Party Systems and Governments Observatory: A New Research Tool

By Fernando Casal Bértoa

Have you ever wondered who governs the countries of Europe? Would you like to know who governed your country more than a century ago? Are you not sure about the partisan affiliation of ministers in your neighboring states? Are you interested in discovering how has the (economic and financial) crisis affected the composition of European governments and party systems?

Now a quick answer to all these questions, and more, is possible thanks to a new research project at the University of Nottingham: namely, the Party Systems and Governments Observatory (PSGo), a new research interactive tool (whogoverns.eu)[1] where data on government formation and party system institutionalization in 48 European democratic states since 1848 can be found. European indicates those countries stretching from the Atlantic to the Urals. Democratic refers to those countries displaying (1) a score of 6 or higher in the Polity IV index, (2) universal suffrage elections (including universal male suffrage only, when historically appropriate), and (3) governments formed and/or relying on a parliamentary majority, rather than on the exclusive will of the head of state. States includes those countries recognized by either the United Nations or the Council of Nations.[2]

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Ukip Supporters have a Strong Bond with the Party

By Matthew Goodwin 

Is Britain’s two-party system really about to crumble? This question was the title of an academic paper that was written back in 1982. Like many other observers at the time, the academic Ivor Crewe had been captivated by the sudden rise of a new challenger to the main parties: the Social Democratic Party. The SDP’s surge was truly astonishing; it won a string of parliamentary by-elections, attracted more than two dozen defecting MPs and was soon polling ahead of all the other parties. At one point the SDP was on more than 50 per cent.

At first glance the scale of the SDP’s insurgency makes the contemporary rise of Ukip seem much less impressive. Ukip has only two seats in the House of Commons, continues to average only 16 per cent in the opinion polls and you would be hard pushed to find a serious commentator who thinks that Nigel Farage’s party will attract more than 20 per cent of the vote at the 2015 general election. Ukip also remains prone to public relations disasters and is a polarising force. A new poll by YouGov this week indicated that around one in four voters would struggle to remain friends with a Ukip supporter. Continue reading

The rise of euroscepticism in Croatia

Despite the current challenging economic times and the alleged enlargement fatigue, on Monday, July 1st 2013 Croatia became the 28th EU member state. Further Western Balkans countries, such as Montenegro, the Former Republic of Macedonia and Serbia, are waiting to join, while Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo hope to gain official status as candidate countries soon.

Croatia applied for EU membership in 2003. In June 2004 it was granted official EU candidate status, and in October 2005 the negotiation process started. Between 2004 and 2005 the high levels of public enthusiasm in Croatia towards EU integration decreased and opposition to it increased markedly, while the EU itself experienced a slowdown with the double rejection of the EU Constitution in France and the Netherlands.

Figure 1. Public support for EU integration in Croatia (2000-2011)

Figure 1

Source: Ministry of Foreign and European Integration (Ministarstvo Vanjskih i Europskih Poslova: MVPEI) For comparative public opinion data, see Eurobarometer surveys.

Lower levels of public support are to be expected after the opening of the negotiation process. The post-communist countries that joined the EU in 2004 and 2007 showed similar patterns of attitudes towards the EU. As Figures 2 and 3 illustrate, levels of opposition towards EU integration increased after 1998 in the Czech Republic, where public support has never been high. The same happened in Poland where positive attitudes towards EU integration were high until 1997, when the EU opened the integration process.

Figure 2. Image of the EU in the Czech Republic (1993-2003)

Figure 2

Source: Central and Eastern Eurobarometer (1991-1998) and Candidate Countries Eurobarometer (2001-2003)

Figure 3. Image of the EU in Poland (1992-2003)

Figure 3

Source: Central and Eastern Eurobarometer (1991-1998) and Candidate Countries Eurobarometer (2001-2003)

In Croatia, the costs of the integration process and the demands of political conditionality – in particular facing the past, war crimes, and passing through the removal of immunity for its former Prime Minister, Ivo Sanader, who opened Croatia to the EU integration process – have affected Croatian attitudes towards the EU. If public opinion is now a measure of the process of European integration and citizens can express their protest and opposition through referenda and European Parliament (EP) elections, Croatia joined the EU when opposition was at its highest since 2000 (see Figure 1).

Although, in 2006, there were growing fears about the implications of EU integration, Croatian political elites were optimistic. The vast majority of Croatian citizens referred to the advantage of open borders (80%), economic development (79%), and general significant progresses (80%). The partial loss of independence was not that relevant at the time (36%), but the necessity for regional cooperation (55%) and negative consequences for the national economy (53%) already concerned more than half of Croatian citizens. The 2004 enlargement of the European Union had shown that the waiting time for EU membership and the perceived lack of relevant information could negatively impact on levels of public support.

In order to avoid rising levels of public Euroscepticism, the Croatian government adopted two communication strategies, in 2001 and 2006. The main aim of these strategies was to inform citizens on the progress toward European integration and enhance the quality of the debates on EU integration, but the two communication strategies and the information campaign did not garner much interest. In 2006, the Croatian public were growing increasingly concerned about the impact of EU membership on the economy (87%), everyday life (84%), and the impact of membership on sovereignty (84%). Unsurprisingly, surveys showed that more and more Croats were willing to vote against EU membership (14% in 2003, 39% in June 2004, and 45% in 2006).

It is also fundamental to note that the case of Croatia can be seen as both typical and different compared to the wider post-communist region. The Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) has had a dominant position in the democratization process, and its role is viewed as a negative factor in the transition. Its focus has been on independence and statehood, less on democratization; with its leader, Franjo Tudjman, representing the Croats more than Croatia.

In comparison with the countries of the post-communist region, Croats assume distinct positions, with a very dissatisfied attitude towards how democracy is developing in the country, but a very high (the highest in the region) positive value on democracy in principle. This resulted in critical attitudes towards the way democracy was developing in Croatia; while the conditions for EU membership were challenging public opinion and were perceived as insulting Croatian national pride.

