There is a widening gulf between those who feel that their country has benefited from European Union membership and those who think it has had a negative impact, according to a new survey.The survey, published today (6 September) by Eurobarometer, is based on face-to-face interviews with 27,624 respondents in all member states, including the EU’s newest member, Croatia. In line with a similar survey conducted in June 2012, 50% said that membership of the European Union is good for their country while 17% believe it is bad and 31% believe it is neither good nor bad. These figures, however, mask massive changes in individual member states. Eight countries have seen a rise of 6% or more over the past year in the share of people who believe membership has generally been good – Slovakia (a rise of 6%), the Czech Republic (7%), Austria (8%), Latvia (8%), Hungary (9%), Ireland (10%), Lithuania (12%) and Malta (14%). By contrast, the rise in the share of people who believe membership has generally been bad exceeds 6% in just three countries, the troubled eurozone economies of Spain (a rise of 6%), Cyprus (9%) and Greece (11%). Cyprus is now the only member state where negative views on membership prevail: 27% of Cypriots believe that membership has generally been good for Cyprus while 36% believe it has been bad. The number of Cypriots taking a neutral view has barely budged from a year ago and stands at 37%. In Greece, the positive (34%) narrowly outweighs the negative (30%). The UK is the only other country where negative and positive views are less than 10% apart, with 33% of British respondents taking a positive view of membership and 27% a negative view (37% believe EU membership is neither good nor bad for Britain).Replies to a slightly more specific follow-up question, whether a country has benefited from EU membership, are also interesting. In the two years since the question was last asked, there has been a rise of 6% or more in the share of affirmative responses in eight member states (as well as Croatia, which joined days after fieldwork for the survey was completed) while just four member states saw a rise of 6% or more in negative responses. In Malta, the share of people who think the country has benefited from EU membership rose by a whopping 18%. But Germany, where political observers have detected an increasing reluctance to helping struggling eurozone economies, saw a rise of 13% in the share of those who believe that the country has benefited from membership. The biggest increases over the past two years in the share of those who think their country has not benefited were recorded in Cyprus (up by 23%), Spain and Italy (11%), and Ireland (8%). While just 34% of Greek respondents said that EU membership was generally a good thing (a fall of 11% in one year), the share of Greek respondents who believe the country has benefited has remained stable over two years, at 47%, and is only slightly lower than the share believing Greece has not benefited (51%, up 1% from two years ago). ChallengesAsked to list up to three main challenges facing the EU and its member states, 55% of respondents cited unemployment, followed by social inequalities (33%), public debt (32%), jobs for young people (29%) and ageing populations (24%). However, responses are weighted according to a country’s size, which means that the overall figures obscure a far more polarised picture. Even though debt concerns rank roughly equal with social inequalities overall, respondents in just two countries – Austria and Germany – listed debt as their main concern (50% in both countries). In the Netherlands, 43% said that public debt was a major challenge, the same figure as for unemployment. Fact File Elected representativesOf special interest to the European Parliament, which commissioned the survey, is the question of whether respondents would be encouraged to vote in next May’s elections to the Parliament if the political groups were to put forward candidates for the post of president of the European Commission. Across the 28 member states, 55% answered in the affirmative. An even bigger majority – 70% of respondents – favour the direct election of the Commission president by EU voters, an idea that is opposed by just 17%. At the same time, interest in EU affairs has dropped by 8% since June 2012, when a previous comparable survey was conducted. Across the member states, 43% of respondents indicated that they were interested in EU affairs while 56% said they were not. Of the 27 countries that were members of the EU last year (Croatia joined this July), interest in EU affairs rose in just one (Romania) and only by a very small margin (3%). It remained steady in the Czech Republic, but at a very low level (25%). The remaining 25 member states saw a decline in interest in EU affairs.