Europeans and their views on European economic governance

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StoeckelBy Florian Stoeckel (SPS MW Fellow 2014-2016)

A summary of the article, which was recently awarded the Best Paper Award 2015 of the Journal of European Public Policy: Kuhn, Theresa, and Florian Stoeckel (2014). When European Integration Becomes Costly: The Euro Crisis and Public Support for European Economic Governance.  Journal of European Public Policy. 21(4), 624-641.

One of the ways in which the member states of the European Union (EU) try to solve the Euro crisis – and prevent another one from happening – is to strengthen the role of the EU in the realm of national economic policymaking. This includes measures such as a stronger role for the EU in regulating financial services, the coordination of economic policies between EU member states, and EU supervision of the use of public money when financial institutions are bailed out. These steps towards more intergovernmental cooperation and supranational oversight – in short, European economic governance – involve a transfer of authority from the nation state to the level of the EU. However, do Europeans approve of these measures? In which countries do we find support for European economic governance and where do citizens reject it? And what factors motivate those who oppose a stronger role of the EU in economic affairs? The JEPP article I co-authored with Theresa Kuhn examines these issues and offers an explanation for both support and opposition to European economic governance. Our analysis is based on a Eurobarometer survey that was conducted in all EU member states, hence involving data from about 22,000 respondents.

One of the most striking findings of our analysis is that citizens differentiate between support for the EU in general and support for European economic governance in particular. For instance, in Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland and Sweden we find high levels of support for the EU in general but comparably low levels of support for the extension of European economic governance. In countries like Austria, Latvia and the UK, support for both the EU and European economic governance is low. Interestingly, in some of the economically struggling EU member states – like Greece, Portugal, and Cyprus, support for European economic governance exceeds support for the EU. On average, citizens in countries with poor macroeconomic indicators are more supportive of European economic governance than those in countries that are doing well. This supports the notion that EU citizens in crisis-ridden countries see European economic governance as a remedy. Citizens in countries with stable economies interpret a stronger role of the EU in economic affairs as potentially harmful.

The difference between support for the EU at large and support for European economic governance is also shown in differences between individuals. For instance, individuals with high levels of education, high incomes or high status occupations are usually those with the highest levels of support for the EU across its member states. These individuals benefit particularly from the opportunities an integrated Europe offers. Yet, citizens with different levels of income, education or occupations do not exhibit similarly distinct levels of support for European economic governance. A stronger role for the EU in the realm of economic governance does not seem to create salient material benefits to any societal group in particular. The only exception is that citizens who are unemployed put much hope into the prospects of European economic governance; jobless citizens support European economic governance more than any other societal group in the EU.

While our data show that socio-economic factors do not explain who supports and who opposes European economic governance being exercised in Brussels, citizens’ identities play a strong role in understanding this division. A share of individuals in the EU considers themselves both citizens of their nation state as well as citizens of the wider community created by the EU. In short, these individuals have a national identity as well as a European identity. The other individuals – about 35 percent of Europeans – consider themselves citizens of their respective EU member state alone. For these individuals, the transfer of authority to Brussels is experienced as a loss of sovereignty and hence they oppose European integration. Whether individuals see themselves also as Europeans and not merely citizens of a single country is important for whether or not they support European economic governance: even among citizens with a comparable education, income or occupation it is only the more cosmopolitan individuals holding a European identity who also embrace the strengthening of European economic governance. Those who view themselves exclusively as German, French, or Dutch prefer to steer clear of intergovernmental cooperation and supranational oversight. Interestingly, however, this division is less pronounced in poorer EU member states than in richer ones. Identity based reservations against interference caused by European economic governance can apparently be offset to some extent when the economy does not run well. In this case, European economic governance can be a bitter but necessary pill to swallow.