Attitudes to the EU in Wales

Prof Roger Scully shares the latest attitudes to the EU in Wales.

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The IWA constitutional convention is underway at . This week we are talking about The Future of the UK including discussions on England, a federal arrangement, funding and Europe.

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You can also see what others are saying on Twitter at #IWAConvention.

As with the rest of the UK, Wales is not greatly enamoured with the EU; indeed, over recent times it has generally become less so. The figure below shows changes in attitudes between 1990-20111, in surveys run by Eurobarometer: it charts the percentage of people within the UK who regarded the UK’s membership of the EU as a ‘good thing’, a ‘bad thing’, or who were neutral or unsure. Amidst fluctuations from survey to survey, the general trend has been for the proportion saying ‘good thing’ to decline (except, perhaps, during the latter part of the 1997-2010 Labour government), while the numbers taking a negative view have tended to rise.

There are not huge differences between the nations of Britain in terms of their attitudes to the EU. But there is a consistent pattern of modest differences, which shows that England is the most Euro-sceptic and Scotland the least Euro-sceptic, with Wales somewhere in the middle (though usually closer to England in attitudes). The chart below illustrates this with answers to the ‘Good Thing’/‘Bad Thing’ question from three parallel surveys conducted in the three nations in April 2014:

We see the identical pattern of national differences in results from another question asked in April 2014: how would people vote in a referendum on Britain’s EU membership? By 40% to 37% (with the remainder unsure or indicating that they would not vote in such a referendum), respondents in England said that they would vote to leave the EU; those in Scotland favoured remaining in by the fairly comfortable margin of 48% to 32%; while Wales was more narrowly in favour of continued membership, by 39% to 35%.

More recent evidence (from the January Welsh Political Barometer poll), suggests three things about attitudes to the EU within Wales:

  • First, a clear majority of people (59% of respondents) favour the idea of having a referendum on EU membership (with only 22% opposed, and the remainder unsure). We should note, though, that many people habitually respond positively to the idea of having a referendum on anything when asked in surveys; it doesn’t mean they will necessarily take any interest in such a vote if it actually happens!


  • Second, attitudes in Wales seem to have become a little more pro-EU over the last year in Wales. Asking the same questions as in the April 2014 survey (the ‘Good Thing’/‘Bad Thing’ question on EU membership, and how people would vote in an EU referendum), the recent January 2015  Barometer poll found a more pro-European balance of responses. So 41% now said that EU membership was a Good Thing (up 6% on April 2014), while only 30% described as a Bad Thing (down 2% on April 2014); similarly, in January 2015, 44% said that they would vote to remain in the EU in a referendum, while 36% said that they would vote to leave: this eight point margin was double that found only nine months previously.


  • Finally, however, there was not much perception that Wales particularly benefits from EU membership, compared to the rest of the UK. The Barometer poll asked people whether they thought ‘More than the rest of the UK’ from Britain’s EU membership, Less, or whether it benefitted to about the same degree. The most popular single response (chosen by 37% of respondents) was ‘about the same’, while another 17% said that they didn’t know. But of those with a definite view one way or the other, nearly twice as many (30%) thought that Wales benefitted less than the rest of the UK that those (17%) who thought it benefitted more. Given the amount of EU funding that Wales has received in recent times, this is a striking finding.


Note: Data for the first figure here are taken from the results published by Eurobarometer, a series of regular surveys of public attitudes in EU member-states supported by the European Union. All other data are taken from surveys carried out by YouGov.

Roger Scully is a Professor of Political Science in the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University.

12 thoughts on “Attitudes to the EU in Wales

  1. The good Professor has certainly earned his pay this week. The mainstream media, especially the uncritically Europhile BBC, like to give the impression that the ‘Celtic fringes’ are far more pro-EU than ‘reactionary’ Olde England. No doubt we are expected to be cringingly grateful for the supposedly ‘European’ money lavished here. The polling figures show that impression has little or no substance to it – but then perhaps we knew that already from UKIP’s strong showing in the European elections. It will be interesting to see how BBC Wales cover this story – or if they do.

  2. “Finally, however, there was not much perception that Wales particularly benefits from EU membership, compared to the rest of the UK. The Barometer poll asked people whether they thought ‘More than the rest of the UK’ from Britain’s EU membership, Less, or whether it benefitted to about the same degree.”

    What kind of BS question is this? There is a presumption in this question that the UK benefits from EU membership – not only isn’t there any evidence to support this view but it makes the question unanswerable for all the people who feel the EU has an overall negative effect. This isn’t polling it is propaganda!

