Share this article

print logo

Survey finds Europe remains ambivalent about the euro system

The debt crisis that has ravaged Europe for the better part of three years has exposed a dislike of the single currency but little desire to abandon it, a wide-ranging survey of public opinion found Tuesday.

The Pew Research Center's survey across eight European Union countries, including five members of the 17-country eurozone, indicated that the region's financial problems have triggered full-blown fears about the future of Europe as a political project.

"This crisis of confidence is evident in the economy, in the future, in the benefits of European economic integration, in EU membership, in the euro and in the free market system," Pew said in a statement.

Despite those concerns, Pew found there was no desire for those countries that use the euro to return to their former currencies, such as the French franc or the Spanish peseta. The euro launched in 1999 and is used by 17 countries.

In Greece, the epicenter of the debt crisis, 71 percent of those polled want to keep the euro, as opposed to 23 percent who want to return to the drachma. More people in Greece, which is now in its fifth year of a savage recession, think the euro has been good for them than bad -- 46 percent of those surveyed, compared with 26 percent who thought it was a bad thing.

These findings may be crucial as Greece heads to the polls June 17 in a general election many see as a referendum on the country's euro membership.

Though Pew found little appetite for abandoning the euro, the survey revealed a prevailing skepticism over Europe's single currency.

More people in France, Italy and Spain think the euro has been more damaging than beneficial. In Italy, which has the second-highest debt burden in the eurozone after Greece, 44 percent of those people surveyed said the euro has been a bad thing, as opposed to 30 percent who think it has done well. Italy is also home to the biggest anti-euro constituency, with 40 percent of those polled wanting to return to the lira and 52 percent backing the euro.

Among the five euro countries surveyed, there wasn't one where a majority -- more than 50 percent -- of those polled thought the currency had been beneficial.

In Germany, Europe's biggest economy, more people thought it was beneficial than damaging.

Germany's exporters have benefited from the relatively low value of the euro against other key currencies such as the dollar when compared with what the deutschemark would likely trade at.

The survey also found that two-thirds of Germans want to keep the currency even though the country has to make the biggest contributions to the financial bailouts.

Among the countries surveyed that did not have the euro as their currency, there were big majorities in Britain, the Czech Republic and Poland who thought it has been better for them not to have been in the euro bloc.

In Washington, the Obama administration announced Tuesday it had dispatched its top international finance official, Treasury Undersecretary for International Affairs Lael Brainard, to Europe for a round of discussions.