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

Happy Easter and a look at the year so far

Image by Jan Kameníček

Image by Jan Kameníček

The blog will be taking a short break over Easter, so to keep you going here’s 5 popular blog posts from the year so far.

1. The invasion of Iraq did many things, putting young people off politics wasn’t one of them.

This year marked the 10th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War and there has been a lot of talk in the media about the impact that the war has had on people’s faith in politics and in particular on the young people who marched against the war back in 2003. However, this post by Stuart Fox looks at the data on the political attitudes of young people and concludes that the Iraq War did not in fact have a significant impact on their faith in politics.

2. Making an impact: Why political scientists should engage with the media and how to deal with the media.

We started a series of posts on academic impact this year and as part of that series Philip Cowley wrote this useful two-part guide on why and how to engage with the media. It’s packed with useful tips and well worth a read.

3. What will become of the May 2015 UK Parliament if Scotland votes ‘Yes’ on independence.

The vote on Scottish independence is schedules for 2014 and if the ‘Yes’ vote wins implementation will begin in 2016, so what happens to the 57 Scottish MPs elected in the May 2015 election? In this post geopolitics experts Ron Johnson, Chris Pattie and David Rossiter examine the possible consequences and outcomes.

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

In February we launched a collaborative series of posts on euroscepticism with the LSE’s British Politics and Policy and EUROPP blogs. This post from the series looks at the familiar euromyths, such as bendy bananas, and their corrosive effect on the possiblity of mature debate about the EU. You can also take a look at some of the other posts in the series here: Euroscepticism.

5. How and why is North Africa depicted by the US and EU as the ‘next Afghanistan’?

We had a number of posts looking at the situation in Mali and North Africa. This post from Nottingham graduate Rhiannon Bannister looks at why North Africa is increasingly being referred to as the ‘next Afghanistan’ and argues that this label serves the US and EU’s security agendas.

We’ll be back on 8th April so see you then!

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.

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.

An American perspective on the EU: The United States must enforce the necessity for European stability

Image by openDemocracy

Image by openDemocracy

Eurosceptiscm is gaining attention and support in the UK, and perhaps throughout Europe. Although this appears to be a European problem, any wavering in the stability of the European Union will have widespread effects on the global political economy. In the following post I examine eurosceptiscm from an American standpoint, and assesses how and why the United States must continue, if not increase, its support for unity within the European Union.

The cold war officially ended in 1991. Despite this, the United States has remained skeptical that there is not, nor will be, a future military threat from the Eastern hemisphere.  If this statement was once considered debatable, such doubts were surely quelled in the spring of 2006 when the United States began negotiations with both the Czech Republic and Poland to determine the best site for the future installation of an anti-ballistic missile site.

The United States has been an aggressive military nation since, or perhaps because of, its initial creation. We are a nation that profits and rarely shirks from military interference and must be realistic about future military engagements. The rationale for defending the EU solely for its appropriateness as a missile defense system against nations like Iran and North Korea only begins to touch on the benefits that the European Union provides for the United States. By combining 27 nations in unity the European Union provides the strongest ally in defense for the United States. We no longer have to address, nor stress, individual diplomatic relations in Europe, but can instead be sure of support from 27 of the world’s strongest nations. The benefits of having strong diplomatic ties with so many nations versus individual nations surely need no further explanation.

In the United Kingdom there is often a tendency to address only the western European nations when discussing the effectiveness of the European Union. In the United States, we must not adopt the British tendency to dismiss the Union as individual nations and study only the effectiveness of the EU as a whole. The Union is a federal state made up 27 member-states, 17 of which use the euro, and must constantly be examined as such. The benefits of the European Union lie not only in the diplomatic solidarity provided by a unity of such a large number of nations, but also in the economic stability provided by such a vast joining of nations.

