NEWS

Public support for EU constitution

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – A majority of European Union citizens support their country’s membership of the bloc and also favor an EU constitution, according to a survey published yesterday. The poll, released by the European Commission to coincide with a summit of European leaders in Brussels, showed support for the EU’s two pet projects – the new euro currency and eastern enlargement – also edging higher. Just over half of all citizens canvassed said they had confidence in the EU – up 12 percentage points from last year’s survey – and about the same number said membership was a good thing for their country – up six percentage points. But a majority of respondents in Britain and Sweden, traditionally the most eurosceptic member countries, as well as in Austria and Finland, said they lacked confidence in the EU. More surprisingly, two respondents in three said the EU should have its own constitution, with majorities recorded in every state including Britain and Sweden. The two-day EU summit which opened at the royal palace of Laeken yesterday will consider plans for a new wave of institutional reforms of the 15-nation bloc which are likely to include calls for a European constitution. European Commission President Romano Prodi welcomed the findings of the latest survey. I think there is a growing understanding right across Europe today that the common problems and challenges which we face require joint action, he said in a statement. But he said the EU needed to communicate its message better to counter what he called a disturbing lack of knowledge and information about the European Union in all member states. The survey showed 61 percent of people supporting the euro, which comes into circulation on January 1, 2002, in all the EU member states except Britain, Denmark and Sweden. It showed British opposition to the euro still strong at 58 percent. Europeans also gave strong support for the EU’s plans to develop common foreign and defense and security policies. Just over half of respondents backed the EU’s enlargement plans, with Greeks and Swedes the most supportive and the French least in favor. The EU aims to admit up to 10 countries, mostly from ex-communist eastern Europe, by 2004. The survey, conducted in October and November, showed 86 percent of respondents personally feared terrorism after the September 11 attacks on the United States, up 12 percent from 2000. Two thirds said they feared a world war, up 19 percent.