World News

Poll shows support for EU at 35-year high across bloc

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Support for European Union membership has hit a 35-year high across the bloc, with a strong majority of citizens saying it has been a force for good in their country, even in Britain which is set to leave next year.

The Eurobarometer survey commissioned by the European Parliament showed that 67 percent of EU citizens thought that membership had benefited their country, the highest level since 1983. Just 23 percent took the opposite view.

Italy, where an incoming eurosceptic government is worrying Brussels, was least enthusiastic; just 44 percent of Italians said benefits outweighed disadvantages compared to 41 percent the reverse. Nonetheless, that marked a turnaround from last October when 48 percent were negative and 39 percent positive.

Britain, which will make good in March on a 2016 referendum vote to leave the EU, was the next least convinced of the benefits of membership. But 53 percent still thought it had been a benefit, outnumbering those thinking that it has been disadvantageous by nearly two to one.

The poll was published to mark a year until the next election for the European Parliament, when Britons will have no vote. The election will be held on May 26 in most of the other 27 EU countries. Parliament President Antonio Tajani forecast that the contest would set parties which believe in European integration against those bent on halting it.

The 67-percent positive rating for the EU across the bloc marked a rise from 64 percent in October and 60 percent in surveys a few months before and after Britain’s Brexit vote. The low point in recent years was 52 percent in 2011, at the height of the sovereign debt crisis in the euro zone.

Reporting by Megan Dollar; Editing by Alastair Macdonald and Peter Graff