Growing from the position as a strong “supporter” of European integration; the US/EU now holds the largest economic relationship in the world. In 2010 $1,537.4 billion flowed between the European Union and the United States. Today, the EU counts for 18.7% of exports from the US. Including services, and not including $131.9 billion of direct investments, the EU makes up more than 31% of all US trade relations. When looking at the increasing trend towards globalization, this relationship will only continue to grow as trade relations continue to dissolve international barriers.

At least, this is one scenario.

On the opposing side the relationship could completely dissolve, not through choice, but through inevitability.

The economic climate today has forced nations to reconsider their spending habits. In Europe, where the recession has caused some nations, specifically southern nations, to hover on the brink of bankruptcy, spending has been scrutinized to the point that each spending measure has become politicized. Eurosceptiscm, or criticism of the EU, is an act of opposition to the process of European integration. The idea centers on the thought that integration weakens the nation-state and claims that it is undemocratic (on the most-extreme side) or argues that the EU is too bureaucratic and costly (the most common argument). Whereas at one time the EU was considered a highly popular institution, today only 31.9% of citizens polled in a Eurobarometer test believe that the EU views the EU positively.

In the UK this view is especially strong. What used to be a notion of the Conservative Party is now a policy initiative that David Cameron recently delivered a speech on. In an age of increased austerity, Cameron has addressed the concern that the EU’s recent demand of a 6.8% increase in UK spending in the EU is unwarranted. What once seemed to be a mere financial grumbling of the Conservatives has become a popular prediction for some economists.

While the British are considering decreased relations with Europe, it may be useful to consider what increasing our relations with Europe could do for both the American and global economy. For the past year, a free-trade agreement between the US and Europe has become more attainable than any discussions in the past decade have alluded to. Both leaders of the private and public sector seem to agree that a free-trade agreement between the two continents could result in the stimulus that economists have been searching for since the 2008 crisis. Although tariffs between the US and EU are already low, the companies that do the most transatlantic trade argue that a decrease in the 3% average would mean huge savings for the firms.  As an agreement like this would boost the earnings of firms without have repercussions on the taxpayer, increasing support for EU/US relations to mature in a NAFTA-like agreement seems to be a feasible idea.

A free-trade agreement would not only act as a stimulus, but would help to weaken the growing American dependence on the Chinese. China has dominated the political debate in the US, which may or may not be accurate, but in reality trade with Europe is much larger than trade with China. Increasing our support for the EU would help to set a positive curve for demand and help to decrease the rate of acceleration of dependence on the Chinese. At the same time, Europe is considering the same type of agreement with China, as they recognize and need, the stimulus benefits from such a trade agreement. If we do not act then surely, as the past decade has shown, the Chinese will be quick to make an agreement with the EU. The Chinese know that fluctuation in the Yuan is always a concern and they would be quick to seal a deal that would help to increase stability in export and imports.

In order to benefit from such a trade agreement, a decision must be taken quickly on European and American trade relations. Without it the natural dissolution of trade barriers will allow this to happen inevitably, but in a slow process that would not act as a stimulus to growth on either side of the Atlantic.

Further reading

Facts and figures on EU-China trade

Anti-Europeanism and Euroskepticism in the United States

On the Economics of Euroscepticism

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.

Katrina Kelly is doing a PhD with the Centre for the Study of European Governance at the University of Nottingham. 

Eurosceptic attitudes are widespread but varied in the Nordic states

Scandinavia flags

Image by Dread Pirate Jeff

Throughout 2012, the growth of Euroscepticism was a persistent theme. Indeed in the latest Eurobarometer poll, only 31 to 33 per cent of respondents indicated that they tend to trust the European Union. Among those responses, it is possible to compare public support among the five Nordic States: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. While these countries are commonly considered as a bloc with similar socio-cultural and political values, they have all opted for a different level of European integration.


Denmark joined the European Community in 1973, and has had no less than six referendums on issues related to European integration since 1972, the last one being held in 2000 on adopting the single currency. Two out of those six referendums saw a victory for the “no” side (Maastricht and the adoption of the euro). Following the outcome of the Maastricht referendum, Denmark negotiated opt-outs from the Maastricht Treaty through the Edinburgh Agreement.

