was and is still weak”).  

The Ukrainian army’s doggedness, and success in pushing back the Russian offensive, has won over previously pessimistic supporters, the poll found.

In May 2022, the prevailing opinion across the countries polled by ECFR was that the war should end as soon as possible. Poland was the only country where people preferred to see Russia being punished for its aggression, even if that meant a longer war.

However, a shift has since manifest, and, today, the proposition that the war between Russia and Ukraine should end as soon as possible is no longer that popular among Europeans (although, note, ECFR phrased this question differently in 2023).

In Germany and France, for example, the number of those who would like to see the war end as soon as possible has dropped by 10 percentage points. And looking together at the 10 countries polled, on average, 29 per cent want the war to end as soon as possible, while 38 per cent want Ukraine to regain all its territory first, even if that means a longer conflict.  

Across the political spectrum, there is a broad consensus that Ukraine should reclaim all the territory it has lost in this conflict.

ECFR found comparable levels of support between voters of Emmanuel Macron’s liberal La Republique en Marche (LREM) and Poland’s right-wing, nationalist Law and Justice Party, on Ukraine’s right to reclaim all of its lost territory from this conflict, at 61 per cent and 62 per cent of respondents, respectively. Germany’s Greens are similarly “hawkish” on this point, with a plurality (48 per cent) expressing this view.

Concerns about the use of nuclear weapons by Russia have also receded. Of the countries polled, those in Germany were the least concerned this year, with 23 per cent (down from 27 per cent in May 2022) viewing the deployment of nuclear arms as their chief concern with regards to the war between Russia and Ukraine. A decline in nuclear fears was most noteworthy in France (from 34 per cent to 26 per cent), but also evident in Britain (37 per cent to 32 per cent) and Spain (36 per cent to 31 per cent).

Russia is widely viewed as an “adversary” or “rival” by every surveyed European country. This position was most pronounced in Denmark (82 per cent), but was also strong, and a majority viewpoint, in Estonia (79 per cent), which shares a land-border with Russia, as well as Poland (79 per cent), Britain (77 per cent), Germany (69 per cent), Spain (65 per cent), France (59 per cent), Portugal (57 per cent) and Italy (54 per cent).

The response was softest in Romania, where 44 per cent (still a plurality) expressed the view that Russia is “adversary” or “rival”. 

Russia is also viewed as “weaker” than a year ago. Across the surveyed 10 European countries, on average 47 per cent see Russia as “weak” or “weaker”, while 32 per cent consider it “strong” or “stronger”.

Respondents in Estonia (64 per cent), Poland (61 per cent), Denmark (56 per cent), Britain (54 per cent), and, to a lesser extent, Germany (48 per cent), were most likely to hold the view that Russia is now in a weaker state or at least as weak as one ear ago.

Opinion was divided in Italy (42 per cent strong or stronger vs. 39 per cent weak or weaker), France (31 per cent vs 38 per cent), Romania (42 per cent vs. 34 per cent), Spain (44 per cent vs. 40 per cent), and Portugal (43 per cent vs. 35 per cent). 

Cost of living concerns are on the rise across Europe.ECFR’s dataset reveals that, compared to May 2022, there has been a bloc-wide increase in concerns regarding day-to-day costs.

These fears, about making ends meet, were most pronounced in Italy, where 34 per cent of those surveyed (up from 25 per cent) identified this as a chief concern with regards to the war between Russia and Ukraine.

There were also marked increases in Spain (21 per cent in May 2022 to 28 per cent in January 2023), France (27 per cent to 31 per cent), Portugal (25 per cent to 29 per cent) and Romania (17 per cent to 21 per cent).

Perceptions of the US have improved – with a majority in every country polled now seeing it as stronger than a year ago, or at least as strong as they previously thought.

The US is also seen as an “ally” or a “necessary partner” by majorities in all 10 European countries polled. Respondents in Denmark (52 per cent) and Britain (44 per cent) are staunchest in viewing the US as an “ally” of their country, while citizens in Germany and Poland are split between seeing the US as an “ally” (32 per cent and 42 per cent, respectively) and “necessary partner” (33 per cent and 42 per cent, respectively).

In Denmark and Germany there has been an upswing in the view that the US is their “ally”, with 52 per cent and 32 per cent of citizens holding this view in each country, respectively – while 35 per cent of Danes and 19 per cent of Germans saw the US as Europe’s “ally” two years ago. 

(Photo: EC Audiovisual Service/ Lukasz Kobus)

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