    However it may explain your supposedly “striking finding” as being the closest response many of us could give to the biased options available… Polling like this is absolutely worthless!

  3. Perhaps the lack of knowledge of how much Wales benefits is an indication of how out of touch the EU is with the ordinary people of Europe. There is clearly no imperative within the EU to communicate back to their constituency, which either indicates a lack of feeling of accountability or a dis-functional organisation with no clear ownership or leadership.

  4. The point is made above about the vast amount Wales gets via the EU’s Structural Funds and the lack of public perception of its benefits. If I was ltu unemployed etc in the unchanged Valleys, after c. 15 years of Euro spend by the buckets and multi billions, I would also be equally unmoved, not only by the EU then by the sheer ineptitute of the Assembly’s delivery. Remember Rhodri Morgan’s bombast about the forthcoming combined EU/WA transformation of S.Wales? Well it certainly transformed those agencies and “enablers” glued to the professional gravy train.

    As for the profile of the EU, I remember, c. twenty years ago, you could not move for European publicity and promotion. I see they still have a Welsh Representation Office down the Bay, silent as the grave. If I was cynical I would suspect this is perhaps deliberate. Why draw further attention to TPPA, calls for a full European Army and an alarming co-mission with Nato’s constant eastward expansion?

    Put up more flags. Everywhere.

  5. Would it be wrong to assume that most of the money Wales receives via the EU is in fact UK money in the first place? And by UK money I really mean English money.

    If so, Wales would most likely have received similar sums from the UK exchequer had the UK not elected to join the EU. In other words, it’s just another example of English largesse handed out surreptitiously to avoid Welsh embarrassment.

    Isn’t it time this sort of thing started to get taught in the schools? No matter what language medium the overwhelmingly gracious generosity of our closest neighbour needs to be widely known throughout Wales.

  6. Is the EU its own worst enemy here? I have driven down many splendidly specified roads to somewhere or nowhere, especially to the north of the Valleys. All have their EU funding regalia, but there is no incentive to turn off the roads and visit the Valleys themselves.

    In contrast, Cardigan Castle owes is nascent revival to EU money, but how many appreciate that? It has been a vast project, which may well transform the future of a neglected former County Town.

    I fear the top down approach has much to blame here. Grants from a vast institution are allocated and ideas come up to spend this money. Are they the best ideas? Perhaps not, but they make sense to those who live within a certain mindset.

    Does that mindset offer a roadmap to social and economic revival?

  7. Karen,Karen, Karen:

    Isn’t it time this sort of thing started to get taught in the schools?

    But it is; the much lauded (but utterly useless) Welsh Baccalaureate has a module “Wales place in the EU and the World”.

    I imagine that place is on its knees begging “More please” although I don’t know whether that is the content of the module.

  8. Attitudes to the EU are a bit different in the fringe since the polls imply the English would vote to leave and the Scots and Welsh would vote to stay in. Why is that surprising? Neither Scotland nor Wales have that much European immigration, Wales is a net beneficiary from the budget, whereas England is a net contributor and both the Scots and Welsh are used to having their “national sovereignty” subsumed into a larger entity. As the dominant group in the UK with over 80 per cent of the legislators, the English are in control and not conscious of having pooled any sovereignty so the EU seems a bigger deal to them.

  9. Karen, the Welsh are notorious for a lack of self-confidence and a cultural cringe. I never expected to hear that they should be taught to cringe harder. Are you related to Uriah Heep?

  10. It might be a blow to the cultural image that many people have of a social democratic, outward-looking Wales, but it’s hardly a surprise. General appraisal of the benefits of the EU has fallen almost everywhere –

    What the EU does need to do is to make the political, social and emotional cases for its existence. People seem to think that the EU exists only to enrich people’s material lives, and over the last few years it has not necessarily done that. But when it comes down to the question of whether it is worth reforming or worth scrapping, I think people will ultimately use their hearts as much as their heads. The reality of consistent peace and friendship among the nations of Europe isn’t something to be taken lightly. Neither are the millions of friendships and families formed across borders thanks to the freedom of movement, or the Erasmus programmes. Yes, Eurosceptics will surely point out that these benefits are not necessarily felt by all, but surely that is a reason to expand people’s enjoyment of them, not remove them completely. It would seem pretty miserly to chuck all of that progress down the pan on the uncertain premise that some wealthy individuals might save a bit of money.

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