Geopolitics

Optimism Rises in Most European Nations as Natural Gas Prices Fall

Hard work and luck seem to be paying political dividends as the worst winter prognostications are avoided

Storage tanks at the Liquefied Natural Gas terminal in December 2022 at the port of Barcelona. (Josep Lago/AFP via Getty Images)

Europeans in 11 of 13 nations surveyed daily by Morning Consult have become more optimistic about their nations’ trajectories over the past three months, as a mild winter and continental coordination on natural gas supplies appear to have averted the worst potential outcomes.

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Most European Populaces Are Increasingly Optimistic About Their Nations’ Trajectories

Share of adults in each country who say their country is on the right track

Surveys conducted among representative samples of at least 609 adults in each country, with unweighted margins of error of +/-1 to 4 percentage points.
  • Among all nations surveyed Sept. 25-Oct. 1 and Jan 4-10, shares of respondents who say their nation is on the right track rose an average of 3 percentage points. 
  • Italy, the Czech Republic, Germany and Poland — the four countries among those surveyed that relied most on Russian natural gas in 2021, according to the International Energy Agency — saw the largest improvements in optimism.
  • Italy, which saw the biggest increase at 10 percentage points, may have received an additional boost from the election of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni in mid-October. She has since become the most popular leader in the European Union, according to Morning Consult’s Global Leader Approval Ratings tracker
  • Only two nations saw declines in optimism: Norway — another big supplier of natural gas to Europe — and France, which is more insulated from energy market shocks due to its extensive nuclear power grid.

Optimism improves as natural gas prices tumble

Many analysts foresaw a difficult winter for Europe in 2023 as sanctions on Russian energy exports put multiple governments in a tight spot following decades of accrued reliance on Moscow’s natural gas during the winter heating season.

In the ensuing months, E.U. leaders demonstrated the kind of close coordination experts said they would need to weather the crisis, finding consensus during tough negotiations on cutting consumption and imposing a price cap on Russian imports. But they also got lucky — longer-term climate change consequences notwithstanding — with unusually mild winter weather that has sent demand plummeting. Natural gas prices slipped below where they stood when Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, having tumbled through autumn. 

The upshot is that many Europeans now feel at least a little better about their nation’s prospects than they did in October, with particularly large improvements in countries that risked the most by cutting off Russian imports. That said, in every country surveyed, the share of respondents who say their nation is on the wrong track still exceeds the share who say the opposite.

Norway and France buck the trend

The only nation that is likely unhappy to see the decline in natural gas prices is Norway, which stood to make tidy profits off elevated demand for natural gas as the European Union cut off its main competitor. Norwegians are 5 percentage points less likely to say their country is on the right track now than in the autumn survey

France also saw a more modest decline in optimism of 3 percentage points, but France sources roughly 40% of its energy from nuclear power, and is significantly less reliant on natural gas than its peer economies in Europe. That means what made for good news in other countries likely had less of an impact on French attitudes than, for example, major labor upheaval or French President Emmanuel Macron’s controversial effort to change the national pension system.