Further perspective challenges arise from the possible impact of membership on the policy-making process, being a small member state. If, in the 1990s, EU integration could be viewed as a civilizational choice (leaving behind the past and the war), the awareness that Croatia was not just a victim of war crimes and the slowing down of the negotiation process, in particular on the border dispute with Slovenia between 2008 and 2009, affected the early Euroenthusiasm. In January 2012 only one out of three Croats voted ‘Yes’ at the accession referendum on a 43.51% turnout, still valid after a Constitution amendment in 2010, but resulting in a meagre one third of Croats overall supporting EU integration on the EU referendum day.

The Croatian case is also distinctive in the region, as a very low percentage of young voters were mobilized by the referendum. While generally young Europeans were the most in favour of EU integration in the post-communist region ten years before, the benefit of travelling and studying abroad did not make any difference in Croatia. Levels of participation in the country remained at a record low (20.84%) at the first European Parliament elections, held on 14 April 2013. At the domestic level, that was the lowest turnout since Croatia’s independence. Low levels of turnout are common across the post-communist countries and the ‘second-order’ dimension of the European elections can be detected.

The literature distinguishes between ‘first-order’ elections, such as general elections at the national level, where citizens vote on who should govern the country, and ‘second-order’ elections, such as regional or local elections, and European Parliament elections, where citizens do not vote on the executive, but national party politics still affect the outcome. Compared to national elections and depending on the electoral cycle, ‘second-order’ elections are characterized by loss for governing parties, while opposition and protest parties can gain from the lower turnout. Although the model fully applies to western member states, voting can also show a second-order dimension in the new member states. In Croatia, the HDZ and the Social Democratic Party, representing the opposition and ruling coalitions in the country, gained respectively 6 and 5 seats.

The global financial crisis and high levels of unemployment rates (about 22% in Croatia in 2013) have affected the results and turnout at the EU accession referendum and EP elections, and help explain the persisting low levels of enthusiasm. Croatia joins the EU after the entering into force of the European Fiscal Compact, in a difficult domestic economic situation, and while corruption is still rampant. It should benefit from EU accession and the internal market, and it is important for the EU to have a foot in the Western Balkans and more voice to preserve democracy and securitize the region. The enlargement of the EU to Croatia definitely represents a ‘win-win’ situation for the newest member state and the EU itself.

Simona Guerra

Though currently indifferent, young Germans may begin to reject the EU if economic conditions worsen

Image by Malik_Braun

Image by Malik_Braun

Until the start of the Eurozone crisis, sociological research on integration in the European Union depended very much on the idea of “permissive consensus” by the people, meaning a tacit acceptance of EU policy. In this context and in Germany in particular, the political and economic elites who pushed for the deepening and enlargement of the EU, and for the introduction of the euro, were not forced to consider their relationship with, and the approval of, Europe’s citizens.

But this has changed. The newest research into public opinion in Europe has found a loss of trust and an increasingly unsettled relationship between Europe’s governing bodies and voters. Now, the prevailing notion of the EU’s relationship with its citizens has developed towards a “constraining dissensus”, as belief in the comprehensive projects aimed at closer European cooperation is no longer shared by the majority of the people. In this context, political and economic elites in the member states, as well as at the European level, are aware that the EU and its political institutions are dependent on a certain degree of public approval. Particularly in those member states where the constitution does not allow for a referendum (like in Germany), politicians are acting between two partly contradictory levels: the domestic and national state level, and the European level.

We focus on two different Euroscepticism ‘stances’ that have been developed:

  1. Soft stance: This represents the criticism of single manifestations of the EU, such as its policies and institutions, without putting the entire EU into question;
  2. Grim stance: This is a general rejection of the entire political and economic process of EU integration.

In Germany, according to Eurobarometer data, the sense of “EU integration harmony”, between voters, social elites and political parties, which until relatively recently had been very stable, has crashed. According to surveys from 2011, the proportion of Germans that feel that Germany benefits from the EU is 48 per cent, lower than the EU average of 52 per cent. Using net-benefit figures (the number of people who recognise benefits, minus those people who do not see any benefits), the picture sharpens even more. Whereas the EU average rate for net-benefit is 15 per cent, this rate is 6 per cent for Germany. Only the rates in Italy (2 per cent), Cyprus (2 per cent), Latvia (0 per cent), Austria (-2 per cent), Greece (-3 per cent), Hungary (-9 per cent) and the UK (-19 per cent) are lower.

In particular, the further enlargement of the EU is now viewed very critically by Germans. Eurobarometer demonstrates that in no other EU member country, with the exception of Austria, is the rejection of further EU enlargement so strong, at 71 per cent, whereas only 22 per cent are pro-enlargement. What makes these figures all the more worrying is that all German governments have acted as a driving force (together with France) for the further integration and enlargement of the EU.

At present, it is unclear how Germans would react if the country’s €190 billion share of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) loan guarantee was to actually turn into real payment obligations. Considering that the people in Germany opposed the creation of the euro more than in any other member state, we assume that Germans (including young people, whose futures might be deteriorating because of the Eurozone crisis) would become openly hostile towards the EU. This cannot be ignored by the economic and political elites.

As part of the European MYPLACE project, in the late autumn of 2012 we interviewed 30 West German young people between 16 and 25 about politics. When they were asked about the European Union and the role of Germany within it, young people generally mentioned some positive aspects, but were critical of the current political state of the EU. They perceive the EU as an elitist project which does not encourage or enable the political participation of young people.

Positive aspects of the EU 

The positive points most often highlighted by young people were the freedom of travel within the EU and the fact that there is no longer a need to change currencies when traveling. Some also pointed out that the abolition of strict border controls also means easier import and export routines for the economically strong and centrally located Germany:

“Well, we are for sure a very, very important country in Europe, because of our economic strength. There are many people living here, so we also play an important role, because of the density of our population … . In former times, we were also considered as ‘Europe’s heart’ … or we considered ourselves that way.”