Interestingly enough, recent Eurobarometer results show that Danes are not among the strongest Eurosceptics within the EU. Indeed, in November 2012, 48 per cent of respondents claimed that they tend to trust the European Union, which corresponds to 15 per cent more than the EU average. This trend is confirmed by previous Eurobarometer results, and in 2009, 65 per cent of the respondents said that Denmark’s membership to the EU is a good thing, ranking the country among the most positive EU member states.

However, Danes are much more critical regarding specific policy areas such as the EMU (30 per cent in favour, in comparison to 53 per cent in favour for the whole of the EU) and a common foreign policy (46 per cent, against 64 per cent for the whole of the EU). Contrary to Denmark’s political situation, 60 per cent of respondents are in favour of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) among EU member states, despite the country opting out of the CSDP through the Edinburgh Agreement.


Finland joined the European Union in 1995 after 56.9 per cent of the population voted in favour of EU membership. In contrast to Denmark, Sweden and Norway, Finland does not have a “referendum tradition”. The country is the most integrated Nordic state, and is thus considered as less resistant to European integration than its Scandinavian neighbours.

Eurobarometer results tend to show that the Finnish population is actually more Eurosceptic than those in Denmark. Indeed, in November 2012, 47 per cent of respondents said they tend to trust the EU, a trend that has remained quite stable for the past three years. Regarding the benefits of EU membership, the Finnish population is much more sceptical: between 2000 and 2009, 37 to 51 per cent of respondents believed that Finland’s membership is good for their country: results that were generally below Sweden, Denmark and the EU average throughout these years.

The Finnish population is currently the most positive towards Economic and Monetary Union, with 76 per cent of respondents being in favour of this policy area. As Finland is the only Nordic state which has adopted the single currency, it is no surprise to see such a difference from attitudes in the other Nordic EU states, Denmark and Sweden. Just as it is the case for Denmark and Sweden, the Finnish population is opposed to a common foreign policy (41 per cent are in favour). Finally, respondents seem more sceptical towards the development of a Common Security and Defence Policy (with 52 per cent in favour) than the EU average (73 per cent in favour).


Iceland applied for EU membership for the first time during its history in 2009, and accession negotiations are still underway. Currently, Iceland’s relationship with the European Union is mostly shaped through the European Economic Area (EEA) and Schengen agreements. As a non-member state, data available through Eurobarometer polling is less extensive; however, it is possible to analyse trends regarding public support for EU membership.

Recent opinion polls suggest that less than a third of the Icelandic population is in favour of EU membership. This trend is confirmed by data available in the latest Eurobarometer: 26 per cent of respondents believe that Iceland’s membership would be a good thing, 33 per cent believe that Iceland would benefit from joining the EU and 34 per cent trust the European Union. Since the Icelandic government submitted the application, public support has declined drastically and it is expected that the relationship with the European Union will be a major issue during the upcoming parliamentary elections, which will be held in April.


Similarly to Iceland, Norway is not a member of the European Union; however, the country has applied on three separate occasions for EU membership. In 1972 and 1994, the population rejected EC/EU membership with 53.5 and 52.2 per cent of the electorate voting ‘no’. Norway still remains a close partner of the European Union, mostly through the EEA and Schengen agreements. Since the 1994 referendum, the issue of EU membership has remained largely off the agenda. Public support for EU membership is very low: in July 2012, 17.2 per cent of respondents to a national survey said they would vote in favour of EU membership, with 74.8 per cent against. This illustrates why EU membership is not discussed in the political sphere: effectively, since 1994, government coalition agreements include a “suicide clause” on the EU question.


Sweden has been a member of the European Union since 1995: in the 1994 referendum on EU membership, 52.3 per cent of the population voted ‘yes’. The country has negotiated an informal opt-out of the Eurozone by not joining ERM II. In 2003, when the population was asked whether Sweden should join the Economic and Monetary Union, 55.9 per cent voted against. As a result, Sweden’s de facto opt-out remained in place.

