The Angel Lies in the Details. What do European Citizens Expect for the New Parliament and the Commission?
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This study, based on own calculations on Eurobarometer databases, explores attitudes of EU citizens regarding the future of Europe. The Eurobarometer surveys are used here to examine the ratio of the supporters of different options identified in the New Pact for Europe Project.
State of the views on the Union
• While the majority of the citizens in the European Union are rather dissatisfied with the state of affairs in the EU, we cannot see aversion in the public opinion towards policies of more integration. Just the opposite. It seems that the Angel lies in the details, while the Devil lies in the big picture: while European citizens are willing to support policy measures that deepen the integration, they have a negative image of the EU in general. The “Angel” refers to policy options that EU citizens are or would be satisfied with, while the “Devil” refers to the political and policy trends that they dislike.
• There is much stronger support of deeper integration that the common sense and public discourses around the EU would suggest. Policy-wise, EU citizens rather support solutions that point towards greater integration in many fields, including a more coordinated banking supervision, fiscal policy, economic policy and foreign policy.
• While 11% of the respondents would like to leave the EU, and 12% would rather support policies towards less integration, 65% of EU citizens seem to support further integration. 30% of European respondents would cautiously move forward in integration, and 35% of the respondents would leap forward, and deepen the integration.
• How is it possible that most EU citizens are euro-pessimistic in their general attitudes and pro-integrationists in their policy preferences at the same time? How can the Devil and the Angel be so entwined? The explanation might be that while many EU citizens see fundamental problems with the EU, they can easily imagine that the EU should “escape ahead” from the crisis, and that deeper integration can cure some of the problems.
What should be done?
• The task of the European and national leaders is twofold:
- Promoting the Angel. Endorse the policies of deeper integration, without fear of the negative reaction of the citizens, and hope that the policies themselves can help to “sell” the EU project as well.
- Defeating the Devil. Work more intensely on improving the image of the European Union by redefining the European idea and trying to make it attractive for the European citizens. Framing is crucially important here: the major problem of the discourse on the EU is the framing of deeper integration as the “death of the nation states”, which can also potentially shift the attitudes of the originally pro-European voters to the idea of less integration.
• Education seems to be a crucial factor in making EU citizens more receptive to the ideas of further integration, therefore more investment in Education – especially in terms of guaranteeing wide access to higher levels of education – might be a key element to provide the necessary social and political support for the continuation of the integration project.
• More than one-fifth of EU citizens seem to be hesitant whether they want to see their respective countries in the EU in the future or not. Even among those supporting Option 4 (Leaping forward) their ratio is 19%, rising to 26% and 25% among those opting for option 3 and 2, respectively. 45% of the ones who support Option 1 (less EU) tend to agree that being outside the EU would be better than inside. This is a primary goal of the decision-makers to persuade these rather hesitant and disillusioned EU citizens that the EU has more advantages than disadvantages.