What is public Euroscepticism?

Posted by ap507 at Dec 20, 2017 10:30 AM |
Dr Simona Guerra from our School of History, Politics and International Relations discusses attitudes towards the EU after the 2016 British referendum

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What is public Euroscepticism? This question emerged during the last panel at the CODES, Comprehending and Understanding Euroscepticism, International Conference in Bratislava (14-15 December 2017). A EU funded project, CODES brings together research partners from Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary and Latvia coordinated by colleagues from Comenius University in Bratislava.

While addressing the main findings from the CODES research up to date, it is worth to note that public criticism of the European Union (EU) and its institutions has seen one its peaks with the 2016 British referendum on EU membership (June 2016), showing its embeddedness and persistence across different social actors (FitzGibbon 2013a; Usherwood 2013; Startin and Usherwood 2013, Brack and Costa 2012).

The analysis on the impact of the economic crisis does not show a positive causal relationship with increasing Euroscepticism, but positive attitudes are unsurprisingly declining in countries suffering most from it (Serricchio et al. 2013). In new member states, as Croatia or Poland, young people, the age cohort that has generally been the most enthusiastic of the EU integration process, view decreasing levels of support (Guerra 2018), whilst recent Eurobarometer data (2017) shows that opposition is still high in Italy, the Czech Republic and Greece. While the study of Euroscepticism has mainly focused on its dimension at the party levels and within different policy dimensions, my analysis examines public Euroscepticism, as this has become more and more determinant on the EU integration process.

CODES has gathered together numerous workshops and events, amongst these, discussions with 50 citizens and 11 debates in Austria, five events in Germany, further five, with 95 participants, among citizens, and three events with local media, NGO representatives and school teachers in Latvia, and about 90 citizens in Slovakia. Findings address seven common points and support earlier results from analysis on attitudes towards the EU and European identity.

First, all these events viewed lack of positive or neutral narrative, with predominantly critical voices. FitzGibbon (2013b) already noted this, by pointing to pro-systemic attitudes with critical voices towards the current direction of the EU integration process, defining this phenomenon as Euroalternativism.

Second, the Latvian case addressed the emotional dimension, that emerged also in other country cases, mainly among more extreme and negative positions. This has been the focus of recent analysis after the Greek and British referenda, and it can further highlight the impact of emotion on future behavior.

Third, the CODES research group looked for a possible cleavage and agreed that mostly support correlated with a cosmopolitan/liberal category, which has already been examined following the elections in Britain and the USA, and termed as the rise of the well-educated (see also the recent Political Quarterly Annual Lecture by David Runciman, 2017).

Fourth, in the post-communist case, research shows a mismatch between high expectations and low deliveries, but also citizens’ concerns towards policy fields where the EU does not have any voice. As Mr Eduard Kukan MEP noted, there exists a double language between Brussels and domestic politics, where political elites can have a long-term impact on the adoption of the ‘blame the EU’ narrative, and they need to take responsibility of this.

Fifth, member states tend to blame ‘the other’ (member state) for the challenging economic, social and political situation, in Latvia research shows not just Euroscepticism or Euro-apathy, but Euro-conflicted-ness, where citizens complain that the country diligently implement and implemented any reform or EU requirements, and still need to pay or show solidarity for countries like Greece, ‘that always abused the system’. This emerges also in the case of Austria towards all the Central and Eastern Europe region, while in Slovakia points to both Germany and Brussels, ‘is it moral to have such inequalities if we want to be a single voice/entity?’.

Sixth, there are some common narratives, that already Stavrakakis and Katsambekis noted in the Greek case and can turn around the ‘us vs. them’ dichotomy, in Greece it points to the Weimarization of the EU, in Germany it addresses that rules are not applied equally, ‘is this the Union of 28 or what?’, with the focus on the loss of shared of core values and lack of solidarity. Seventh, all noted that ‘remote governance is extremely difficult to be communicated’, and possibly communication needs to start locally to then move towards the EU.

Findings from the qualitative approach adopted by the CODES project hold true with a previous study conducted with Fabio Serricchio (2014), where in a comparative analysis between Western and Eastern member states and a focus on Italy and Poland, we found that the utilitarian model, cited in the case of Slovakia, but also Latvia and Germany, is most explanatory in the Eastern case, with Poland quite in line with patterns in the region. In the Western case, the analysis showed that identity and political cues are the determinants of attitudes towards the EU. In particular, our analysis indicates that the only significant factor across all cases is EU identity ‘achieved’. Just feeling ‘European’, being born in the EU, to be a Christian can be not a sufficient factor to support the EU, but (i) To respect European Union’s laws and institutions; (ii) To master any European language; and (iii) To exercise citizens' rights, like being active in politics of the European Union (voted in EP elections, at local elections in another EU country) is a significant determinant to support the EU (see table).

- In Guerra and Serricchio (2014)

These findings can be further corroborated by studies on the Erasmus experience, which showed that students enrolled in the program were more interested in other European countries (90%) and felt more European, although students attracted to studying abroad could already possess a more pro-EU attitude (Mitchell 2012). Further, if this is the common factor across the east and the west, and the two case studies, and it still emerging as the significant factors in the cases under examination in the CODES project, it can also suggest that, despite the financial crisis and the refugee crisis, the eastward enlargement of the EU and the principle of free movement have strengthened a EU identity and public support for the EU.

Identity, however, may refer to the performance and efficacy of EU institutions as a form of output legitimacy. The slowdown of the integration process and the impact of the financial crisis can also create different domestic tensions and dynamics, as in the Austrian, German, Slovakian and Latvian cases, where solidarity towards other member states is lost among perceived high costs of the EU integration process.

Forthcoming in Simona Guerra (2018) What is Euroscepticism? Unleashing emotion in contemporary contentious politics (Edward Elgar, New Horizon in European Politics Series)



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