Europeans are experiencing a crisis of confidence in the EU due to its handling of the Covid pandemic and vaccine rollout, a new report has revealed.
The European Commission and EU countries came under fire for missteps in their joint inoculation programme that lagged badly behind the UK.
As a result, the study showed the bloc’s citizens now had a complicated relationship with the UK following its exit from the EU and success in procuring vaccines.
Although most people in the EU see Britain as an “ally” or a “necessary partner", the report says EU citizens tend to see the UK as a country they must cooperate strategically rather with rather than share interests and values.
Denmark is the only country on the continent where the majority (39%) see the UK as an ally, according to The Crisis of confidence: How Europeans see their place in the world report.
Negative sentiment for Britain is most prominent in the major European countries such as Germany, Spain and France.
More people in Germany (20%) saw the UK as a rival than an ally (14%).
The majority of the Spanish (42%) and French (36%) thought the UK was a necessary partner.
But both of them also had a significant number of people who saw the UK as a rival with 17% and 16% respectively.
The research comes as Brexit talks continue to go on amid tensions over the Northern Ireland protocol.
On Wednesday, talks aimed at ending the deadlock over implementing the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement in Northern Ireland have ended without a breakthrough.
Following a three-and-a-half-hour meeting with European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic, Brexit minister Lord Frost said they had had a “frank and honest” discussion and had agreed to continue the negotiations.
“There weren’t any breakthroughs. There aren’t any breakdowns either and we’re going to carry on talking,” he said.
The meeting took place against the backdrop of continuing tensions over checks on goods moving to Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK as required under the terms of the Northern Ireland Protocol in the agreement.
Lord Frost refused to rule out the prospect that the UK could unilaterally delay the implementation of checks on chilled meats – due to come in at the end of the month – if there was no agreement before then.
Ahead of the meeting, Mr Sefcovic raised the prospect that such a move could trigger a trade war, saying the EU would respond “firmly and resolutely” if the UK failed to meet its international treaty obligations.
Meanwhile, the vaccine rollout in the EU has since improved, with many nations including France and Germany accelerating their inoculations.
The bloc was criticised for being slower to negotiate contracts with vaccine manufacturers, and the EU's executive and drug regulator have come under increasing pressure for what some consider slow vaccine approvals.
The report said: ‘But it (slow EU vaccine rollout) also hit on a very uncomfortable truth: that the UK, having left the EU, was able to secure swift vaccine authorisation and tight contracting with pharmaceutical firms.
‘It called into question prior assumptions that EU member states were better equipped to see off the global pandemic by virtue of being part of a union.’
It said the pandemic presented an opportunity for the EU to prove it could act quickly and decisively but it failed.
The report added: “But the EU missed its opportunity to present a credible narrative of strong European leadership after the agreement of the EU recovery package in summer 2020.
“Then, the slow and chaotic start to the vaccine roll-out at the beginning of 2021 raised big questions about the EU’s capacity to steer its member states through the crisis.
“Disappointment with EU institutions has now come out of the periphery and gone mainstream.”
The study showed European citizens now had less confidence in EU institutions but added the European project was not over because citizens still bought into the idea of greater cooperation and strengthening the bloc on the world stage.
Watch: No breakthrough in UK-EU talks over Northern Ireland border checks