Exit, Voice or Loyalty?


This publication presents the results of an in-depth analysis of the attitudes of young Europeans from Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia towards the European Union. The study is based on a representative opinion poll of respondents aged 15-24 years, giving them the opportunity to share their views on the current state of the European integration process and its key challenges and questions. The majority of youth see many benefits of EU membership and opt for staying in the EU and working to reform it. However, there is also a strong ambiguity in the respondents’ views on societal trends and values, such as democracy and multiculturalism or globalization and migration.

We carried out a special youth poll in six EU member states in what is geographically central and eastern Europe: Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Poland and the Slovak Republic. Our aim was to find out to what extent the youth in these countries are indeed Eurosceptic, and, if this is so, find a set of reasons why that might be the case. To help us to find the answers to these questions, we engaged well known think tanks and research institutes from the other four countries: the Institute for Human Sciences, Vienna; the IVO Institute for Public Affairs, Bratislava; the STEM Institute, Prague; and Political Capital, Budapest. In our survey, we wanted to get a deeper understanding of the younger generations’ way of thinking. That is why we asked not only about their general assessment of EU integration, its benefits and costs, but also about their opinions on some specific topics, such as migration processes. Furthermore, we asked about their support for democracy and the globalisation processes that are a substantial part of the developments in European integration. The representative survey, commissioned by the Bertelsmann Stiftung in cooperation with the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA, Warsaw), was carried out by Kantar Public and conducted through on-line interviews (Computer Assisted Web Interviews – CAWI) in 6 countries. In each country, a nationwide representative sample of 500 inhabitants ages 15-24 was interviewed between 30 January and 13 February 2017. The sample design was based on official EU statistics (Eurostat).

The complete study is available from here.

Key findings about the six countries

  • Among the six states, there are both major similarities and differences when it comes to their traditions, histories, politics, economies and cultures. These differences influence the opinions of the young people from these countries.
  • Young people from Berlin to Budapest and from Warsaw to Vienna have positive opinions on the EU. They not only want to remain in the EU, but they also would like to see it reformed. The polled societies differ, however, when it comes to their approach towards immigration and refugees. Smaller differences can be found in their understanding of democracy.
  • Although youth from the Visegrad countries (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) quite often responded similarly and in contrast to young Austrians and Germans, there are also differences within this group.
  • Well over two-thirds (77%) of those polled in all six countries view their country’s EU membership positively.
  • Young people in those six countries not only want to remain in the EU, but also want to reform it (67%).
  • Along with the peaceful coexistence of nations (78%), the opportunities to study (62%), live and work (66%) in other EU member states are seen by the majority as the main benefits of EU integration.
  • Only every fourth respondent from the entire group believes that immigrants contribute to their country’s economic growth and general prosperity (24%) or that they are needed to improve their country’s demographic prospects to balance the retirement pension system (23%). At the same time, 59% say immigrants are a burden for the social welfare system, and 53% consider them a threat to the public safety and security of their country.
  • When asked if their country should provide safe haven to refugees from areas of military conflict or to victims of political persecution in accordance with internationally agreed rules and standards, only 40% of young people from the six countries responded affirmatively.
  • Young people from the six countries generally have a rather positive approach towards democracy: 58% claim democracy is the best possible political system, and for 67%, it matters whether the government is democratic or not.
  • There is a direct correlation between supporting exit from the EU and the opinion that EU membership is bad for the respondent’s country. Eurosceptic youth have negative attitudes towards the globalization processes and negative perceptions of immigrants. They are unwilling to support refugees and more likely to support far-right politics and authoritarianism.

Key findings about Hungary

  • The survey responses clearly demonstrate a strong commitment to the European Union. A majority of the respondents think that the country should stay in the EU, but that problems need to be fixed. The young respondents apparently have very limited knowledge about the EU and how it operates, which is indicated by some of the inconsistencies in their answers.
  • Studying and working abroad are considered some of the most important benefits of Hungary’s membership in the EU. The efforts of the EU to prevent climate change and develop environmental protection standards are also seen to be an important benefit for the respondents.
  • The respondents from the two most developed regions of Hungary (Nyugat-Dunántúl and Közép-Magyarország) see the efforts of the EU to fund less developed regions as a more important benefit than those living in less developed regions.
  • The problems of immigration and terrorism are the most outstanding concerns for young Hungarians, and anti-immigration sentiment is very strong among them. In this regard, they hold similar views to the general population.
  • A majority of the respondents (72%) don’t believe that Hungary should accept refugees fleeing from military conflict zones.
  • Young Hungarians don’t seem to be very concerned about Russia’s foreign policy. With only 29% considering it a problem, it was ranked the least worrisome of the problems listed.
  • A low degree of political interest is a common feature of the respondents. Only 22% of young Hungarians talk about politics regularly with their relatives or friends, and 25% never or almost never discuss political issues. A majority see themselves as either center right or center left.
  • Young Hungarians’ commitment to democracy is not unequivocal. A majority of the respondents (51%) believe that the limitation of fundamental freedoms is acceptable in certain cases. Furthermore, only 48% think that democracy is the best political system.
  • Public media do not reach 40% of the youth at all. This is an interesting figure, given that the public media in Hungary are completely under the control of the government and reflect solely the government’s positions.

The complete study is available from here.