Indifferent/ambivalent views on the EU 

For some young people, the central role of Germany in the EU is also the reason that they have a critical view of the EU. They see that it is difficult for Germany to play an important position in the EU, because of its former involvement in the two World Wars. Nevertheless, Germany now has an economically strong position within the EU from which many commitments have arisen: e.g. payments for countries which are not able to follow financial EU guidelines. Thus they think:

“Well, I think Germany is important for Europe. But actually I don’t think that Europe is that important for Germany.”

Moreover, the majority of young people criticised the obligations that are being placed on Germany to support indebted countries such as Greece. These respondents fear that their country is being exploited and believe that the financial support should be lower. Additionally, the interview participants expressed a critical position towards tendencies towards globalisation as these are connected with the clash of very different cultures and a loss of sovereignty. They already feel that they (as individuals) have very little political power within Germany. But one voice among 82 million voices counts more than one voice among 500 million voices in the EU:

“There are so many problems connected with it. First of all … suddenly there are not 80 million voices any more, but, I don’t know, one billion voices? […] This means I suddenly have much less power with my voice.”

Finally, our qualitative interviews illustrated that EU politics is not at all transparent for German young people. They feel that there are fewer prospects for participating at the EU level than there are at the national level. This leads us to the conclusion that there are emerging parallel worlds. 

On the one side, the parliamentary democracy of an EU member state fosters tendencies towards professionalised participation of its citizens at the national level, which is then much more complicated at the EU level. Even though a range of youth projects and initiatives that aim to foster commitment to the EU formally exist, these reach only a minority of young people. None of the individuals that we have interviewed in this context has ever referred to participation in an EU-funded project or organisation.

On the other side, there are young people who engage in projects and institutions that display a form of self-organisation, mostly at the local level, that is distant from the conventional political engagement patterns that make any reference to the EU. Youths prefer to shift their engagement from smaller to bigger things – as they perceive it “from feasible projects to more abstract things”.

Currently young people in Germany prefer the “soft stance” towards the EU. But if the ESM’s loan guarantees turn into real payment obligations (which has already started with a real cash payment of €730 million for 2013), and if the socio-economic conditions in Germany worsen and thus the currently record low youth unemployment rate of 7.9 per cent in January 2013 (the EU average is 23.6 per cent) increases, a majority of young people could move to a “grim stance” towards the EU, much sooner than expected.

EuroscepticismThis post is part of a collaboration between British Politics and PolicyEUROPP and Ballots & Bullets, which aims to examine the nature of euroscepticism in the UK and abroad from a wide range of perspectives. Read more posts from this series.

Britta Busse is a Research Assistant at the Institute Labour and Economy, University of Bremen (project funded by the EU: “MYPLACE”).

Alexandra Hashem-Wangler is co-leader in the EU-research project MYPLACE (“Memory, Youth, Political Legacy and Civic Engagement”) at the Institute Labour and Economy at the University of Bremen. 

Jochen Tholen is research director at the Institute Labour and Economy, at the University of Bremen, Germany. 

In countries where citizens tend to distrust the state euroscepticism is rooted in state-scepticism


It increasingly seems as if the prolonged economic crisis is slowly but surely generating an identity crisis in Europe. Unsurprisingly, increasing invocations of what is necessary are once again followed by a decrease in solidarity, a tendency which is even stronger in a transnational context, such as Europe. Of course, crises do not only have negative consequences. As they are also the beginning of any renewal, they hold the potential of emancipatory change. Therefore the question at present is whether this European identity crisis will result in the weakening of the union, or in the finding of a new, more inclusive collective identity.

The most important areas, where the outcome of this dilemma will be decided, are those national discourses, where the reason for the existence of the EU is questioned. As the fate of the EU fundamentally depends on the willingness of member states to give up a part of their sovereignty in exchange for economic, political, security and moral benefits, those processes where this willingness is renewed or changed are crucial. These processes are fundamentally embedded into local citizen-state relations, which ground the willingness to trust in any kind of authority.

That is the point where collective memory comes into the picture. In those countries, where historical experiences have ensured a trusting relationship between citizen and state, trusting the EU is framed in a completely different manner than in those countries  where the citizens tend to be distrustful of their own state. In the former cases the willingness to partially give up state sovereignty to the EU depends on the estimated effectiveness and trustworthiness of the EU-bureaucracy in comparison to the national state. However in the latter case, no such comparison is applied. Actually in that case those basic experiences of a trustworthy state are missing, which could ground a trust in an even more complex and distant meta-state such as the EU. In this sense the real problem in these countries is not euroscepticism, but state-scepticism.

Post-socialist Hungary certainly belongs to this latter group. During the 50 years of state socialism an alienated and paternalistic political culture emerged, which resulted in a mutually hostile and suspicious relation between citizens and state. Of course the transition provided an exceptional chance to overcome these destructive and unconscious habits. However as research shows, even in the case of the youngest of those who are deemed to be adults politically, no such overcoming has yet occurred.

According to a representative survey finished in 2011, almost 50% of the high school students answered “1” and 30% answered “2” to the question, “Personally how much do you trust politicians on a scale, where 1 means not at all and 5 means absolutely?” This means that approximately 80% of the younger generation, which has been socialized solely in the post-transition period are still highly suspicious towards politicians.

Questions concerning the EU are embedded within this context. While the general attitude towards the EU is ignorance (70% of the high school students answered that joining the EU did not affect their life at all), this could easily transform into suspicion. Although analysis of the data is ongoing, from our experience of fieldwork from the MYPLACE project it seems that young people do not have any personal experiences of the EU as such. Thus their concepts are derived from their impressions of the local political field.

This means that until relations between citizen and state improve on a local level, attitudes towards the EU will also tend towards negativity. It is important to note that this constellation is burdened with a special difficulty. As euroscepticism is rooted in state-scepticism, fighting the former requires the strengthening of the latter. However this results in a paradox, as the strengthening of the nation state implies the distancing from other state-like entities such as the EU.

