Transatlantic Trends 2014 shows a French public opinion whose mood varies by subject: aligned with Europe’s south on economic issues, but in agreement with the United States and the rest of Europe on key issues of foreign and security policy.
French respondents expressed mixed feelings about U.S. leadership, with 51% saying it was desirable and 48% saying it was not. Sixty-nine percent of French respondents approved of
U.S. President Barack Obama’s handling of international policies — five percentage points higher than the European average — and 73% percent said they regarded the United States favorably. A majority of French respondents (51%), however, wanted their country to take a more independent approach in the transatlantic relationship.
Seventy-one percent said global leadership by the EU was desirable, and 61% held a favorable view of the EU. Sixty-seven percent said that Chinese leadership was undesirable, and 57% held an unfavorable view of China. Fifty-two percent of the French also disapproved of their own government’s foreign policies; 47% said they approved.
Seventy-two percent (up eight percentage points since 2013) felt that Russian global leadership was undesirable, and the same percentage said their view of Russia was unfavorable. France was the only country in the EU where a majority of respondents (55%) wanted their country to manage its relationship with Russia together with other members of the EU, rather than taking an independent approach; however, pluralities agreed in Italy (49%), the Netherlands(48%), and Spain (48%).
THE ECONOMY, THE EU, AND IMMIGRATION
Forty-three percent of French respondents said that the state of their economy was the most important issue facing their country. Asked whether they had been personally affected by the economic crisis, 64% said they had been affected (down one percentage point since 2013).
Seventy-one percent said membership in the EU had been good for their country (as opposed to 65% of Europeans); 24% said it had been bad. Thirty-five percent of French respondents who said the EU had been good for their country, when asked why they said this, chose the response “the EU is a community of democracies that should act together”; 28% said “the European Union has maintained peace in Europe.” Forty-six percent of French respondents who said the EU had been bad for their country said that this was because it had harmed their country’s economy. Fifty-one percent overall thought the euro had been bad for their economy— but that number was a 13 percentage point drop from 2013.
France was the only country in the survey where a majority of respondents (52%) said it would be better if the United Kingdom left the EU if the alternative choice was to accommodate British concerns.
Thirty-five percent of French respondents thought the EU was still not doing enough to combat the crisis; 45% thought both the EU and the countries most affected were not doing enough, and only 5% said that the countries most affected were not doing enough without blaming the EU as well. Sixty percent of those polled in France thought that the EU should not be given more budgetary authority.
Sixty-four percent of French respondents said they disapproved of their country’s immigration policy. When asked why immigrants come to their country, 56% mentioned “to work” and 54% mentioned “to seek social benefits.” The French had mixed feelings about their country’s refugee policies, with 43% favoring more restrictive refugee policies, and 40% saying the current policies were about right. Forty-four percent of French respondents said they were concerned by immigration from inside the EU; 59% were worried about immigration from outside the EU. Fifty-six percent felt that first-generation immigrants were not integrating well, and French respondents were also the most likely (48%, down seven percentage points from 2013) to say that the second generation was not integrating well either.
TRANSATLANTIC SECURITY COOPERATION
Asked whether they preferred managing specific relationships together with other members of the EU, together with the United States, or independently, a majority of French respondents(51%) said they preferred Paris to manage its relationship with Beijing in an EU context; 53% said the same of the Middle East.
However, 60% of French respondents described NATO as “essential” for France’s security.Seventy percent said NATO should continue to be engaged in territorial defense. Feelings were more mixed about out-of-area missions, with 55% saying NATO should conduct such operations, and 42% saying it should not. Fifty-six percent felt that NATO should not provide arms or training to help other countries defend themselves (that number increased to 59% if Ukraine was mentioned as a specific example). Fifty-seven percent agreed that NATO should attempt to establish stability in places like Afghanistan.
Fifty-eight percent approved of providing continued political and economic support to Ukraine, even if there was a risk of continued conflict with Russia. But 53% disapproved of offering NATO membership to Ukraine, and 52% were unwilling to offer it EU membership;81% disapproved of sending military supplies to Ukraine. However, two-thirds (66%) were willing to increase economic assistance to Ukraine. and 60% said they approved of stronger sanctions against Russia. France and Poland were the only countries where majorities held a favorable opinion of Ukraine (50% and 56%, respectively).