When Germans, French, Italians, and Poles hear the word “Ukraine,” it evokes three associations: war, poverty, and immigrants. This is evidenced by results of a poll commissioned by the New Europe Center in these four European countries.
At first glance, there is nothing good for Ukraine. However, if we compare these results with the answers to similar questions put to residents of the same countries five years ago, we will see quite encouraging signals. For example, the majority of respondents (55%) support Ukraine’s membership in the EU. Support for Ukraine’s membership in NATO is not overwhelming but is rather significant as well (38%).
- In both 2015 and 2020, Ukraine is largely associated with war. However, in 2020, Ukraine is less linked to war and conflict. In 2015, 49% of respondents associated Ukraine with war, while the number of such respondents in 2020 fell to 12%, showing a nearly four-fold decrease.
- Ukraine is increasingly associated with immigrants. In 2015, the number of such associations was insignificant. In 2020, it is the third most popular association with Ukraine (mentioned by 10.3% of respondents). This indicates an increasing trend of migration from Ukraine in search of a better job in the EU.
- Unfortunately, Ukraine evokes negative associations in most respondents. The majority of the most popular mentions are negative, and this trend can be seen in all countries where the poll was conducted. An exception is Italy, which has more positive and neutral mentions among the top 10 associations with Ukraine than any other country polled.
- An interesting observation is that Ukraine evokes no associations in 23.6% of respondents. This is also positive news, as these respondents can be informed about Ukraine in a positive way.
- There is no consensus among respondents on how to help Ukraine during the COVID-19 pandemic. In general, about half of the respondents believe that countries should maintain the current level of cooperation or intensify it, while the other half of respondents say that cooperation should be limited or the countries should focus on domestic problems.
- Russian narratives about Ukraine in the polled countries proved to be ineffective. Only 0.8% of respondents say that Ukrainians are at civil war, and the number of those who called Ukraine an extremist/fascist country is less than 0.2%.
- As in 2015, the current poll results show that the biggest obstacle to Ukraine’s membership in the EU is corruption, the fight against which is prioritised by 43.1% of respondents in 2020 (37.5% – in 2015).
- In 2020, the number of respondents who link Ukraine with Russia is 9.1%, while this category was twice as big (18%) only five years ago. This indicates a clear separation between Ukraine and Russia and, consequently, the perception of the Ukrainian state, which is independent of Russia.
- The most popular answer in regards to support for Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression is the extension of EU’s sanctions against Russia (21.5%). The least popular answer is the provision of weapons.
Associations evoked with Ukraine
Ukraine evokes very different associations in all countries. For instance, Poland mostly associates Ukraine with immigrants (25.8%), poverty (25%) followed by war. At the same time, the most popular associations in Germany and France are Russia and war. The majority of French respondents (15.5%) associate Ukraine with Russia, war, and conflicts (13.1%), Eastern Europe (10.6%).
The top three German associations are related to Russia (war, invasion of Crimea, and Russia), accounting for almost half of the respondents (47.5%). In the case of Germany and France, the popularity of associations with war can be explained by the fact that the topic of the Russia-Ukraine war is covered in these countries more often due to the role of Berlin and Paris in the Normandy format.
In general, most of the top 10 associations in France, Germany, and Poland are negative. Quite a different situation is observed in Italy, where the topic of the Russia-Ukraine war is almost missing in public opinion as only 0.6% of respondents mentioned it. Italians are among those having the most positive attitude to Ukraine.
Obstacles on the path towards EU
Perhaps, one of the most common issues addressed in the context of reforms in Ukraine and in discussions on Ukraine’s integration into the EU concerns the problems that need to be solved in order to become an EU member. Respondents rate the eradication of corruption as a top priority. This answer is given in all polled countries, but the level of its priority is different: Germany sets the fight against corruption as the highest priority (over 58%), while Italy, though listing it among priorities, as the lowest one (29.1%).
