The majority of European citizens believe that the punitive measures benefit America and China, while they harm Ukraine, Russia and the EU. Századvég’s research reveals that almost three times as many respondents think that sanctions are primarily damaging to the European Union as those who see Russia as the primary loser.

The fundamental requirement for sanctions is that they cause more harm to the sanctioned country than to the economies that impose them. In the months following the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war, leaders in Brussels argued that increasingly harsh punitive measures should be imposed because they would bring the Russian economy to its knees in a short time, thus allowing the war to end quickly. After the initial idea failed, Brussels changed its earlier argument and communicated that, although the sanctions did not have enough impact in the short term, they would hold back the Russian economy in the medium and long term without creating an unbearable burden for Europeans. However, economic data from the period since the start of the war and the opinion of Europeans show that the new argument has also been disproved and that the Brussels plan has hurt the EU the most.

US and China win, while the EU loses on sanctions

Századvég’s research shows that in all the countries studied, there is a majority of those who see America and China as the winners of the sanctions policy and the EU as its loser. Europeans also have a negative perception of the impact on their own countries, with only Norwegians considering that they have gained from the punitive measures. This is presumably because the EU has partially replaced lost Russian energy supplies with Norwegian supplies, so the sanctions have indirectly increased Norway’s revenues.

The assessment of the impact on the parties directly involved in the war is more mixed, with the majority of Cypriots and Greeks identifying Russia as a winner, while some Nordic and Baltic states also see Ukraine as a winner. The average weighted by the populations of the countries surveyed shows that 54% and 54% of Europeans think the US and China are winners (22% and 19% think they are losers), while only 26% and 23% think the EU and their own country are losers (56% and 60% think they are losers).

The punitive measures hurt the European Union, not Russia

When asked whether the sanctions hurt the EU or Russia, a majority of EU citizens (49%) answered neutral, i.e. they believed that the punitive measures hurt both sides. It is telling, however, that almost three times as many respondents (31%) thought that the sanctions primarily harmed the EU as those who thought they harmed Russia (12%).

In only two Member States (Denmark and Finland) did a larger proportion of the population believe that the punitive measures had primarily harmed Russia than those who identified the EU as the primary loser. Greeks, Slovenians and Hungarians are the most critical of sanctions, with respectively 5%, 5% and 11% of respondents in these countries considering Russia, and respectively 47%, 42% and 46% considering the EU to be the bigger victim of punitive measures.

• The Project Europe research

In the first half of 2016, the Századvég Foundation conducted a public opinion survey covering the 28 Member States of the European Union to examine the views of European citizens on the issues that most affect the future of the Union. The Project28 public opinion survey was the most extensive ever, with a unique survey of 1,000 randomly selected adults per country, totalling 28,000. The main objectives of the survey were to gauge public sense of prosperity and to explore public attitudes towards the performance of the European Union, the migration crisis and rising terrorism. Following the surveys of 2017, 2018 and 2019, the Századvég Foundation, on behalf of the Hungarian government, continued the research since 2020 under the name Project Europe, which continued to reflect on the most dominant topics in European political and public discourse.

Once again, the 2023 survey aimed to explore public attitudes to the most important public issues affecting our continent. In addition to the social perception of the economic situation, the performance of the European Union, climate change and the migration crisis, and in line with the new challenges facing Europe, the main topics of this year’s public opinion survey are the Russia-Ukraine war, the energy crisis, energy supply and family policy. The 2023 survey covered the European Union, the United Kingdom, Norway and Switzerland, and a total of 30,000 randomly selected adults were interviewed using CATI between 26 April and 22 June.