In the present situation, when the future identity of the EU is at stake such a trap is particularly dangerous, as it could easily lead to the strengthening of populist voices, providing oversimplified solutions, which, above and beyond the problem of euroscepticism, constitutes a worrying tendency.

Domonkos Sik

EuroscepticismThis post is part of a collaboration between British Politics and PolicyEUROPP and Ballots & Bullets, which aims to examine the nature of euroscepticism in the UK and abroad from a wide range of perspectives. Read more posts from this series.




In political fiction the EU is either non-existent or portrayed as corrupt and dystopian


How we imagine politics is sometimes as important as how it really is – if the latter can ever be determined, that is. Indeed according to Benedict Anderson in his Imagined Communities, one of the most basic political concepts, the nation state, had to be first imagined before it could exist in reality. It is also generally accepted that while fiction can rarely over-turn strongly held points of view, it can reinforce existing opinions and subtly reframe how people think about a subject. At the very least fictions give us an insight into how people feel about political issues.

We now live in an era in which many talk of the death of the nation state and its supersession by globalisation and supranational bodies, probably the most important of which is the European Union. Indeed, the power of the EU within British politics, and the threat it poses to British sovereignty, is an abiding theme of those who seek to radically transform Westminster’s relationship with Brussels, or engineer an exit.

In researching my forthcoming study of how British politics has been imagined in fiction and drama since the days of Anthony Trollope, I have however come across remarkably few references to the role of the EU and its precursors. That tells a story in itself – and reflects the findings of countless opinion polls taken over the years, which suggest that most Britons do not think Europe is important to them. Clearly most authors consider that, as a consequence, it is not an especially interesting one.

Certainly, the popular 1980s sitcom Yes Minister rarely mentioned Brussels and when it did, it was associated with unnecessary regulation and huge perks for its officials. Those who wrote Margaret Thatcher’s favourite comedy series also considered that within the EEC national interests trumped all other considerations and those who believed otherwise – like Jim Hacker – were naive fools. In the fourth and final season of the New Statesman (1987-92), having lost his Commons seat the Eurosceptic and far-right Conservative Alan B’Stard is forced to become an MEP. He manages to install an acolyte as a European Commissioner who he has issue edicts that suit his financial interest. For B’Stard Europe is just like Westminster, his personal cash-cow, only in Brussels the rewards are even greater. Both series then presented Europe as a place of excessive bureaucracy and corruption, themes developed in Channel Four’s allegedly comic 1990 mini-series The Gravy Train, the title of which says it all.

The Gravy Train was unusual in being set in Brussels. Stanley Johnson’s 1987 novel The Commissioner was another such rarity. Johnson was a former Conservative MEP who had previously worked for the European Commission: he was also father of the future Mayor of London. His novel has a sacked Conservative minister shunted off to Brussels where he exposes corruption at the highest levels.

Johnson was just one of a number of Conservative figures who wrote  political novels during this period but he was the only one to have Europe as the main subject. However, Tim Renton in Hostage to Fortune (1997) did make an arch intervention in his party’s violent divisions over the power of Brussels. Renton was by then on the backbenches having stepped down from John Major’s Cabinet in 1992. His thriller has a Conservative Prime Minister and Labour Leader of the Opposition join in support for Britain’s entry into the Euro. Both believe Britain will benefit from the move so they put partisan considerations aside in the national interest. The reader is left in no doubt as to Renton’s approval of their initiative.

For the most part fictions about contemporary British politics have subsequently avoided the European subject: for example, I cannot think of one occasion when it was mentioned in The Thick of It.

Europe has nonetheless been depicted in various works of science fiction and thrillers set in the distant future: these are universally dystopian visions of a European super-state gone bad for one or other reason. In his 2003 comic thriller Incompetence Rob Grant for example has a federated Europe make stupidity a protected right. In his 2002 Super-state Brian Aldiss has Europe come a cropper after undertaking an Iraq-style invasion. Adam Lebor’s The Budapest Protocol (2011) even has an EU about to directly elect its President as part of the forward march to a super-state exposed as a Nazi Fourth Reich.

Set in 2045 in a United States of Europe – inevitably characterised as corrupt and bureaucratic and in which British identity is all-but snuffed out – Andrew Roberts’ 1994 The Aachen Memorandum suggested that European federalism was based on a fraud of staggering dimensions. It reflected the fears of one of Margaret Thatcher’s bigger fans – and keen supporter of Michael Portillo’s ambitions to replace Major – that the people’s patriotic voice will simply be over-ridden on Brussels’ march towards super-state-dom.

The imagined EU that emerges from such fictions is bureaucratic, corrupt and/or tyrannical and does not suggest that many Britons are ready to embrace federalism any time soon. This will of course not be news to our political leaders but it does indicate the depth of mistrust the EU arouses, when Britons can be bothered to think about it.

Steven Fielding


EuroscepticismThis post is part of a collaboration between British Politics and PolicyEUROPP and Ballots & Bullets, which aims to examine the nature of euroscepticism in the UK and abroad from a wide range of perspectives. Read more posts from this series.

EU membership: UKIP and the Conservatives are competing over an issue most voters don’t think is critical

Image by Euro Realist

Image by Euro Realist

European integration has long been a divisive issue in British politics, leading to differences within and between parties. Voters’ views on this tend to vary by party support but, in recent years at least, this subject has been some way down the list of issues that voters view as most salient. How do voters view the issue at the moment and what effect does this have on party competition?

