In a poll conducted in December 2020 as part of Oxford University’s Europe Stories research project, 74% of participants said the European Union would ‘not be worth having’ without freedom of movement.

The poll, a collaboration with eupinions – which collects and analyses data on the European public’s views on current affairs – invited participants to respond to the following statement: “If it did not offer the freedom to travel, work, study and live in other EU member states, the European Union would not be worth having.” 

All 27 EU member states were polled, as well as the UK, with participants choosing whether to strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree or strongly disagree with the statement.

The researchers found that while responses to this question were similar across demographic groups, there was some difference between countries, with those in Poland most likely to disagree with the statement. 

The importance of freedom of movement to Europeans was further discovered when participants were asked, “What are the most important things the EU has done for you?”. The report found that freedom to travel was in the top three for 61%; opportunities to live, work and study in Europe for 53%; and peace and external security for 38%. 

The results suggest continuity in public opinion since a 2018 Eurobarometer poll, which found four in five Europeans were supportive of free movement in the EU.

Among other findings of the poll was a preference for outcomes rather than for political process. 59% agreed that “as long as the EU delivers effective action, the presence or absence of the European Parliament is of secondary importance”. Notably, three in five of those who previously agreed that it was important to have a European Parliament also agreed with the above statement. This suggests that even for those who believe in the importance of a European Parliament, the effectiveness of its policymaking is still more important than just its existence.

The results of the poll come amidst EU freedom of movement restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic and as a result of Brexit. The UK left the EU on the 1st January 2021 and also signed the Immigration Act on the 11th November 2020, ending freedom of movement for EU citizens within the UK from the 31st December 2020. 

The research project was led by Professor Timothy Garton Ash, who is Professor of European Studies at Oxford, and Isaiah Berlin Professorial Fellow at St. Antony’s College. Professor Garton Ash said, “The irony is not lost on us, that this freedom is precisely what most British citizens have just lost following the UK’s departure from the EU.” 

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