The latest Eurobarometer poll suggests that 33 per cent of Swedes trust the European Union, which corresponds to the EU average. In 2009, 57 per cent of respondents said that Sweden’s membership is good for the country. As expected following the 2003 referendum, the most “Eurosceptic” result is related to Economic and Monetary Union: only 23 per cent of respondents are in favour of EMU. Recent national surveys show more critical results: 82.3 per cent of the population opposes EMU membership, while the situation was even more negative in 2009. Furthermore, only 37 per cent of respondents are in favour of a common foreign policy, and 54 per cent are in favour of the CSDP. Both results are largely below the EU average.


Euroscepticism is a highly complex concept, which covers many aspects that are not outlined in Eurobarometer polls or other surveys. In order to explain why mass Euroscepticism is higher in Norway or Iceland for instance, many factors should be considered such as economic incentives to join, socio-economic cleavages between the EU and the state, or cultural particularism.

Nevertheless, it is possible to draw some broad conclusions from the above discussion. First, issues of sovereignty and self-determination seem to shape public opinion on European issues. Eurobarometer results indicate that this is the case for the three EU Nordic states (e.g. public support for a common foreign policy and the CSDP), while several studies have shown that national sovereignty played a key role in the 1994 referendum in Norway. Second, Nordic populations seem to have critical views on policies they opted out from. The only exception to that rule would be the Danes’ perception of the CSDP. Third, even though Finland is the most integrated Nordic state, the Finnish population is more critical than its EU neighbours regarding the benefits of EU membership. Finally, current trends show that due to low levels of public support, Iceland’s accession to the EU is unlikely to happen in the short term.

EuroscepticismThis post is part of a collaboration between British Politics and Policy, EUROPP 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.

Benjamin Leruth is a PhD student at the School of Politics and International Relations, at the University of Edinburgh. His research focuses on the relations between the European Union and the Nordic States. He is a guest researcher at the ARENA Centre for European Studies (University of Oslo).

Most “eurosceptic” Conservatives care more about the next elections than the EU

Image by Ben Fisher/GAVI Alliance

Image by Ben Fisher/GAVI Alliance

Conservatives clearly care an awful lot – some would say too much – about Europe. But most of them care even more about winning elections. Naturally the Tory EUphoria occasioned by David Cameron’s referendum pledge owes something to his appearing to promise better-off-outters a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to put their case directly to the British people. But to the bulk of Conservatives, who are sceptical but not utterly obsessed with the issue, what mattered more was the possibility that the speech might see them safely through to the next election – and might even help them win it.

Those Tories who want to leave the EU will of course worry that Cameron is playing them for fools: many observers, after all, predict that, like Labour’s Harold Wilson back in 1974, he will call a referendum after an essentially cosmetic renegotiation that will nonetheless persuade most voters that he’s done enough to make the UK’s continued membership worthwhile. And Cameron, as he’s shown us very recently, has got form, returning from several summits in Brussels claiming more or less convincingly to have got what he wanted. Ultimately, though, hard-line sceptics know they may never get the chance to ask the in-out question again, so it’s a risk they know they’re just going to have to run.

Some sceptics, of course, have begun to ask, and will continue to ask, awkward questions. Precisely which powers does Cameron want to repatriate? Will William Hague’s supposedly ‘comprehensive audit’ turn out to be a British lion or a rather more mundane mouse? Will he garner any support from fellow heads of government, some of whom may be making encouraging noises now but may be booted out by their own electorates a few months or years hence? Will it take a Treaty change or can Cameron get a deal some other way? How far does any reform package have to go before it’s deemed sufficiently different from the status quo to merit putting it to the voters? Will he really be willing to recommend a ‘no’ vote if he can’t get what he wants? When exactly will the referendum be held? How will the question be worded? Simply yes or no to a particular package or, if no, then we leave? Will all members of the government be expected to toe the party line during the referendum campaign or will they be allowed to break ranks without losing their jobs?

