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Monday, 2 July, 2001, 18:27 GMT 19:27 UK
EU poll reveals huge ignorance
Holidaymaker on the promenade at Nice
Nice: The beach is better known than the treaty
By Oana Lungescu in Brussels

An opinion poll conducted in all the 15 nations of the European Union has found that most Europeans either don't know or don't care about what their leaders call the union's historic challenges - the introduction of the euro notes and coins, and the expansion into Central and Eastern Europe.

Poorly informed on enlargement
44% not well informed
34% not well informed at all
19% well informed
Some 78% say they are not well informed about the Union's eastward expansion, and a staggering 87% feel uninvolved in the political debate about its pros and cons.

The Eurobarometer poll, conducted in March and April, also showed there is continuing confusion about which countries are candidates to join the EU.

The poll shows support for Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic becoming members, and clear opposition to EU membership for Albania, Turkey and Yugoslavia.

First to accede?
Poland -18%
Hungary - 16%
Czech Rep - 12%
Turkey - 10%
Norway or Switzerland - 21%
But over 20% of EU citizens believe Norway and Switzerland should be among the first to join, even though they have decided to stay out.

And some Italians who consider themselves well-informed actually think that the UK is also a candidate country, although it joined in 1973.

With only six months to go before the introduction of the euro notes and coins, only 20% of Europeans know the exact value of their currency against the euro, and many believe it will also be used in Britain, Denmark and Sweden, which have opted out of the euro-zone.

Apathy

While Belgians seem better informed about the euro, they, like most Europeans, appear uninterested in a public debate on the EU's future shape and powers.

This is bad news for their political leaders, who want to launch exactly such a debate at an EU summit in Laeken, near Brussels, next December.

They can only hope it will attract more public interest than last December's summit in Nice - 41% of EU citizens say they did not see, read or hear anything about it.

And, with high levels of ignorance about enlargement and apathy about European matters in Ireland, it will be an uphill struggle to reverse last month's rejection of the Treaty of Nice by Irish voters, which threatens to block enlargement altogether.

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See also:

09 Feb 01 | Europe
Europeans divided on their union
15 May 01 | Business
Business ill-prepared for the euro
13 Jun 01 | Europe
Q&A: Nice Treaty
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