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Swedes’ love for EU grows stronger after Brexit vote

Swedes' attitude towards the EU has warmed significantly after Britain's Brexit vote to leave the union, according to a new survey.

Swedes' love for EU grows stronger after Brexit vote
How do Swedes feel about the EU? Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

A poll by Pew Research Center released last week examined how Europeans are feeling as Brexit talks get under way nearly a year after the UK narrowly voted to leave the EU.

The survey polled almost 10,000 people from France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

When asked how they viewed the union, the majority of Swedes (65 percent) said they held a favourable view rather than an unfavourable, a sharp increase since last June when 54 percent told the Pew poll they had a favourable view of the European institution.

Sweden joined the EU in 1995 after a referendum in which 52.3 voted yes to membership. When asked by Pew pollsters whether Sweden should leave the EU, 22 percent said yes, and when asked whether their country should have another vote on membership, 53 percent said they would support such a vote.

READ ALSO: Spaniards most likely to want their own EU vote

The survey results suggest that those who were not old enough to vote in the first referendum are the most likely to be in favour of retaining their membership of the union. A total of 69 percent of those aged 18-29 said they held a favourable view of the EU, compared to 62 percent of those older than 50.

People who described themselves as left or right on the political spectrum were less likely to support the EU (59 percent of left-leaning respondents held a favourable view, compared to 64 percent of right-leaning), while 71 percent of those who described their views as moderate backed the EU in the Pew poll.

Britain is one of Sweden's closest partners in the EU, and 86 percent said they think the UK leaving is a bad thing for the union (although that's down from 89 percent last year). Only 68 percent of Swedish respondents thought Brexit will be a bad thing for the UK.

READ ALSO: Why Britain's best friend in the EU is fretting about Brexit

Swedes were positive about the future in general, with 84 percent telling pollsters they believed the current economic situation in their country is good – compared to for example 87 percent of Dutch people, 51 percent of Brits and only two percent of Greeks.

However, Swedes displayed strong disapproval with how the union has handled the most pressing issue in recent times: the refugee issue. But they were less disapproving than a year ago, with 78 percent saying they disapproved of the EU's way of handling the situation, compared to 88 percent in last year's survey.

ENERGY

How European countries are spending billions on easing energy crisis

European governments are announcing emergency measures on a near-weekly basis to protect households and businesses from the energy crisis stemming from Russia's war in Ukraine.

How European countries are spending billions on easing energy crisis

Hundreds of billions of euros and counting have been shelled out since Russia invaded its pro-EU neighbour in late February.

Governments have gone all out: from capping gas and electricity prices to rescuing struggling energy companies and providing direct aid to households to fill up their cars.

The public spending has continued, even though European Union countries had accumulated mountains of new debt to save their economies during the Covid pandemic in 2020.

But some leaders have taken pride at their use of the public purse to battle this new crisis, which has sent inflation soaring, raised the cost of living and sparked fears of recession.

After announcing €14billion in new measures last week, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi boasted the latest spending put Italy, “among the countries that have spent the most in Europe”.

The Bruegel institute, a Brussels-based think tank that is tracking energy crisis spending by EU governments, ranks Italy as the second-biggest spender in Europe, after Germany.

READ ALSO How EU countries aim to cut energy bills and avoid blackouts this winter

Rome has allocated €59.2billion since September 2021 to shield households and businesses from the rising energy prices, accounting for 3.3 percent of its gross domestic product.

Germany tops the list with €100.2billion, or 2.8 percent of its GDP, as the country was hit hard by its reliance on Russian gas supplies, which have dwindled in suspected retaliation over Western sanctions against Moscow for the war.

On Wednesday, Germany announced the nationalisation of troubled gas giant Uniper.

France, which shielded consumers from gas and electricity price rises early, ranks third with €53.6billion euros allocated so far, representing 2.2 percent of its GDP.

Spending to continue rising
EU countries have now put up €314billion so far since September 2021, according to Bruegel.

“This number is set to increase as energy prices remain elevated,” Simone Tagliapietra, a senior fellow at Bruegel, told AFP.

The energy bills of a typical European family could reach €500 per month early next year, compared to €160 in 2021, according to US investment bank Goldman Sachs.

The measures to help consumers have ranged from a special tax on excess profits in Italy, to the energy price freeze in France, and subsidies public transport in Germany.

But the spending follows a pandemic response that increased public debt, which in the first quarter accounted for 189 percent of Greece’s GDP, 153 percent in Italy, 127 percent in Portugal, 118 percent in Spain and 114 percent in France.

“Initially designed as a temporary response to what was supposed to be a temporary problem, these measures have ballooned and become structural,” Tagliapietra said.

“This is clearly not sustainable from a public finance perspective. It is important that governments make an effort to focus this action on the most vulnerable households and businesses as much as possible.”

Budget reform
The higher spending comes as borrowing costs are rising. The European Central Bank hiked its rate for the first time in more than a decade in July to combat runaway inflation, which has been fuelled by soaring energy prices.

The yield on 10-year French sovereign bonds reached an eight-year high of 2.5 percent on Tuesday, while Germany now pays 1.8 percent interest after boasting a negative rate at the start of the year.

The rate charged to Italy has quadrupled from one percent earlier this year to four percent now, reviving the spectre of the debt crisis that threatened the eurozone a decade ago.

“It is critical to avoid debt crises that could have large destabilising effects and put the EU itself at risk,” the International Monetary Fund warned in a recent blog calling for reforms to budget rules.

The EU has suspended until 2023 rules that limit the public deficit of countries to three percent of GDP and debt to 60 percent.

The European Commission plans to present next month proposals to reform the 27-nation bloc’s budget rules, which have been shattered by the crises.

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