EU not worth having without free movement: say 74% of Europeans in Oxford survey | University of Oxford
most Europeans energetically support free movement
Credit: Shutterstock. The survey shows the internationalist outlook of Europeans - new study from Oxford.

EU not worth having without free movement: say 74% of Europeans in Oxford survey

Some three quarters of Europeans say the European Union would 'not be worth having' without freedom of movement, according to the latest highly-respected eupinions poll for the Oxford University Europe's Stories research project led by Professor Timothy Garton Ash. But the survey found strong support for the European parliament, with four out of five supporting a supranational representative body.  

The project's latest poll in the 27 EU member states plus the UK, was conducted in December 2020. It reveals that most Europeans energetically support free movement. 

‘The survey shows the internationalist outlook of Europeans,' says research team member Eilidh Macfarlane. 'People were asked what they, personally, had gained from membership of the EU and overwhelming they said freedom of movement. This was shown across the EU and across different types of people, although support was particularly strong among graduates.’  

The survey shows the internationalist outlook of Europeans...People were asked what they, personally, had gained from membership of the EU and overwhelming they said freedom of movement

Eilidh Macfarlane, team member

This finding reflects the strong support for freedom of movement found in previous polls, including a 2018 Eurobarometer poll which showed four in five Europeans to be supportive of free movement in the EU.  

However, according to the research team's new report,  ‘To better understand the importance of freedom of movement to our surveyed individuals, we asked the extent to which respondents agreed with the statement “if it did not offer the freedom to travel, work, study and live in other EU member states, the European Union would not be worth having”.

Three quarters (74%) of respondents agreed with this statement, demonstrating that freedom of movement is close to the heart of the European project for most Europeans. While responses to this question were similar across demographic groups, there was some difference between countries, for example with those in Poland most likely to disagree with the statement.’ 

'The irony is not lost on us, that this freedom is precisely what most British citizens have just lost following the UK's departure from the EU

Professor Timothy Garton Ash 

 'The irony is not lost on us,' commented Professor Garton Ash, 'that this freedom is precisely what most British citizens have just lost following the UK's departure from the EU.'

The poll also reveals significant support for the European Parliament.  But most Europeans appear to believe that the existence of the Parliament is of secondary importance, when compared with the ability of the EU to 'deliver effective action'. Policy outcomes seem more important than political process.  

As the report notes, 'When prompted with the statement “as long as the EU delivers effective action, the presence or absence of the European Parliament is of secondary importance”, 59% of our respondents agreed with the statement. ' 

When asked who they think of as 'European leaders', respondents were slightly more likely to think of national leaders, such as Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, rather than the institutional heads of the EU, such as Ursula von der Leyen. And only one in five respondents (21%) know who delivers the EU's State of the Union address (the President of the European Commission, currently Ursula von der Leyen). 

Respondents ranked the top three most important things the EU had done for them personally from a set of options. 

Freedom to travel was in the top three for 61% 

Opportunities to live, work and study in Europe was in the top three for 53% 

Peace and external security was top three for 38%. 

Thirteen per cent said their first choice was the EU had done nothing for them. The same proportion also selected ‘none of the above’ as the first choice. 

The Europe's Stories project research team is part of the Dahrendorf Programme for the Study of Freedom at St Antony's College, Oxford.  This poll was part of a collaboration between that programme and the eupinions survey project of the Bertelsmann foundation. Europe's Stories is funded by the Mercator foundation, the Zeit foundation, and the Friedrich Naumann foundation.