From a party perspective, the rise of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) has served to exacerbate tensions among Conservatives over how far integration should go and whether the UK should remain a member of the European Union (EU). While the Conservative Parliamentary Party has become more Eurosceptic over time, as argued elsewhere, divisions remain between those favouring withdrawal, those wishing to see renegotiation of membership to varying degrees and those simply wanting integration to go no further than the status quo. Michael Fabricant’s leaked paper on dealing with the UKIP threat suggests a high degree of concern among some Conservatives about competition between the two parties especially given Tory divisions on the issue. This may only have been heightened following UKIP’s second place in the Eastleigh by-election. As Rob Ford argues though, any plans for a blue-purple alliance would be ill-advised at least partly due to the diversity of UKIP voters.

One way for parties to deal with internal dissent on the EU issue is to pledge a referendum to be held some way off in the future. This helps to shift the conflict out of the parliamentary party and postpones a potentially divisive discussion of the issue. Parties may gain from this if they make the pledge close to a European or general election and if the pledge quells dissent in the party – or at least dampens it until some future point – and wrong-foots opponents. David Cameron’s decision to promise a referendum following an election and a renegotiation of UK membership terms is consistent with this approach. This is not a new tactic though. John Major used it in 1996 when committing to a referendum if the government recommended joining the Euro, as did Labour when pledging a referendum on the Constitutional Treaty shortly before the 2004 European elections and in 1975 with the referendum on the UK remaining in the European Community. Nevertheless, a risk, in Cameron’s case, is riling the small proportion of pro-integration Tories.

However, what are the public’s views on this issue? Do they view it as salient? How do attitudes vary by party support and what is the effect on competition between the Conservatives and UKIP? Cameron’s speech on Britain and the EU led to a spate of polling which, alongside longer running surveys, helps to tell us about where the public stand on these issues. The British Election Study’s Continuous Monitoring Surveys (CMS), which involve monthly cross-sectional surveys of the British public, include a question which asks: ‘Overall, do you strongly approve, approve, disapprove, or strongly disapprove of Britain’s membership in the European Union?’. Combining responses into ‘approve’ and ‘disapprove’ categories, Figure 1 shows trends over time for the groups who have a sense of attachment to each of the three major parties (Con, Lab and Lib Dem). Cameron’s view that the UK’s current terms of EU membership are problematic seems consistent with Conservative identifiers’ higher likelihood of disapproving of EU membership. These levels of disapproval are much higher than those among Labour and Lib Dem identifiers, and this difference is sustained over time. In every survey conducted between June 2005 and December 2012, a majority of Conservative identifiers have  expressed disapproval. The average level of disapproval for Conservative identifiers is 66%. Conversely, the average levels of approval for Labour and Lib Dem identifiers are, respectively, 64% and 69%.


We can look at the views of party identifiers in more detail by dividing them up according to strength of partisanship (very strong, fairly strong, or not very strong). Table 1 presents levels of disapproval for identifiers of each major party broken down by strength of attachment. There is a clear pattern here: very strong Conservative identifiers are most likely to disapprove of EU membership, while Labour and Lib Dem identifiers with a very strong sense of attachment are most likely to approve of Britain being part of the EU.

Screen-shot-2013-03-03-at-16.56.40Given recent developments on the European issue in domestic politics, we can also chart attitudes on the specific issue of voting in a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. Using data compiled from YouGov polls between 2010 and 2013, Figure 2 shows the proportions who would vote to withdraw from the EU, broken down by vote intention. Again, Conservative supporters are much more likely to express a preference for withdrawal, compared to supporters of the other main parties. However, views do fluctuate over time, partly due to differences from one sample to another but also suggesting that, to a degree, public opinion may be malleable on this issue and responsive to developments at the party-political level and resulting media coverage.

Screen-shot-2013-03-03-at-16.57.37What are the likely effects of this on party competition? One way of assessing this is to look at how voters view parties’ ability to deal with the EU issue. The Conservatives seemed to come out better than others in most polls taken shortly after Cameron’s speech in January, although not by much of a margin. A Survation poll on 25 January 2013 showed 25% of respondents thought the Conservatives had the best policy on Europe, followed by 19% for Labour and 16% for UKIP. A Populous poll (23-24 January 2013) showed Cameron as the most trusted leader to renegotiate UK membership of the EU with 36% support compared to 18% for Ed Miliband and 10% for Nigel Farage. An Angus Reid survey (24-25 January 2013) showed 22% viewing Cameron as the leader most trusted on Europe, a higher score than for others, with Farage on 11%. Given these polls were taken shortly after Cameron’s speech we would need longer term data to assess how much they represent a temporary boost for Cameron or the Conservatives as the best leader or party at dealing with this issue. We can gain some indication of the effect of the speech on Conservative-UKIP competition via the Survation poll which showed that 42% of 2010 Conservative voters who had heard or read Cameron’s speech, agreed or strongly agreed that it had made them less likely to vote UKIP. Around 21% disagreed or strongly disagreed with this statement. These figures should be treated with some caution as they are based on fairly small numbers of respondents but they indicate the Conservatives may have some basis for concern about the possible leakage of votes to UKIP.

Further bad news for Conservatives is that among those who care passionately about the issue, the party appears to have lost out sometime ago. According to the British Election Study’s (BES) post-campaign surveys, at the 2005 general election, of those seeing Britain’s relations with the EU as the most important issue, 35% thought UKIP was the best party to deal with this issue, with 30% favouring the Conservatives. By 2010, of those viewing Europe or the Euro as the most important issue, 61% saw UKIP as the party best able to deal with the issue while only 14% felt this about the Conservatives. While UKIP seem to be in a much stronger position than the Conservatives on this, the problem they face is that the salience of the issue among voters is very low. In the 2010 BES, a tiny 0.7% of Conservative voters identified Europe or the Euro as the most important issue. Data from Ipsos-MORI show that in 2012, only 6% of survey respondents thought that the EU or Europe was most important issue facing Britain. The EU did not even make the top ten issues among respondents questioned in February 2013, despite Cameron’s speech.

