Survey: 59% support end to EU austerity rules

A majority of citizens believe the EU’s break with austerity rules during the pandemic should be made permanent in order to create more jobs and tackle climate change, new polling shows.

A central part of the EU’s economic rules had to be suspended when Covid-19 hit to allow countries to invest in healthcare and jobs and a survey of 5,000 people in five member states found 58% of people say member states should continue to have more flexibility of borrowing.

Similarly, 59% agree that the EU’s fiscal rules should be changed to allow governments to increase spending on improving public services. And 53% agree that rules should be adjusted to allow governments to increase spending on green infrastructure and innovation to fight climate change.

Even more respondents (64%) are concerned about the potential impact of austerity should the EU try to force governments to cut borrowing to reduce their debts over the next five years.

The survey, carried out in Germany, France, Italy, Ireland and Denmark, also found:

  •  In Germany, which has been one of the most ardent defenders of strict fiscal rules, just 19% disagreed that the EU’s economic rules should be changed to allow increased spending on tackling climate change.
  • In Denmark, one of the EU’s “Frugal Four”, only 16% disagree that EU rules limiting government borrowing should be adjusted to enable countries to meet the levels of spending needed to tackle climate change.
  • In France, where President Macron has advocated for a change in the EU’s economic rules, 61% agree the rules should continue to be flexible in order to facilitate recovery from the pandemic.
  • Italy (78%) and Ireland (74%), which were among the hardest hit by the austerity measures imposed following the 2008 banking crisis, have the highest number of citizens concerned about further austerity measures if member states are forced to cut their borrowing over the next five years.

The results are released on the day that finance ministers from across Europe gather with EU Commissioners at an Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN) meeting to discuss national budget guidelines for 2023 and the outcome of the economic governance review.

The EU’s spending rules, which were created 30 years ago as part of the Maastricht Treaty, limit member state budget deficits to less than 3% of GDP, while national debt is limited to 60% of GDP.

The ETUC and affiliated national trade unions are part of a coalition of organisations which has today launched a manifesto for a “green, just and democratic European economy” as part of the push for permanent reform of the EU’s economic rules.

ETUC Confederal Secretary Liina Carr said:

“The EU’s economic response to the pandemic saved millions of jobs and helped health workers keep saving lives. It stands in stark contrast to the ruinous austerity measures imposed after 2008, which had left our health, social care and welfare systems completely unprepared for the pandemic. 

“Lessons must be learned because the need for investment is far from over. The recovery from the pandemic has only begun, the invasion of Ukraine will weigh heavily on the economy and higher public spending will be required if the EU is to achieve its climate goals. 

“It’s clear that a majority of voters across Europe support economic rules that allow member states to meet those challenges in a fair way and which, fundamentally, put people and planet before arbitrary limits from another age.”

Frank Van Lerven, Senior Economist and Programme Lead for Macroeconomics of the New Economics Foundation, which commissioned the survey, said:

“The events of the past two years have seen a paradigm shift in European politics and society. As this survey has shown, even the most fiscally conservative Europeans know there is no point in trying to put the clock back to 1992. Instead it’s time to prepare for the future with a new model of spending for sustainable growth.”


Read the full manifesto for a “green, just and democratic European economy”

The New Economics Foundation poll was carried out by Censuswide polling 5,000 consumers aged 18+ with 1000 consumers per market in Germany, France, Italy, Denmark and Ireland from 18th to 23rd February 2022. Censuswide abides by and employs members of the Market Research Society which is based on the ESOMAR principles.