BRUSSELS: Immigration and terrorism are the two top concerns for the European Union as a bloc, but trust in the EU and optimism about its future are on the rise, a European Commission poll showed.
The Commission’s twice-a-year Eurobarometer poll showed 38 percent of the EU’s 510 million citizens saw immigration as the most important issue facing the bloc. Paradoxically, the highest level of concern about the issue was registered in countries were immigration is minimal – Estonia, the Czech Republic and Hungary.
Concern over terrorism was mentioned by 29 percent of Europeans. Again, it was highest in countries that have not had a single terrorist attack in recent years – Lithuania, Cyprus, Ireland, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Poland and Latvia.
The poll also showed a one point increase since autumn 2017 in the level of trust towards the EU to 42 percent and that one percentage point more people, at 45 percent, felt that their voice counted in the 28-nation bloc.
But still 48 percent said they tended not to trust the EU, and 49 percent do not believe their voice is heard.
The poll showed that optimism about the future of the EU, which Britain will leave in March next year, has risen for the third time in a row, reaching 58 percent – the highest level since spring 2015.
Optimism about the EU’s future prevailed in all of the Union’s countries except Greece and Britain, where pessimists dominated. Also in 25 EU countries, a majority of citizens believe that the situation of the EU economy is "good".
But in Italy, France and Spain, three of the euro zone’s four biggest economies, a majority believes that the situation of the European economy is "bad", the poll said.
The survey showed that more than eight in 10 respondents supported the free movement of EU citizens with the right to live, work, study and do business anywhere in the EU.
Three-quarters supported a common defence and security policy for the EU and more than seven in 10 a common energy policy and a common EU trade policy. But further enlargement of the EU was supported only by 44 percent with 46 percent against.
Support for the single currency, the euro, was unchanged at 74 percent with the highest enthusiasm in Estonia at 88 percent, and Ireland and Slovenia both at 84 percent. Support for the euro in Italy, where a euro-sceptic coalition won elections earlier this year, was 61 percent.
A majority of 58 percent of EU citizens saw the free movement of people, goods and services as the biggest achievement of the bloc, closely followed 54 percent voting for peace among EU countries. The EU-wide student exchange programme Erasmus was in third place with 24 percent, together with the euro currency.
Almost half of the respondents also noted cheaper calls when using a mobile phone in another EU country and more than one third said they had benefited from improved consumer rights when buying products or services in another EU country and the strengthened rights of air transport passengers.
(Reporting By Jan Strupczewski and Julia Echikson; Editing by Hugh Lawson)