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COVID-19 has 'weakened' the case for the EU, say Germans, French and Italians

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A container and barriers block a road on the Netherlands border with Belgium on March 23, 2020.
A container and barriers block a road on the Netherlands border with Belgium on March 23, 2020.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Peter Dejong
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Most German, Italian and French people believe the COVID-19 pandemic has weakened the arguments in favour of the European Union and think the bloc has not done nearly enough to support their country during the crisis.

A survey commissioned by Euronews has revealed that Italians are the harshest critic of the EU with 61% of respondents from the country saying the pandemic has weakened the case for the bloc, compared to 40% in Germany and 47% in France.

The poll, carried out by Redfield & Wilton Strategies, involved 1,500 participants from each of the three EU countries.

Seventy per cent of Italian respondents also said the EU has not done enough to help their country during the crisis — higher than the 60% and 57% observed in Germany and France respectively.

Overall, vast majorities in each of the three nations polled believe that member states each acted separately while an average of two-thirds of respondents said that the pandemic has shown that national borders are crucial for the security of a country.

Italy and France are the two most heavily hit EU nations. As of May 25, Rome has recorded more than 32,800 COVID-19 deaths and Paris has registered 28,400, according to a tally kept by the Johns Hopkins University. Only the US and the UK have higher death tolls.

In response to the crisis, most EU countries shut down their borders to all but essential travel as part of lockdown measures introduced in March to curb the spread of the deadly virus.

French, German and Italian authorities have indicated that their borders could start reopening in mid-June but no official decision has yet been announced.

Confinement measures worldwide have also crippled the global economy and EU member states are no exception. All three countries polled have now entered a recession.

The International Monetary Fund predicted last month that Italy's would be the hardest hit with its Gross Domestic Product expected to contract by 9.1% this year. Growth in Paris and Berlin was forecast to shrink by 7.2% and 7.0% respectively.

Italian leader Guiseppe Conte has repeatedly called for more EU solidarity to weather the economic storm brought about by the crisis and his countrymen largely align with him with 85% of the poll's Italian respondents saying there should have been more economic support from the bloc.

The majority of French respondents — 69% — also believed so but Germans were the outlier with just over a third agreeing with the idea.

Still, most respondents in each country said the priority for the bloc over the coming 18 months should be to support the overall EU economy.

The EU Commission is set to unveil a recovery plan to boost the sickly economy and Germany, which had initially balked at the notion, has now joined the ranks of Italy and France in supporting the creation of an EU bond to raise money for a €500 billion fund.

The proposal is likely to be fiercely opposed by other member states with the so-called Frugal Four — Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Sweden — leading the charge. These member states oppose giving EU-funded grants to other countries and back the issuance of loans they'd have to pay back.

Still, despite respondents believed the pandemic has weakened the arguments for the EU, most would rather not follow in the UK's footsteps and exit the bloc.

Germans were the most enthusiastic with 71% affirming they would back remain in the events of a referendum. Only a slim majority — 52% — said the same in France, while they were 47% in Italy.