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Since Brexit vote, Europeans warm again to EU

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Europeans think much better of the EU now than they did a year ago when Britons dealt the Union a heavy blow by voting to leave, a survey showed on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: An EU flag flies above Parliament Square during a Unite for Europe march, in London, Britain March 25, 2017. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls/File Photo

Support surged by 18 percentage points in both Germany and France, which just elected europhile centrist Emmanuel Macron as president, the Washington-based Pew Research Center found.

Even the British hold a much more favourable opinion of the European Union. Now 54 percent of them view the EU positively, 10 points up on a year ago, while 40 percent were unfavourable. In June last year, they voted by 52 percent to 48 percent for Brexit. Negotiations on withdrawal terms start on Monday.

In none of the other nine countries surveyed did more than 35 percent of people want their country to follow suit and leave the EU. Of those, the Italians and Greeks were the least enthusiastic. Despite growing friction between their nationalist governments and Brussels, Poles and Hungarians remain among the keenest EU citizens.

“The European Union has rebounded dramatically from its recent slump in public approval,” Pew researchers wrote, noting an “up-and-down cycle over the past decade”.

The findings, in line with other research, will hearten EU leaders who meet at a summit next week. Some had feared, after Brexit followed grave crises in the euro zone economy and with irregular immigration, that the bloc’s survival was in doubt.

Fully 68 percent of Germans and 56 percent of French and Italians had a favourable view of the EU this spring, though Italians have not joined the general bounce in approval ratings.

The survey in 10 of the 28 members - the six biggest EU states and four of the next eight most populous - did not study reasons for changes in mood.

It did, however, also record more approval for the Union’s handling of the economy and migration - two areas where anger has long been directed at Brussels.

An EU deal with Turkey a year ago has stemmed chaotic migrant arrivals and along with income growth, opinions about the economy have improved - with the exception of debt-laden Greece and in Italy, where the proportion of people saying their economy is in good shape slumped 18 points to 15 percent.

A huge 87 percent of the Dutch, whom eurosceptics failed to win over heavily in a March election, think their economy is doing well - 25 points up on a year ago. There was a 15-point upturn in Spain, even if still only 28 percent take a rosy view.

Reporting by Alastair Macdonald; @macdonaldrtr; Editing by Andrew Heavens