One of the crucial research questions emerging from the ongoing crisis is how strongly the crisis is affecting European citizens’ level of confidence in various institutions. The collapse of the financial sector has made European citizens aware of the fact that capitalist systems are more fragile than they previously believed. But what is the concrete impact on their trust in European and national institutions? Time trend data on confidence levels are still scarce, but one possible source are the survey findings released by Eurobarometer (EB) on the European and national institutions. Thus, to answer the important question on the evolution of European citizens’ confidence levels, time-series data from EB have been utilised to show the trend in trust for the EU15 and, starting in spring 2007, for the EU27, regarding:
the European Central Bank (ECB)
the European Commission (EC)
the European Parliament (EP).
Figure 11.1 shows the time trend in net levels of trustFootnote 8 in the European Central Bank for the 12 member states of the eurozone.Footnote 9 The two last observations in Fig. 11.1 were gathered after the financial crisis. Interestingly, in autumn 2008, (October–November 2008) poll (Standard EB 70),Footnote 10one month after the financial crisis first hit, the erosion of European citizens’ confidence levels in the ECB was still rather modest, whereas by January–February 2009 (Standard EB 71),Footnote 11 the decline in confidence in the ECB reached a historically low level in the EU27.Footnote 12 For the first time since the creation of the ECB, more European citizens tend to mistrust the ECB than to trust it. One has to underline here that the ECB is directly relevant for the citizens in the EA12 countries, as their national central banks have given up their autonomy to this institution. We now have to wait for the results of the Standard EB 72 to know if this trend will continue as sharply as it did in the interval between Standard EB70 (October–November 2008) and Standard EB71 (January–February 2009) or whether it comes to a halt. One last remark on the interpretation of the data is necessary. The actual confidence level in the ECB with a net value of −1% is still higher than the confidence levels in national governments and parliaments with net values ranging from −27% to −24%.
To analyse whether this trend is also applicable to other European institutions, Fig. 11.2 shows the trend in net confidence towards the European Commission. Although the decrease in confidence towards this institution has not been as significant as that towards the ECB, it clearly supports the argument that there is a general decrease in citizens’ confidence in the European institutions since the financial crisis erupted in mid-September 2008. More concretely, the decrease in October–November 2008 was followed by a stronger decrease in the confidence levels in January–February 2009 for the EU27. In contrast to the results discussed above, the levels of confidence in the European Commission are still slightly higher than those in the ECB. However, citizens’ confidence has reached the same low level as it did in spring 1999 and might reach its lowest confidence level in autumn 2009, once the data from the next Standard Eurobarometer can be evaluated. Again one should note that these confidence levels are still significantly higher than the confidence expressed in the national governments.
To get the full picture of the trends in confidence levels towards the European institutions, Fig. 11.3 shows net confidence levels in the European Parliament for the last decade. In a similar pattern to that observed with the ECB, the confidence level in the EP has reached a historical low with a net trust value of 8% in January–February 2009 on the part of the EU27.