Curmudgeons in Bulgaria and Romania have saved Hungary
from the ignominy of being the self-proclaimed unhappiest nation in the EU. The
latest Eurobarometer survey from the EU’s polling organisation reveals that 52%
of Hungarians are “satisfied with their lives”.
With only half of the country feeling something is
missing, this places the country ahead of Romania and Bulgaria. Clearly joining
the EU in 2007 was no panacea for the newest member states. Only 49% of
Romanians are happy with their lot, while the figure for Bulgarians is a mere 38%.
Hungary has clearly moved on from the position it held
in 1985 when the country was the suicide capital of the world and 67 out of
every 100,000 deaths were self inflicted. Now the rate is a “mere” 27 per
100,000. Current world leaders in self destruction are the former Soviet
republics of Lithuania, Belarus and Russia, where 38, 35, and 34 citizens per
100,000 respectively die by their own hand, according to the latest World
Health Organisation (WHO) figures.
The above evidence is not, however, reason to believe
that Hungarians – currently struggling under a tough government austerity drive
to reduce the EU’s largest budget deficit ratio – are about to shake off their
reputation for pessimism any time soon.
The Eurobarometer survey, conducted from September to
November last year, also asked citizens what they thought 2008 had in store for
them. Only 9% of Hungarians believe that the employment situation in their
country is going to improve this year. Only 8% believe the situation of the economy
is “good” – in both cases the lowest figure in the EU.
When asked whether they believe their country’s
membership of the EU is “a good thing”, only 40% of Hungarians replied in the
positive, making them the fourth most anti-EU people in the union after Austria
(38%) and Latvia (37%). Perhaps unsurprisingly, the UK proved to be the most
avowedly Eurosceptic land: only 34% of respondents from the island nation
believe being in the EU is good for their country.
Has Hungary benefited, or will it benefit, from EU
membership? Only 42% of its inhabitants believe so. Only the UK and Cyprus –
both with only 37% – were less optimistic about the joys of membership.
One aspect of the EU in which Hungarian citizens
appear to have more faith is its institutions. When asked how they felt about
the European Commission, 61% expressed a tendency to trust it, placing them at
fifth position in the EU (the UK was last at 22%). The European Parliament has
gained the trust of 67% of Hungarians, while Greece has the most faith at 77%,
Romania second at 72% and the UK is most sceptical at 25%.
The most serious problems facing their country –
according to the Hungarians themselves – are unemployment, healthcare, rising
prices, the economic situation and crime.