For all that, most of them will go for it. And they will be joined by those who are less bothered about Brussels than they are about holding on to their seats and possibly even pulling off a miracle at the next election. The referendum will, they hope, stop UKIP in its tracks – hopes which rose (if only for a while) on the results of the first batch of post-speech opinion polls and a rather crestfallen Nigel Farage shifting his focus to Labour. They also believe that Ed Miliband’s decision not – or at least not at the moment – to match Cameron’s in-out offer will make things awkward for him at the next election. Likewise Nick Clegg – and remember that around half of the forty seats apparently targeted by the Tories in 2015 will be Lib Dem rather than Labour seats. More importantly for some, Cameron’s speech may – just may – see Europe returned to the backburner, leaving the government free to focus on the things that will most matter to winning that election, namely getting the economy right, hitting the government’s targets on immigration, and making sure that deficit reduction doesn’t impact too seriously on cherished public services, most obviously the NHS.

All this might be a little bit optimistic. Most obviously, when it comes to Europe itself, there are so many things that are out of Cameron’s – indeed, anyone’s – control. Elections in other countries. A catastrophic break-up of the single currency. And a refusal to allow the UK to have its cake and eat it on the part of other governments for whom Cameron’s demands may render what I like to think of as the Gloria Gaynor option increasingly attractive.

Domestically, things are also finely-balanced. Anyone expecting the uptick in Tory opinion poll ratings to turn into a step-change is likely to be disappointed: reality – particularly if the country returns to recession – is bound to bite once again, and bite hard. Defeat at Eastleigh, especially if UKIP doesn’t trail in too badly in fourth place, will also cause Cameron problems. As for Labour, Miliband may well, like Wilson, find himself ‘wading through shit’ for a while on the issue, but voters may well begin to discount his apparent refusal to give them a say, particularly as the economy once again overtakes Europe as the biggest issue facing the country. And when it comes to the Lib Dems, Cameron may well turn out to have been too clever by half. True, it’s unlikely that they’ll cite the referendum as the co-respondent in the divorce proceedings they’re almost bound to initiate as the election draws closer. But – unless it really is the case that all they care about is clinging onto office irrespective of everything they once stood for – it is hard to imagine that the issue will play no part whatsoever in any choice they may eventually have to make between another coalition with the Conservatives and what might by that time seem like fresh start with Labour.

As for the Tories, Europe might be a big issue – perhaps even the biggest issue. But it’s not the only issue. Team Cameron was shocked by how many right-wingers (and, yes, I know that hard-line Euroscepticism doesn’t necessarily go hand-in-hand with traditional views on social policy) simply banked their ‘victory’ on the referendum and moved swiftly onto gay marriage, which will no doubt continue to down like the proverbial cup of cold sick back in the constituencies until the legislation is finally passed. And, however nonsensical it may be, especially given the fact that, as Michael Ashcroft continually reminds them, Cameron outpolls his Party, some will still actively hanker after Boris. At the moment, the idea that anyone would seek to replace the Prime Minister before the next election seems fanciful. But what if Labour, as it probably will, begins to pull clear again in the polls? And what if, despite Cameron’s speech, UKIP beats the Tories into third place in the European parliament elections?

There is, of course, an awful lot of ‘what if’ in all this – perhaps inevitably. On this issue at least, I’m not one of those who believes (to borrow from Shakespeare) that they ‘can look into the seeds of time and say which grain will grow and which will not.’ But any Conservative who believes that Cameron has suddenly conjured up a win-win situation from everything that’s been thrown at him – mainly by his own side – in the last eighteen months should be careful not to celebrate too soon.

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.

Tim Bale is Professor of Politics at Queen Mary, University of LondonHe is the author of The Conservative Party from Thatcher to Cameron. His latest book is The Conservatives since 1945: the Drivers of Party Change.

