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As Europe recovers from the coronavirus pandemic, it can’t forget the environment! A new Friends of Europe/YouGov poll suggests more Europeans want the European Union to prioritise the environment (49%) than want the EU to prioritise the COVID-19 economic recovery (43%).

In September-October 2020, the Brussels-based think tank Friends of Europe commissioned YouGov to poll over 10,500 European citizens from 11 EU member states (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, Sweden and Denmark).

Participants were asked to choose from a list of policy areas they think the EU should prioritise over the next 5 years.

Overall, 49% of Europeans surveyed said they want the EU to prioritise working for the environment and a sustainable future. This compares to 43% who said they wanted the EU to prioritise helping European countries recover from the economic damage caused by the coronavirus and lockdown measures.

Prioritising the environment was broadly popular across Europe, with 43 – 64% of Europeans from 10 of the 11 countries surveyed saying that it should be a priority for the EU over the next 5 years.

However, there exists a strong North-South divide when it comes to the EU’s economic recovery plan. Around two thirds (65-66%) of those in Spain, Greece and Portugal and a majority in Italy (58%), said they wanted the EU to prioritise economic recovery, compared to only around a quarter of Germans (28%), Swedes (26%) and Danes (25%).

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Citizens were also asked whether they thought their lives would be better, worse, or the same if the European Union no longer existed; 44% of those surveyed said their lives would be ‘slightly worse’ or ‘much worse’ without the EU, versus 21% who thought they would be ‘slightly better’ or ‘much better’ off without the European Union, and 20% who expected no difference either way. This is roughly in line with the #EuropeMatters citizens polls conducted on behalf of Friends of Europe by Dalia Research in 2018 and 2019.

In 2019, when we asked poll participants to tell us what they thought the EU should prioritise over the next 5 years, 29% said: “Secure European borders”. In 2020, the number who prioritised securing European borders was 41% though, as in previous years, that number masks a significant generational divide; 31% of people aged 18-44 listed it as a priority, compared to 48% of people aged 45+.

Learn more about the study.