On April 2, Finnish politician Asseri Kinnunen sent out a claim on Twitter about the willingness to defend one’s country in the three most populous EU countries. Kinnunen is the chairman of The Finns Party Youth and a candidate in the upcoming European Parliament elections. The tweet was part of the discussion around the Finnish parliamentary elections of 2019.
The Finns Party is in general against the federalisation of the European Union. Kinnunen wants Finland to have a strong independent military since he does not believe in other countries’ willingness to defend Finland. He has been talking about the topic actively especially on Twitter.
An opinion poll conducted by WIN/Gallup International in 2014 showed that the people’s willingness to defend their country is low in Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. 29 percent of the French, 27 percent of the Brits, and 18 percent of the Germans were ready to stand for their country if needed.
The sample size for the poll was around 1000 people per country. Compared to the populations of these countries this might look like a relatively low sample size, but it is a common number and the margin of error is very low.
WIN/International Gallup can be deemed a trustworthy source. It was a co-operation of two independent polling firms, the Gallup International Association and the Worldwide Independent Network of Market Research. These are some of the largest polling firms in their respective regions. The co-operation ended in 2017, and the poll about people’s willingness to defend their country only remains in Gallup International’s Bulgarian division’s archaic-looking site, which seems a little odd. The site still is most likely authentic.
Common security policy in the EU gets a yes from Germany, France and the United Kingdom
According to the Standard Eurobarometer conducted in 2018, many Europeans are in favour of a common defence and security policy among EU member states. 86 percent of the Germans, 74 percent of the French and 63 percent of the British are for this idea. It is noteworthy that Germany, France, and the United Kingdom belong to NATO.
This leads us to think that the people of these countries trust that the EU will work together in the future, if a common security policy is needed. Also, according to a Forsa poll conducted on behalf of the RTL Group, Germans thought that Europe was not dependent on help from the outside, for example the United States. 37 percent thought that Europe needed military help from the US. The poll was conducted in July 2018.
European Defence Agency has no statistics on the subject
Asseri Kinnunen told us over the phone that to his recollection the WIN/Gallup International poll was the same one he referred to in his tweet. From the way he described the poll we have concluded that it is probably the same one. We have not found any other research on the topic.
We asked if the European Defence Agency (EDA) had any information about the topic, and on 24 April we received an answer:
“Unfortunately, we have no statistics or information about the topic you mentioned, nor do we know any other research done on this question or institution which could [you] provide you with the requested info.”
Opinions have not changed much in Finland and Norway
We looked at statistics from Finland and Norway for reference. These countries ask their citizens’ willingness to defend their country on a survey every year. The surveys are made by The Advisory Board for Defence Information (ABDI) in Finland and People and Defence in Norway. Both of these are in some way connected to the parliaments of these countries.
We chose to investigate the surveys from 2014 to 2018 because the survey by WIN/Gallup International was conducted in 2014. Our goal was simply to see if the willingness to defend one’s own country had decreased or increased among these two countries.
In Finland the willingness to defend one´s own country increased by 3 percentage points after 2014. During the following few years the percentage stayed at 87, but it decreased back to 84 in 2018. In Norway, the percentage grew by 8 percentage points from 67 in 2014 to 75 in 2017 but came down to 72 in 2018.
These results show that while the willingness to defend one’s country can change over the years, it is unlikely to have a change of tens of percentage points in five years in the case of Germany, France or the United Kingdom either. A change of tens of percentage points would be needed before one could talk about a majority, that is over 50 percent.
Since we could not find any other surveys on this exact topic, we do not know if the opinions have changed in any way since 2014. A lot has happened in five years, so opinions could differ today. For example, the crisis and on-going war in Ukraine could have affected the results.
It is reasonable to assume that there are no other polls on the topic, and therefore Kinnunen’s phrasing, which implied that there have been several studies on the subject, is incorrect. However, it remains unclear if other polls on the subject have been conducted that are yet to be published.
We have concluded that Kinnunen’s claim is uncheckable. The only poll that was found supported his claim, but there does not seem to be any other research on the topic.
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