Surveys of public attitudes are useful but inevitably blunt instruments in gauging public opinion. While providing a simple snapshot of an issue in time, they often also highlight inconsistencies and contradictions in the views of a given sampled population.
The most recent Eurobarometer survey reported that Maltese respondents were among a significant minority who placed greater immediate priority on price stability than the defence of highlighted European values such as democracy and freedom.
Yet, simultaneously they professed themselves to be among the EU’s most positive supporters.
While, overall, nearly six out of 10 (59 per cent) of those surveyed across the EU said the priority should be democracy and freedom, some 39 per cent would, instead, prioritise stability. Malta was reported to be the top third country (63 per cent) whose respondents prioritised price stability.
The survey was conducted in the context of the war on Ukraine. The results for Malta have sparked considerable commentary locally, much of it negative.
Many sections of the survey offer different (and often contradictory) evidence of Maltese viewpoints which, overall, remain very positive regarding the EU itself, its role in the world and Malta’s membership. Some 80 per cent of Maltese respondents said they think it is important that their country is an EU member state (the sixth highest in Europe) with 50 per cent of those saying that EU membership is “extremely important” to them.
Additionally, Malta was the second country where citizens most felt that what brings EU citizens together is more important than what sets them apart (92 per cent). Presumably, this includes many of the principles and values that characterise the Union.
While some 55 per cent of Maltese respondents (higher than the EU average at 40 per cent) felt that the war in Ukraine had already reduced their standard of living, a significant 41 per cent said it had not yet impacted on them but expect it to do so in the future.
A full 63 per cent gave priority to maintaining price stability “even if it affects the defence of our common European values” (EU average 39 per cent) and were less likely to favour defending freedom and democracy (32 per cent) if it impacted cost of living (EU 59 per cent).
This stands in stark contrast to Maltese responses to the value and importance of the EU overall.
It seems that Maltese respondents opt for a ‘pick and mix’ menu as regards the EU.
In this, they appear to reflect the views of the government – we are in the EU but we are not necessarily of the union. In theory, we support and value what unites the union but we reserve the right to be selective on this as it suits us.
As with so much else, economic and monetary issues remain the key priority for Malta’s government and public so it is no surprise that price stability would trump democracy and freedom in the minds of many.
Democracy and freedom remain ‘abstract’ for many Maltese while money in the pocket is paramount, even as their brothers and sisters in Ukraine are being bombed out of existence.
Much of Maltese sentiment, including in this survey, reflects ongoing ambivalence regarding the nature and consequences of the war on Ukrainians. While Malta is not officially neutral on the war, it remains a distant event, something happening to others, something beyond our immediate interest or concern.
Insofar as surveys go, a careful and reflective ‘reading’ of this Eurobarometer tells us much about ourselves.
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