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Galina Kolev IW News 28. March 2019

Protectionism: Puzzling attitudes towards protectionism related to lacking knowledge

The changing course of US trade policy since the election of Donald Trump has strengthened the image of free trade in the EU. However, almost 40 percent of EU citizens also support protectionism. This is puzzling, yet lacking knowledge is an important explanation, a new IW study shows. An information campaign is inevitable in order to secure the sustainability of EU Trade policy.

The Eurobarometer survey shows: A sound majority of 71 percent of EU citizens are in favor of free trade. However, there are many Europeans who advocate protectionims at the same time. Almost every third respondent to the survey states, both terms – protectionism and free trade, are something positive. Especially in Cyprus, Ireland, Spain, Romania and Greece, many people support both concepts. Protectionism and free trade are incompatible, though.

One reason could be that while many respondents favor the concept of free trade, at the same time, they feel that higher pressure coming from international competition requires some protection for domestic industry and its jobs as well.

A recent IW study looks into the reasons for these contradictory responses. The result: The inconsistency in the responses is directly related to the education level and the knowledge of political matters. The better educated the respondents are and the more often they discuss political issues, the less likely they are to give inconsistent answers. „This shows us that many EU citizens are not well enough informed“, says study author Galina Kolev. 

Although the EU Commission’s website and its “Trade for All” strategy already provide detailed information on EU trade policy in a simple language, obviously many citizens do not use the offers. „An information campaign could help increase citizens‘ trust in EU trade policy“, says Kolev. Otherwise, the next free trade agreement could again face great resistance – simply because many Europeans are not sufficiently informed.

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Galina Kolev: Understanding Protectionism – Empirical Analysis of Protectionist Attitudes in the EU


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