EU Popularity Withstands Crisis Test…

… wasn’t the banner headline on this week’s Pew Research Center survey of European public opinion, but isn’t as far from reality as you might think.

True, the Pew numbers, derived from a March poll in eight European Union countries including five using the euro, showed a decline in the EU’s “favorability” rating to 45 percent this year from 60 percent in 2012.

However, with one exception, national leaders fared worse. Only 33 percent of the French trusted President Francois Hollande to handle the economic crisis, while 41 percent lavished a “favorable” tag on the EU. National leaders lagged the EU by 11 percentage points in Greece, 19 points in Spain and a whopping 33 points in Italy, then in the midst of an election campaign.

The lone outperformer was German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who outpolled the EU by 74 percent to 60 percent. Along with other data, the latter figure indicates that — at least theoretically — Germans are more willing to lend a helping hand to the depressed European south than they are generally credited with.

Nor is a ditch-the-euro mood taking hold. More than 60 percent want to keep it, and the currency’s backers actually increased last year in Spain and Italy.

So Pew’s conclusion that the EU itself is the new “sick man of Europe” is open to question. The data show that a range of outcomes for the EU and euro zone — from tighter integration to tried-and-true muddle-through to disintegration — remain in play, and the people will listen to a pro-European case by politicians who manage to make one.

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