Analysis of open-ended responses to questions about the most important issue facing the country on the 2010 BES surveys suggests salience may be a little higher than this because some voters explicitly link the EU to other issues such as immigration, particularly from central and eastern Europe, and the economy, often with regard to the financial cost of EU membership. Pointing to connections between EU membership and other issues, such as immigration, is a technique UKIP have used to battle against the low salience of European integration among voters. But raising the profile of this issue is something UKIP will have to do more of if they are to gain clear ownership of this among voters more widely. Otherwise, UKIP will need to continue expanding beyond their core issue if they are to win more votes.

EuroscepticismThis post is part of a collaboration between British Politics and PolicyEUROPP and Ballots & Bullets, which aims to examine the nature of euroscepticism in the UK and abroad from a wide range of perspectives. Read more posts from this series.

Dr Ben Clements is Lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Leicester. His research interests include public opinion on the EU and foreign policy issues, attitudes on environmental issues, and religion in British politics and society. He is currently researching a monograph on the impact of religion on political attitudes and behaviour in Britain (Palgrave Macmillan).

Dr Philip Lynch is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Leicester. His current research focuses on the Conservative Party and European integration,  party competition between the Conservatives and the UK Independence Party, and Euroscepticism in the UK. His work has been published in British Journal of Politics and International Relations, Parliamentary Affairs, British Politics and the Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties.

Dr Richard Whitaker is a Lecturer in European Politics in the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Leicester. His research interests include the European Parliament and British centre-right parties and European integration. He is the author of The European Parliament’s Committees.


The Absentee, the Public Orator and the Pragmatist: the roles of Eurosceptic MEPs in the European Parliament

European Parliament, Credit: Giorgio Tomassetti (CC BY 2.0)

Image by Giorgio Tomassetti

Euroscepticism has become an integral part of the political landscape in Europe, both at the national and supranational levels. It has attracted significant attention as European elections have provided Eurosceptic parties with an opportunity to get parliamentary representation. But if there is a rich literature on the Eurosceptic stances of these parties, there remains relatively little research on these actors and their behaviours once inside the European Parliament (EP). This article aims therefore to understand the strategies developed by Eurosceptic actors at the supranational level. It focuses on members of the Eurosceptic group Europe of Freedom and Democracy (in the 7th legislature of the EP), of its predecessor, the Independence and Democracy group, as well as on Eurosceptic representatives from the radical right (6th and 7th legislatures). These actors are representatives of fringe right-wing parties, sharing an opposition to the EU and/or European integration primarily for political and cultural reasons. They are at the heart of an interesting paradox: their greatest electoral successes have occurred in elections to an institution they oppose and having taken their seats, they are obliged to operate within it, which can pose an existentialist dilemma for them.

Drawing on the motivational approach of role theory, the article demonstrates that facing similar institutional constraints, Eurosceptic MEPs can be categorised in 3 types of roles. More precisely, the qualitative analysis of the interviews with MEPs, of their parliamentary activities and of the observation of group meetings shows that these MEPs display a variety of strategies and perceptions of their European mandate that can be summarised in a typology of three roles: the Absentee, the Public Orator and the Pragmatist.

The first is the role of the Absentee. It is characterised by two main elements: comparatively limited involvement inside the parliament and emphasis on the national arena and the voters. Although minimal involvement is not restricted solely to Eurosceptics, a lack of involvement has a specific meaning in their case and can reflect another type of representation in the EP. It can be motivated either by a lack of interest in the mandate, or by an absolute refusal to get involved in the daily functioning of the institution. While Absentees may neglect the parliament, they are very active at home. They feel they are in a permanent campaign to influence public opinion at home against the EU. If they are motivated by such ideological considerations, opportunistic and utilitarian considerations also play an important role. Some Abstentees can indeed be strongly motivated by the benefits attached to the position of MEP (immunity, income, access to the media, social prestige) while others participate in EP elections for national political considerations: i.e. to take advantage of an electoral system that is more favourable to small, marginalised parties. The seat in the EP is then an opportunity to get noticed at the national level and gain some legitimacy while not being involved in the EP. This role tends to be chosen by Eurosceptics hostile to the EU and the integration process or by “intergovermentalist” MEPs.

The second role is the Public Orator. MEPs playing this role give priority to two aspects of the mandate: public speaking and the dissemination of negative information on the EU. Public Orators see themselves as being the only opposition speakers and their logic is to delegitimise the institution through public speeches. But Public Orators think that it is also their duty to inform the public of the decisions made by the EU and their negative consequences. They have strong relations with the media and are always available to answer questions from voters, journalists, and other actors. Their presence in the EP and its bodies is conditioned partly by the satisfaction of making plenary speeches, but also by the need to collect negative information on the EU and to know from the inside what is happening. This role tends to be chosen by either Eurosceptics hostile to the EU and the integration process, or intergovernementalists who see the EP as a useful forum of expression.

The last role is the Pragmatist. It is characterised by greater involvement in the daily work of the EP, a need to achieve results, and a tendency to respect the rules. Such Eurosceptics do not remain in sterile opposition, but develop a different strategy, aiming to strike a balance between the promotion of their views and the pursuit of concrete results. Therefore, they develop a dual conception of their mandate: as Eurosceptics they see themselves as part of the opposition to European integration, but as MEPs they want to make a difference. Two subgroups are distinguishable: the first one includes pragmatists who conceive and carry out their mandate in order to amend and control, in specific areas, the initiatives of their fellow MEPs and of the other EU institutions. The second subgroup of pragmatists is primarily driven by the motivation to defend the national/regional interest in the chamber and solve the problems in their country/region. They tend to adopt an instrumentalist approach as they use the assembly as a forum for the advocacy of national or specific interests that they cannot defend at the national level. The role of Pragmatist is primarily chosen by reformist Eurosceptics, who accept some limited and institutionalised cooperation at the European level and concentrate their criticism on the current state of the EU.

