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OPINION19 December 2018

We British: true Europeans?

Europe Opinion Trends UK

While all eyes are on the UK’s exit from the European Union, Simon Atkinson shares some findings on how UK citizen sentiment compares with others in Europe.

As we’ve been putting together this year’s Ipsos Mori Almanac, our politicians and civil servants have of course been very busy negotiating the details of the UK’s forthcoming departure from the European Union.

But, although Britain may be leaving the EU, Britain is not leaving Europe.  At least, not yet.

So, we thought now might be a good moment to look back at some of our research from the past year and think about what we may have in common with our European neighbours – and what makes us different.

Here 10 ten things we found:

1. 49% of us say the country is in decline – but this is quite normal. British sentiment here is very similar to the 47% recorded in France and Italy (globally it’s 44%). It’s the Germans who stand out on this one; just 25% of them are inclined to take a gloomy view of the state of their country.

2. Half of us say we need a ‘strong leader to break the rules’. This is also quite normal. Our 50% score is very similar to Italy’s 53% (and indeed the global figure of 52%), but not as high as the French, at 61%. Again, it’s the Germans who are the outlier, with just 17% saying a strong leader is what’s needed to improve things.

3. The Brits are keen on a free market economy. Some 62% of us say that ‘free market competition brings out the best in people’, well ahead of the Germans ( 49%) and French ( 43%).  But it’s the Italians who profess to be the keenest free-marketers – their 72% is the highest in Europe.

4. Our assessment of the UK economy isn’t changing – at a time when our neighbours are becoming more positive. Some 42% of Britons say the economy is in ‘good’ shape – almost identical to the 44% recorded in May 2016, just before the EU referendum. Over the same period the Germans have become even more upbeat about their economy ( 80% of them now say it’s doing well, up seven points). The French and Italians still give their own economies low marks, but their current 24% and 21% ‘good’ ratings are up from the low teens of two years ago.

5. The NHS takes the prize for best-rated healthcare system. Britons rate the quality of healthcare available to them higher than anyone else in Europe, or indeed the world. Our 73% positive score compares with 56% in Germany, 55% in France and just 33% in Italy. Although, as Kate Duxbury of Ipsos Mori points out, the NHS remains our national religion, what’s worth underlining here is our uneasiness about the system being ‘overstretched’ – this is more evident in Britain than in any other country.

6. Millions of us no longer eat meat – and the UK is leading the way. Currently 11% of Britons describe themselves as vegetarian or vegan. These figures are rather higher than for some other countries; in Italy it’s 5%, for example. And it’s clear that saying goodbye to meat is no short-term fad; 68% of British vegetarians say they’ve been following their diet for the past five years or more.

7. We like to holiday abroad – as do the Germans. While most French and Italians are loyal to their own countries when it comes to holiday plans, among the Brits and Germans we find only around one in four looking to stay at home. Spain, France and Italy remain the favoured destinations for UK holidaymakers.

8. We’re not super-excited (yet) at the prospect of autonomous driving – and we’re not alone. In the UK, some 22% of us like the idea of driverless cars, a view that’s similarly held by the French ( 24%) and Germans ( 19%). While people may be a bit more open to change in Italy ( 28%) and Spain ( 31%), the mood in Europe is completely different to that in China, where 57% are keen on the prospect.

9. Lots of us follow football – but yes, it is the Italians who are particularly keen. Ahead of the World Cup, we found 45% of Britons saying they like football, in line with the French ( 44%) and Germans ( 49%). The Italians score rather higher, with 55% (even though they didn’t qualify for this year’s tournament). While on the subject, it’s worth reminding ourselves that very few Britons – just 4% of us, to be precise – expected to see our friends across the Channel come home from Russia with the trophy.

10. While Prince Harry is the most popular Royal in Britain, in France they favour Prince William.  Meanwhile, Prince Charles’ image across Europe leaves something to be desired. Among the Brits he achieves a muted favourability score of +3. In France, he registers -7, in Germany it’s -11, while in Italy his rating slumps to a rather alarming -32 points.

Simon Atkinson is chief knowledge officer at Ipsos