On 18 June, for the first time since the European Parliament elections, the Heads of State and Government of the European Union meet for an informal working dinner which focused on an exchange of views on the future leaders in Brussels. Although no formal decision has been taken yet on filling the top EU posts, press reports suggest that Ursula von der Leyen, the EPP president of the European Commission, could keep her post as she has the support of a majority of national leaders. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said that the European People’s Party, ignoring the will of the European people, has finally joined forces with the left and the liberals, dividing the leading positions of the European Union between them. Századvég’s Project Europe survey, covering the years 2023 and 2024, examined public opinion in Europe about Ursula von der Leyen and the performance of the European Commission under her leadership.

Migration crisis, war inflation, spiraling energy prices—failure after failure for the European Commission

The European Union has faced significant challenges in recent years, including migration pressures and the inflation and energy crises linked to the Russian-Ukrainian armed conflict. The survey shows that the European public is dissatisfied with the European Commission’s activities and its crisis management work in several areas, and that both Ursula von der Leyen and the Brussels bureaucracy are perceived by European citizens in a clearly negative light.

According to the 2023 survey,

more than three quarters of respondents (77%) have an unfavourable opinion of the Brussels bureaucracy, and in 2024, 55% have a negative opinion of Ursula von der Leyen, who heads the European Commission.

The negative public attitudes are inseparable from the fact that the direction taken by the Brussels elite on today’s most crucial public issues does not meet the expectations of Europeans. Accordingly

the vast majority of European respondents expressed dissatisfaction with what Brussels has done to tackle the migration crisis (63%) and to curb inflation and energy prices (63%).
Similarly, 64% of European citizens feel that the energy crisis on our continent is partly the result of the European Commission’s misguided energy policy. Looking at the issue by country, it is telling that those who hold Brussels responsible for the energy crisis are in absolute majority in all Member States.

The highest proportions of respondents were in Slovenia and Greece (78% in both) and Portugal and Bulgaria (71% in both), but the lowest were also above 50% in Finland (55%), Hungary (54%) and Denmark (51%). In the context of the energy crisis, it should be stressed that the cornerstone of Ursula von der Leyen’s political programme was the European Green Deal, the key point of which was to tighten up the EU’s climate protection targets. As a result, the European Commission has urged Member States to cut their conventional energy production and conversion capacity, which has lost their ability to adapt to the energy market. This negative trend has led to a severe crisis in the EU in 2021, as global energy supplies become tight. In response to the problem, the von der Leyen administration, instead of changing its previous ambitions, pushed for even more stringent climate targets and further capacity cuts, and then, following the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war in 2022, further narrowed the Community’s room for manoeuvre with extreme pro-sanction moves.

The European Union’s sanctions policy has been consistently maintained by the Brussels leadership to this day, despite the fact that these sanctions have proved ineffective in curbing Russia’s military ambitions. The 2023 Project Europe survey already showed that

in 15 of the 27 EU Member States, those who are critical of Brussels’ war sanctions policy outnumber those who are satisfied with it.

Ursula von der Leyen and the Brussels elite have distanced themselves from the European people

Survey data show that the European public feels that the Brussels institutions do not represent the interests of individual Member States in their decision-making.

52% of European respondents said that the EU institutions and the political elite in Brussels ignore the interests of their country. Percentage of respondents, who feel that their country’s interests are not taken into account by decision-makers in Brussels exceeded the proportion of those who feel the opposite in 19 of the 27 EU Member States.

Another interesting fact is that

the proportion of Europeans who consider it unlawful for Brussels to withhold EU funds from some Member States because of political differences exceeded the proportion of those who consider the practice legitimate in 20 out of 27 Member States.

Given the negative perception of the political performance of the Brussels elite in recent years across Europe, and the gap between the interests of the EU bureaucracy and those of the Member States, as perceived by the European public, it is reasonable to assume that a possible new mandate for Ursula von der Leyen to lead the European Commission would not reflect the will of the majority of European citizens, but rather the result of political power bargains.

• 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 2024 survey aimed to explore public attitudes to the most important public issues affecting our continent. In addition to the public sense of prosperity, the performance of the European Union, the energy crisis and the migration crisis, and in line with the new challenges facing Europe, the main topics of this year’s public opinion poll are the rising geopolitical tensions, the perception of the media and religion. The 2024 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 14 February and 15 April.