Euroscepticism, especially in its outright form, remains rather marginal and has not had a direct impact on policy outcomes. Euroscepticism would have to be much more widespread among elites to really have an immediate impact on the workings of the EU institutions. However this does not mean that the presence of Eurosceptics within the EP has no impact at all. Eurosceptics not only facilitate discussions about the limits of the current integration process, but also raise key questions about the role of the opposition in a political system like the EU, which relies on relatively depoliticised and consensual interactions. The presence of these dissenting voices could increase the representativeness of the EP, and contribute thereby to the legitimacy of the European polity.

EuroscepticismThis post is part of a collaboration between British Politics and PolicyEUROPP and Ballots & Bullets, which aims to examine the nature of euroscepticism in the UK and abroad from a wide range of perspectives. Read more posts from this series.

Nathalie Brack is a research and teaching assistant at Université libre de Bruxelles, Belgium and member of the CEVIPOL. She holds a PhD in political science and her main research interests are Euroscepticism at the supranational level, political opposition, the European Parliament, legislative studies and parliamentary representation. She recently coedited a book on Euroscepticism within the EU institutionsFor a longer discussion of this topic see: Euroscepticism at the Supranational Level: The Case of the ‘Untidy Right’ in the European Parliament.

The eurozone crisis and the rise of soft Euroscepticism in Greece

An important consequence of the eurozone crisis has been a rise in Euroscepticism across Europe, weakening the legitimacy of the integration process and undermining the political representation of the citizens in the member states. Just how extensive has the increase in euroscepticism been and what are its implications for the future of European integration? In investigating these questions, Greece offers a particularly interesting case. Greece, at the centre of the crisis, has been deeply affected by a recession entering its sixth year, with the total decline in GDP expected to exceed 25 per cent before the end of 2013. The crisis has caused much political controversy, electoral volatility and civil strife, affecting political parties, voting behaviour and governing institutions. The agreement of joint IMF-EU rescue packages in May 2010 and July 2011 were accompanied by austerity measures and recurrent speculation about a ‘Grexit’. Before the crisis, Euroscepticism was a minority viewpoint in Greek public opinion. Consistent majorities of Greek citizens and the mainstream parties, from the late 1980s onwards, have been amongst the strongest supporters of the integration process, recognising the social, political and economic benefits of membership.

Public opinion data from the Eurobarometer surveys show that the crisis caused  many supporters of the EU project to become critics or even sceptics.  Figure 1 shows the evolution of the views of Greek citizens between 2003-12, using a series of long-standing Eurobarometer indicators showing negative evaluations towards the EU and the integration process. While there was a small and gradual increase in Euroscepticism during the early 2000s, reflecting an EU-wide trend, the figure reveals a striking rise in negative sentiment during the crisis.

As Figure 1 shows, it was not the outbreak of the global financial crisis which triggered the change. Instead, the turning point came immediately after autumn 2009, with the onset of the Greek sovereign debt crisis when the newly elected Socialist government admitted that the country’s official economic statistics had been misreported. Revised figures revealed the grim state of the Greek economy with a very high deficit and public debt. From this point onwards, as the eurozone’s initial hesitation to intervene in Greece was followed by an EU/IMF bailout delivering harsh austerity measures, the five indicators of negative sentiment towards the EU follow parallel upward paths.

Figure 1: Indicators of attitudes towards the European Union (negative responses)

Source: Eurobarometer surveys.

Source: Eurobarometer surveys.

In a period of three years, the proportion of Greek respondents holding a negative image of the EU almost tripled (from 14 per cent in November 2009 to 49 percent in November 2012), while those tending not to trust the EU and those believing the EU was going in the wrong direction more than doubled (from 38 per cent to 81 per cent and from 31 per cent to 74 per cent, respectively). For the latter two indicators, the overwhelming majority now held a negative stance. Those viewing EU membership as ‘a bad thing’ jumped from 13 to 33 per cent in Spring 2011, which is the last time this question was included in the Eurobarometer surveys, but showed a notable drop at 19%, based on a survey conducted by the European Parliament in spring 2012. In Spring 2011, this made Greece the EU member-state with the highest proportion of respondents giving a negative answer, marginally ahead of the traditionally Eurosceptic UK. Meanwhile, between November 2009 and May 2011, those Greek citizens who considered the country had not benefited from membership doubled from 25 to 50 per cent, the second highest proportion in the EU (this time behind the UK).

The speed and extent of the Greek opinion shifts are startling. This change in attitudes reveals that there is a potential message to send to political elites in Greece and Europe. The increase in negative attitudes towards the EU could reflect a crisis of “output legitimacy” and the fact that the EU can no longer guarantee prosperity and growth for its citizens. It could also reflect a crisis of “input legitimacy” and the realisation of the irreversible impact of the process of integration on decisions that touch the most important political issues for ordinary voters such as growth and job creation. Citizens in Greece have become increasingly aware that they can no longer influence public policy through traditional forms of political participation, such as voting in national elections. The realisation that the EU matters a lot could trigger a positive process whereby citizens demand to become more actively involved in debates on the future of the integration process, the content of EU policies, their ideological direction and their impact on questions of equity and solidarity within their societies. Several of the indicators cited above can be regarded as measuring soft Euroscepticism, entailing opposition to the current direction of integration or the content of key policies. Unlike hard Euroscepticism, the soft variety does not challenge either the principle of European integration or national membership. In May 2011, while almost three-quarters of the Greek sample agreed the EU was going in the wrong direction, an indicator of criticism rather than scepticism, only one-third concurred with the statement that EU membership was ‘a bad thing’, a hard Eurosceptic response.

Perhaps what is more disconcerting is that the proportion of citizens that expressed distrust in EU institutions reached 81% in autumn 2012, a huge increase from 30% in autumn 2003. This is particularly worrying since negative attitudes towards the EU are for the first time closely accompanied by increasing distrust in national institutions, such as the government, parliament and political parties (reaching by autumn 2012, 91%, 89% and 94%, respectively). The crisis has clearly shaken Greek citizens’ trust in the EU and its institutions. The thought of where those citizens would turn to when they no longer trust any of the formal political channels of representation at both the national and EU level opens up some worrying and potentially dangerous possibilities for the future.

