Dissatisfaction with democracy brewing in parts of Europe, global study finds

A protestor holds a sign reading 'Democracy' in front of the Reichstag during a demonstration against the AfD party and right-wing extremism in Berlin, February 2024
A protestor holds a sign reading 'Democracy' in front of the Reichstag during a demonstration against the AfD party and right-wing extremism in Berlin, February 2024 Copyright Ebrahim Noroozi/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Ebrahim Noroozi/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
By Mared Gwyn Jones
Share this articleComments
Share this articleClose Button

In a slim majority of the EU countries surveyed (eight out of 15), improving healthcare emerged as the number-one priority. Tackling poverty is also seen as a high concern in several countries, topping the list in four of the 15 member states surveyed.

ADVERTISEMENT

A new global study has found that dissatisfaction with democracy is deepening in parts of Europe, where governments are not living up to the democratic expectations of their citizens.

The Democracy Perception Index (DPI) is the biggest global temperature test of democracy, with almost 63,000 people from 53 countries, including 15 members of the European Union, surveyed between February and April this year.

While a majority of EU citizens (57%) consider their home countries to be democratic, in three member states - France, Greece and Hungary - a majority now think they no longer live in free democracies.

In Hungary, only 31% of citizens consider their country a democracy. In recent years, the country has been caught in the crossfire with Brussels over democratic backsliding and rule of law violations, including anti-LGBT legislation, the stifling of independent media, widespread cronyism and political interference in the judiciary.

Dissatisfaction is also on the rise among Greeks, only 43% of whom think their country is democratic.

Greece, the birthplace of democracy, has recently come under scrutiny over allegations of illegal migrant pushbacks in the Mediterranean Sea, the erosion of media freedom and a sprawling spyware investigation involving journalists and opponents.

Earlier this year, the European Parliament adopted its first-ever resolution on the rule of law in Greece, decrying its continued regression and calling for a review of EU funds.

In France, almost half of respondents (46%) feel their country is democratic. Economic turmoil, outrage over President Emmanuel Macron's pension reforms, and increasing mistrust in the ruling class have caused the country's democratic perception to plummet.

In other European countries, such as Germany, there is a widening gap between how important people say democracy is and how democratic they think their country is, also known as the Perceived Democratic Deficit (PDD).

This deficit stands at a staggering 51% in Greece and 50% in Hungary. It has also increased by a significant 9% in Germany since 2023, where it now stands at 36%.

The impression that governments often act in the interest of a minority group rather than for the common good has also increased on average across Europe since 2020, with a sharp increase seen in Germany, from 34% in 2020 to 54% in 2024.

The eye-catching 20% jump illustrates the brewing dissatisfaction with socialist Chancellor Olaf Scholz's three-way governing coalition with the Greens and Liberals, sworn in in 2021. His coalition partners have been at loggerheads over a range of policy issues, from the budget to childcare allowances and economic policy, fuelling frustration and causing his socialist SPD party to fall in the polls.

Migration a rising concern

The Democracy Perception Index (DPI) also provides insights into what people want their elected governments to focus on.

In a slim majority of the EU countries surveyed (eight out of 15), improving healthcare emerged as the number-one priority.

Tackling poverty is also seen as a high concern in several countries, topping the list in four of the 15 member states surveyed. 

Over the past two years, there has also been a sharp rise in the share of people who say that "reducing immigration" should be a top government priority. This trend is particularly salient in Austria, Germany, Ireland and France, where immigration has jolted up respondents' priority lists in recent years.

Reducing immigration should be among their governments' top three priorities, according to 44% of Germans, 40% of Austrians, 37% of French and 31% of Irish respondents.

Germany is the world leader in terms of the highest share of people who want their government to focus on reducing immigration (44%), topping all other priorities. On the other hand, climate change is slipping down the priority list amongst Germans, only 24% of whom see it as a top three priority.

ADVERTISEMENT

Fringe parties campaigning on a hard line on migration are creeping up in the polls ahead of June's crunch European elections. Populist parties campaigning on a strong anti-migration agenda are set to win those elections in at least seven EU member states, and come second or third in a further nine.

A recent study suggests the friction between two tribes of voters, one mostly worried about climate change and the other about immigration, could shape the outcome of June's European elections.

Global trust in the EU stagnates

While there is still a net positive perception of the EU in all the global countries surveyed, with the exception of Russia, that positive image is somewhat stagnating across the globe, as it is for the US and the UN.

The US is also facing something of a perception crisis, including in various EU countries. 

Perception of the US is now net negative in Austria (-22%), Ireland (-5%), Germany (-4%), Belgium (-4%) and Greece (-4%).

ADVERTISEMENT

Despite its ongoing invasion of Ukraine, the perception of Russia has continued to rise steeply on average across the globe since 2022.

Share this articleComments

You might also like

EU must keep its democracy 'safe and secure,' von der Leyen says after announcing re-election bid

Planned EU foreign influence law will not criminalise or discriminate, Brussels says

State of the Union: sunshine in Ankara, darkness in Tbilisi