It is noteworthy that the eradication of corruption was also identified as a priority by 33% of respondents in 2015. The second most important priority is a significant improvement in the economic situation. All countries accentuate the strengthening of the economy as a second priority, with the exception of French respondents who consider the restoration of territorial integrity more important.
In general, if we focus on the public opinion, territorial integrity does not appear as an obstacle to Ukraine’s integration into the EU or proves to be the smallest problem among the three options presented in the survey.
Support for Ukraine in the fight against Russian aggression
When it comes to supporting Ukraine in the fight against Russian aggression, the majority of respondents prefer extending sanctions imposed on Russia (21.5% indicated this answer as a top priority). At the same time, a similar number of respondents choose “offer Ukraine EU membership” as a top priority. These two priorities – sanctions and EU membership – have different levels of support among the countries.
Three countries believe that expanding sanctions against Russia should be a focus: Poland (23.3%), France (23.4%), and Germany (23.4%), showing almost absolute unity in this issue.
In turn, Italy is the only country that views Ukraine’s membership in the EU as a top priority (24.1%), followed by the extension of sanctions.
On the other hand, “provide Ukraine with weapons” is the least popular option among the top priority tasks (only 2.6%). If we analyse individual countries, we can see that Poland is the vocal advocate of arms supply (5.1%), followed by France (2.9%), Germany (1.4%) and Italy (0.9%). The poll results again confirm the thesis that key EU countries are dead set against the provision of weapons to Ukraine.
A rather interesting case was brought to light in Germany: here the option “not to support Ukraine at all” as a top priority won the approval of 13.1% of respondents, exceeding the total support given to the options “provide financial support” and “provide Ukraine with weapons.”
A similar situation is observed in France. Meanwhile, this trend is not present in Italy and Poland. One of the most impressive indicators is a lack of understanding of how to support Ukraine. At least 42.1% of Italians chose this answer. They are followed by French respondents (about 40%), Germans (about 35%) and Poles (slightly more than 29%).
When offering a wide range of options in regard to the future of EU-Ukraine relations, the most popular answer is “develop relations as with ordinary neighbouring countries” (26%). This proves once again the existence of a large group of people with isolationist views who prefer that their governments focus on the domestic problems of countries.
A similar level of support is found in the answers about the Norway model (20.1%) and the preservation of cooperation at the current level (20.8%). Two options, which are almost opposite, have less support than the others: Ukraine as a full-fledged member (16.2%) and the development of economic relations without political support.
At the same time, these figures alone provide a vague picture of trends in the studied societies. If we add together the number of supporters of the option “to leave cooperation at the current level or intensify it,” we can see that they account for 57.1% compared to 42.9% of respondents who would like to slow down Ukraine’s cooperation with the EU.
At the level of individual countries, the figures remain more or less the same with some slight differences. Surprisingly, the majority of Poles (30.5%) are in favour of relations with Ukraine as an ordinary neighbour – this figure is higher than in Germany, Italy and France.
EU and NATO membership
Support for Ukraine’s EU and NATO membership is not linear in the countries under study. The majority (55%) support Ukraine’s membership in the EU. On the other hand, 28.5% of respondents believe that Ukraine should not join the EU and NATO.
Among the countries polled, significant support for Ukraine’s EU membership is observed in Poland (69.5%) and Italy (61.6%). At the same time, the idea of Ukraine’s EU membership did not gain support of the majority in Germany (47%) and France (42.6%).
As for Ukraine’s membership in NATO, this idea also does not have the support of the majority in the polled countries. France (39.9%) is most open to Ukraine’s membership in NATO, followed by Poland (33.3%) and Germany with Italy, which voice equal support (31.3%).
Kantar Profiles Division sociological agency conducted the opinion poll, commissioned by New Europe Center, in France, Germany, Italy and Poland. Overall, more than 4,000 respondents aged between 18 and over 65 years answered six questions, including one open question.
Respondents in each country were selected to represent their countries proportionally based on gender, age and region of residence.
Source: New Europe Center