On the more pressing matter of speculation of a disorderly Greek departure from the eurozone, we can look at attitudes towards membership of the single currency. 

Figure 2: Attitudes towards the single currency

Source: Eurobarometer surveys.

Source: Eurobarometer surveys.

Figure 2 paints a different picture from that in Figure 1 and shows that, after a period of declining support in the euro in the years after its introduction, there has been a clear reaffirmation of Greek support from 2008 onwards. By 2011, positive attitudes towards the euro had returned to the very high levels of the early 2000s, with an overwhelming 75 per cent of Greeks in favour compared to an EU average of 53 per cent. In the context of the unfolding economic crisis and sharply increased negative evaluations of the EU, this result initially appears paradoxical. But it is consistent with an interpretation which distinguishes between hard and soft euroscepticism. It confirms that Greek citizens still very much want to be part of the EU since anything else is a much less attractive alternative and most importantly they want to have a say about what kind of EU they belong to. There is very clearly a crisis of confidence in the EU, which is no longer trusted in Greece. However, this does not extend to rejection of the EU. While the European Union is currently not loved unconditionally, membership remains legitimate and Greeks are still willing to endure the austerity measures in order to hold on to their EU status. What is uncertain is for how long.

EuroscepticismThis post is part of a collaboration between British Politics and PolicyEUROPP and Ballots & Bullets, which aims to examine the nature of euroscepticism in the UK and abroad from a wide range of perspectives. Read more posts from this series.

Kyriaki Nanou, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford and Susannah Verney, Department of International and European Studies, University of Athens.

The power of Euromyths shows substantial effort is needed to change the debate on the EU

Image by Ian Ransley

Image by Ian Ransley

For many members of the public, much of their knowledge of the European Union comes from the ‘…and finally’ stories that pop up in the media.  This the territory of ‘children not being allowed to blow up balloons’, ‘bans on claims that water can prevent dehydration’ and the ‘end of the prawn cocktail crisp’. Such tales provide much amusement to those who see them, confirming suspicions about ‘Europe’ and its lack of focus on the important things in life. A wry smile – or a loud tut – and on we go, to the next story.

Euromyths hold a particular place in the public debate on the EU. On the one hand, they are derided by public officials as silly distractions, but on the other, they consume much time and effort. The most notable of these efforts – such as the Commission’s UK Representation blog or the efforts of former and current MEPs (Richard Corbett and Andrew Duff) involve considerable amounts of work, just to rebut what are typically errors or misunderstandings.

The power of euromyths is clear: they offer a simple and (apparently) telling insight into the world of ‘Brussels’, a world that is neither well understood nor much cared-about. Thus an amendment in an EP committee becomes ‘the EU decides’ or an option in a Commission white paper turns into ‘Europe tells us.’ As much as most people care about the EU (and not much, at least in the British case), this fills their needs and serves their interest. Likewise, a Brussels press corps that is shrinking and in need of a story that will make their editor actually want to read is more likely to go for something a bit off-the-wall, rather than the second reading of a dry (if consequential) directive.

But euromyths also serve eurosceptics well too. The sheer volume and variety of them provides a permanent foundation of material with which to work: the almost instantaneous translation from blog or newspaper article into politicians’ debates or asides in the television studios provides a strong and credible case of ‘no smoke without fire.’ Simply put, euromyths are much harder to stop than to start. If we take the archetypal bendy banana, we can still find discussions of the matter 10 years after it started, while I can simultaneously assume that most readers of this post will be at least aware of the original story.

For all the discussions about what is and isn’t a euromyth (or ‘guide to the best euromyths’ in the BBC’s telling phrase), and conflation with genuine proposals that jar with popular sentiment (e.g. the ‘can we call it chocolate?’ legislation and court cases), this basic fact remains at the heart of the matter. Unless and until that is more fully acknowledged, the EU will continue to lose this particular fight.

With a media that is structured to be unwilling to engage with EU issues in general and which consequently stripped back its ability to produce in-depth analytical journalism, and a public that is typically indifferent, the EU’s agency to set news agendas is very limited. This is true whether we talk of any one of the institutions or of the Union as a whole: witness the very short (and deeply conflicted) media shelf-life of the Nobel Peace Prize last year). The classic Sun maxim of ‘amaze, amuse or anger’ as drivers of content simply does not fit with the nature of EU decision-making.

The logical retort, that the EU should not be like that, is true, but unhelpful. For all that representative democracy requires a media to connect citizens and leaders, there is no obvious turning-back to the deferential style of decades past, especially in the age of the internet.

Debunking euromyths is a start, but it can never be a complete solution, since it is both reactive and incomplete. Like its cousin –‘health and safety gone mad’ – the effect is toxic and risks overshadowing the very large majority of proposals that are well-grounded and –considered. The media does offer the opportunity to challenge and test over-zealous public policy, but when the exception is taken as the rule, then there needs to be a more substantial effort to change the debate.

At the root of the problem is an unwillingness and an inability to have a mature and thoughtful debate on the nature and role of European integration, either within or across member states. Unless and until that happens, then euromyths will be not only the light amusement of the reader, but also their guiding star.

EuroscepticismThis post is part of a collaboration between British Politics and PolicyEUROPP and Ballots & Bullets, which aims to examine the nature of euroscepticism in the UK and abroad from a wide range of perspectives. Read more posts from this series.

Dr Simon Usherwood is Senior Lecturer in Politics and Deputy Head of the School of Politics, University of Surrey. After study at the College of Europe and the LSE’s European Institute, his work has focused on euroscepticism, both in the UK and more widely across the EU. He is coordinator of the UACES Collaborative research Network on Euroscepticism (www.uaces.org/euroscepticism) and co-author of The European Union: A Very Short Introduction.