Popular opinion regarding the EU has changed quite a bit in the past 5-7 years. The global financial crisis, and especially the Eurozone sovereign debt crisis, caused massive economic problems across the EU, which caused financial hardships for many citizens. In the wake of these economic issues, the European Union bailed out some particularly troubled countries, like Greece. However, these bailouts required the countries to implement harsh austerity measures, which included raising taxes and decreasing government spending (which meant a decrease in services). Unsurprisingly, the austerity tactics proved extremely unpopular. No one wants to pay more in taxes in return for fewer government services.
The negative sentiment towards the EU has been by far the most visible in Greece. The Greek people have rioted and protested against the austerity measures imposed by the EU and the ECB. Because the ECB is so heavily influenced by the policies of the Bundesbank, much of the Greek anger has been expressed towards Germany, as well as the EU itself. After too many years of austerity, the Greek people recently took matters into their own hands and elected the far-left party Syriza into power. Syriza and the new Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras have promised to end the austerity measures in Greece and to renegotiate the unfavorable terms of the bailouts.
The backlash against austerity is not unique to Greece, however. In Spain, the left wing party Podemos (We can) has established similar goals as Syriza and has become the second-largest party in Spain in less than a year, behind only the center-right PP. Both Syriza and Podemos also share a soft eurosceptic ideology, and therefore are not included in the eurosceptic party seats chart.
Across the EU, negative feeling toward the Union has not come only from economic concerns. Many, especially in Western Europe, are more concerned with immigration into their countries, especially from the eastern parts of the EU, Turkey, and the Middle East. Some people believe that immigrants will never integrate into their new country’s society and will slowly destroy society itself. Many eurosceptic parties feed on this xenophobic fear of immigrants and have been quite successful. UKIP, for example, is both strongly anti-immigrant and eurosceptic. In the 2014 EP elections, UKIP won more votes than any other party in the UK; this was the first time in over a century that neither the Tories or Labour won the most votes in a nationwide election. Furthermore, UKIP won its first seat at Westminster late last year in a by-election.
It is interesting to note in the eurosceptic party seats chart that most of the strongly eurosceptic countries acceded to the EU prior to 2004. Of the 13 countries that have joined the EU since then, only three (Lithuania, Poland, and Hungary) elected any strong eurosceptics to the EP in 2014, and of those three, only one (Poland) elected more strong eurosceptics in 2014 than in 2009. The chart reveals that most of the new EU members are happier with the Union than the older members. The new members as a whole are poorer than the older ones, which means that they are getting more benefits from membership, while the older members are seeing their benefits decrease. Therefore, the older members are starting to question the value of being a member of the EU. Perhaps the EU is entering a new period of political eurosclerosis.