Not everyone is anti-EU: young people and the Eurosceptic vote

Endless speculation about the rise of UKIP, the threat they pose to the chances of the Tories or Labour forming a majority government after 2015, and the desperate need of both parties to woo the British ‘eurosceptic vote’, have become an almost daily feature of British political commentary in the last year. But is the British electorate really as unified in its Euroscepticism as this debate would suggest?

Data gathered from multiple sources casts doubt over such claims – and in particular, such claims fail to note the generational differences amongst the British electorate. For example, the British Election Study for 2010 shows that at the time of the last General Election, 22% of 18–24 year olds could be called ‘Eurosceptics’; that is, they disapproved of Britain’s relationship with the EU.  The next age group, 25–34 year olds, held virtually identical views, after which anti-EU sentiment became more prevalent with age, finally reaching a peak in the over-65s, more than half of whom were Eurosceptic.

Data from the Eurobarometer series confirms that young people have been less likely to be Eurosceptic than their elders for some time. The graph below demonstrates the fluctuating fortunes of Euroscepticism amongst the electorate – rising, then falling, then rising again – and it shows the differences between the percentage of 15–24 year olds and the rest of the electorate holding Eurosceptic attitudes. In 1975, there was almost no difference between the two groups, but the gap has been growing steadily since – and by 2010 reached 19%.

Likelihood of Eursocepticism in the UK, 1975 - 2010

Respondents saying that they disapprove or strongly disapprove of the UKs relationship with the EU in Eurobarometer surveys are identified as ‘Eurosceptic’

The differences in attitudes towards the EU, however, do not stop at ‘europhilism’ vs ‘euroscepticism’. Young people also hold distinct views of the influence of the EU. The Hansard Society’s Audit of Political Engagement series asked in four separate surveys – in 2003, 2006, 2009 and 2010 – which institutions had the greatest influence over daily life. Taking the four together, on average 9% of 18–24 year olds identified the EU as having substantial influence over daily life, compared with 26% of over 65s.

In a time of increasing globalisation and declining influence for national governments, the perceived influence of trans-national institutions such as businesses and the EU can be of great importance to voters; such perceptions could well be at the root of differences in affection for or hostility towards the EU among different generations of the British electorate (see here for a further blog post on globalisation and the consequences for governments).

Another observation from the graph is the instability of Eurosceptic attitudes. There are several periods during which Euroscepticism fluctuated substantially in a relatively short time-frame, suggesting that attitudes on Europe are fairly malleable and could be quite responsive to political events (such as the effect of Europe on John Major’s government and the Maastricht Treaty).

What does this mean for Euroscepticism in Britain, and for the political parties hell-bent on mopping up (or at least not losing) the Eurosceptic vote in 2015? First, despite the regular citing of opinion polls in the press and the claims of Eurosceptic politicians suggesting otherwise, the British electorate is not unified in its hostility towards the EU. Politicians and political parties believing that they are representing the majority of Brits in their Euroscepticism may wish to reconsider; they may be alienating more voters than they realise, particularly the younger sections of the electorate.

Second, given the instability of attitudes towards the EU, and the fact that – despite this instability – young people have become less likely than their elders to be Eurosceptics since 1980, it is far from clear that Euroscepticism is here to stay. It is possible that the demands for anti-EU sentiments from politicians will wane over the coming elections as the older, more hostile, members of the electorate are replaced by younger voters more supportive of – or at least less hostile towards – Britain’s relationship with the European Union. It is also possible, of course, that young people’s attitudes may change; they may suddenly become more Eurosceptic if political events prompt them to do so (as in 1985), or, as they age and become more exposed to the EU, come to share the view of their elders that the EU is more influential in daily life than they realised.

Either way, it is possible that politicians may soon find themselves back-tracking in their attempts to outflank each other on Euroscepticism, and be forced into developing newfound enthusiasm for the EU to keep pace with the beliefs of the voters. Britain’s parties would be unwise to count on Eurosceptic attitudes becoming a common feature of the British electorate.

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.

Stuart Fox is a 2nd year PhD student at the University of Nottingham