Our wariness of Europe reveals deeper issues about our identityby Peter Kellner / November 16, 2011 / Leave a comment
See the results of YouGov’s survey in full here
Why have Britons always been so wary of the European Union? Polls consistently report a three-to-two majority for withdrawal. How come? Do we scorn continentals as inferior to us? Is there a lingering hatred of the Germans? Do we find the French untrustworthy? Is it our island status that makes us want to keep our distance? In a special survey for Prospect, YouGov explored our underlying feelings.
Our results dispose of two myths. First, we found few signs that we think Britain is best at tackling major social problems. Asked who provides better state schools, just 22 per cent say Britain, while 50 per cent say “other major European countries such as France and Germany.” We also think we lag far behind our fellow EU states on controlling immigration, on “creating a strong economy with low unemployment” and, more narrowly, on reducing poverty. On only one issue do the figures—just—go the other way: by a small margin, we think we are better at “providing sick people with good healthcare.” On each of these issues, the views of EU enthusiasts and EU sceptics are broadly similar, so our hostility to the EU does not spring from any widespread sense that membership damages our social fabric.
Second, forget any lingering influence of the second world war. By a two-to-one margin we think Germans are friendly rather than unfriendly. Here, there is some difference between the pro and anti-EU camps: just 19 per cent of those who favour EU membership regard the Germans as unfriendly, compared with 39 per cent of those who want us to quit the club. But far more people think France is unfriendly: 42 per cent among pro-EU voters, 64 per cent among the antis. Humphrey Appleby in Yes, Minister famously insisted that France is our permanent enemy, while Germany has been only occasionally hostile. Many Britons seem to agree.
By a margin of three to one, we regard Germans as trustworthy (and again, any lingering memory of the war has no bearing: out of all the age groups, those aged 60 or above deemed Germans the most trustworthy). We also asked about two non-EU countries. A big majority of us trust Australians (76 per cent), while the figures for Americans (62 per cent) are similar to those for Germans. But the French are very different: 46 per cent of…