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What do Spaniards think of the EU?
SPANIARDS are the most pro-European and least nationalist of all EU citizens according to the latest Eurobarometer study.
Nearly nine in 10 agree with European migration policies and over eight in 10 believe ‘fake news’ is a big problem for democracy.
Whilst on average, 71% of EU nationals identify more as ‘European’ than as purely citizens of their own country, in Spain this rises to 83%.
A total of 66% of Spaniards say they feel very much a part of the European Union, compared to an average of 56% across the bloc, and 86% feel closer to Spain than to Europe – a number that rises to 91% over the rest of the continent in relation to their own countries.
Spaniards are more likely to feel emotional ties to, or identify with, their town or village; this is the case with 92% of those interviewed, compared with 89% on average for the EU-28; largely, it is thought, because of the autonomously-governed region system, since each region is effectively a ‘country within a country’ with a very different culture, landscape, microclimate and, in some cases, co-official language.
The European Union, for Spaniards, signifies freedom to travel, study and work, and secondly, the convenience of a common currency, whilst they also appreciate the huge diversity of culture and language across the continent.
Spanish nationals are not as confident as other Europeans at their ability to detect ‘fake news’, or false claims that affect public thinking – nearly eight in 10 Spaniards believe they have stumbled across these cases fairly frequently, although the European average is 68%; but whilst an EU average of 58% says they find it easy to detect false stories, only 52% of Spaniards do so.
But Spanish people have a harsher view of ‘fake news’: whilst 76% of Europeans on average believe this is harmful for democracy as it leads to public opinion being swayed based upon myths and lies, this rises to 83% in the case of Spain.
A total of 79% of Spanish citizens believe ‘fake news’ at national level is also a problem – and an especially crucial issue with local, regional, general and European Parliamentary elections all coming up within a month of each other this spring.
‘Fake news’ often concerns myths about immigrants, or about EU rules – claims that immigrants live off State benefits or move to countries purely to use their welfare system instead of working, as well as the classic ‘straight bananas’ and ‘snowman ban’ which started off as jokes in tabloid press and have perpetuated as readers believed them.
In terms of migration, European Commission chairman Jean-Claude Juncker stresses a common policy is needed and one which respects human rights and dignity – concerning refugees, those termed ‘economic migrants’ which covers a vast range of travellers from highly-qualified westerners seeking better professional opportunities than they can find at home, through to those living in extreme poverty in the third world seeking a way of feeding their families from afar, and also ‘quality-of-life’ migration, EU and non-EU, in which people seek to live, work or retire in a country other than their own because of better weather or lifestyle.
In Spain, 86% of respondents agree with this approach – indeed, Spain has been one of the most vocal in calling for its governments to do more to take in asylum-seekers to resettle and its public was fiercely opposed to a 2012 ban on all bar emergency healthcare for undocumented immigrants.
Across Europe as a whole, the average of 69% of those who agree with Juncker’s view is still a majority, but a much lower one than in Spain, and numbers have not changed in the last three years.
Attitudes to migration are key in light of the rise of the far right in Europe – in Spain, for the first time since the end of Franco’s dictatorship, signs of the alt-right gaining a following in mainstream politics are starting to show, with the emergence of Vox – but 58% of Spaniards recognise that foreigners moving into their country is a good thing as their contribution is positive, compared with 50% across the EU on average.
And a total of 79% of Spaniards want their country, and the EU, to do more to help refugees and asylum seekers, compared with 69% across the continent as a whole.
Despite the introduction of the euro into Spain in 2002 having created an across-the-board price rise – ‘round numbers’ meant what would once have cost 100 pesetas (around 60 cents) now became priced at €1 – and despite the financial crisis in the Eurozone and all common-currency countries who were able having to bear the brunt of less-stable nations, Spaniards still believe in the euro and are keen to keep it.
Whilst Eurozone nationals on the whole are only 62% in favour of the single currency, this rises to 78% for Spaniards, who recognise its many advantages – not just the ease of travel and cross-border spending and not having to worry about exchange-rate fluctuations, but also price stability, interest rate stability, and reduction in admin costs for buying and selling commercially or privately.
They also believe the euro strengthens the EU on the international stage.
Europe’s common climate change policy, spearheaded by French president Emmanuel Macron, has also found overwhelming support in Spain: 85% agree with it, compared with 74% across the continent as a whole.
In Spain, 53% believe developing renewable forms of energy is vital, compared with 45% on average in Europe, whilst 45% of Spaniards and 43% of Europeans of all nationalities are concerned about protecting the environment.
Fighting global warming as a priority has more support across the continent than in Spain – 36% of all Europeans, compared with 33% of Spaniards, believe it should be at the top of energy policy priorities.
Spaniards who agree that international organisations such as the United Nations and the EU provide greater protection are below average, at 43% and 38% respectively, showing they have marginally more faith in the UN than in the European Union, and their faith in the justice system has dropped from 42% to 32% in the past year.
Previous surveys have shown that a consistent three-quarters of Spaniards want to remain in the EU, showing that a 'Spexit' is a very unlikely future scenario - and anecdotal evidence shows that the majority of Spanish nationals think 'Brexit' is 'a big shame' and 'not worth it'.
Brits resident in Spain, or who own holiday homes in the country, are feeling encouraged by this approach, since the Spanish government intends to take all necessary steps to ensure their rights and freedoms are affected as little as possible by the UK's departure from the EU.
President Pedro Sánchez recently announced that this would mean automatic residence rights to the estimated 400,000 Brits in the country - a blanket move that will not be needed for all of these expatriates, since many already hold permanent residence, but which will be a swift way of ensuring that everyone is covered.
A new law covering contingencies in the event of a no-deal Brexit to protect residents, trade, the economy and transport was brought into force on March 1, providing considerable comfort to British nationals living in Spain.
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