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Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. National identity and public opinion toward integration
  4. Fear of loss of national identity and opposition to European integration
  5. Support for integration: Alternative approaches
  6. Measurement
  7. Analysis
  8. Conclusion
  9. Acknowledgments
  10. References

Abstract.  Opposition to the European integration project can stem from many different sources, but one that appears to be fairly fundamental is the threat that the European Union (EU) poses to long-established national identities. This contention may in fact appear to be so trivial as to make it uninteresting to the social science community. However, this article analyses the degree to which EU citizens do indeed feel their national identities to be under threat by the EU and the effect of such fear on general feelings about the integration process. The impact of fear of loss of national identity due to integration is then compared to the impact of other potential sources of variation in support for the integration project. The results indicate that while large proportions of EU citizens do indeed fear that the EU is threatening their national identity and culture, the effect of this fear on attitudes toward the EU is not all that substantial and other factors play an equal or greater role in explaining individual-level opposition to the EU.

As the pace of European integration has increased, interest in the role of the public in this process has increased accordingly. The ‘permissive consensus’ among the European public on the issue of European integration (Lindberg & Scheingold 1970) of the 1970s gave way to an increased enthusiasm for the Common Market project in the 1980s. Yet more recent decades have seen signs of rumblings from the European public about the direction that integration has taken – especially as the European Union (EU) moves into realms that are far more political than economic and prepares for an eastward enlargement that is expected to be financially costly and produce waves of East European immigrants. One recent analysis (Van der Eijk & Franklin forthcoming) even points to attitudes toward European integration as a potential cleavage that could very easily be co-opted into European party systems if major party leaders ever decide to adopt opposing positions on the integration issue. Moreover, the European public can have an impact on what policymakers do at the EU level, as Tony Blair's hesitancy over bringing Britain into the eurozone illustrates. At times, the public can put a temporary brake on integration plans, as in the case of the Danish referenda, the Norwegian referenda and, more recently, the narrow vote against the Nice Treaty in the Irish Republic. Thus, the character of support for this new system of governance continues to require investigation.

Recent studies of public opinion regarding European integration have challenged the utilitarian approach taken by much of the literature arguing that opposition has far more to do with hostility to other cultures and nationalism than with utilitarian cost/benefit analysis (De Master & Le Roy 2000; McLaren 2002; Carey 2002). I contend here that opposition to European integration has less to do with nationalism than might be expected, and that other factors such as utilitarian calculations and proxies play equal or greater roles in determining where individuals stand on the issue of integration. I believe this finding to be important in that it challenges a mostly unquestioned assumption that attitudes toward integration fundamentally stem from varying levels of attachment to the nation-state. While work has been done on the connection between European and national identity (Duchesne & Frognier 1995, 2002), the relationship between national identity and support for the EU is conceptually different from European identity. Moreover, none of the articles cited above actually contrasts the effects of concern for loss of national identity with other sorts of variables to gain some comparative sense of the size of the impact of the former.

National identity and public opinion toward integration

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. National identity and public opinion toward integration
  4. Fear of loss of national identity and opposition to European integration
  5. Support for integration: Alternative approaches
  6. Measurement
  7. Analysis
  8. Conclusion
  9. Acknowledgments
  10. References

Within the realm of opinion regarding the EU, only two pieces of research have addressed the seemingly obvious connection between opposition to integration and national identity head-on (Carey 2002; Deflem & Pampel 1996), and two have addressed it in a more indirect manner via attitudes toward minorities (De Master & Le Roy 2000; McLaren 2002). Other approaches, however, tend to simply ignore this particular issue (Anderson 1998; Carrubba 2001; Sanchez-Cuenca 2000), or even specifically contend that the threat posed by European integration should, like the process itself, be economic in nature (Gabel 1998a). However, even if integration itself has been economic in nature, ordinary Europeans may not perceive it this way. Moreover, with moves to establish a common citizenship with an EU passport, the elimination of national currencies, coordination of asylum and immigration policies and the creation of a European military force, integration is beginning to appear less and less economic in nature. It should also be noted that while the process itself has focused on economics, the overriding goal of European integration has been to prevent war on the European continent – to reduce nationalism in order to provide long-term peace. As Scheuer (1999: 30) argues, ‘one of the central aims of the founding fathers of the European Union was to reduce conflict and overcome hostility between European societies by creating a new, superior ingroup which eventually would lead to the development of European identifications and we-feelings’. In short, integration seems to pose a threat to national identity by seeking to reduce nationalistic sentiment. I begin by analysing the degree to which EU citizens feel that integration poses such a threat and what effect such perceptions have on levels of support for European integration.

Fear of loss of national identity and opposition to European integration

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. National identity and public opinion toward integration
  4. Fear of loss of national identity and opposition to European integration
  5. Support for integration: Alternative approaches
  6. Measurement
  7. Analysis
  8. Conclusion
  9. Acknowledgments
  10. References

All of the items used in the analysis here are found in Eurobarometer 54.1 (this and other datasets used were made available to the authors by the Data Archive at the University of Essex) from November–December 2000. The inclusion of all these items in any single Eurobarometer is quite rare. While it offers a valuable opportunity to investigate sources of opposition to the EU using a much sharper measure than has been possible in the past, the findings from this analysis cannot, unfortunately, be compared to other periods of European integration history.

I begin with an analysis of the item that measures fear of the integration project resulting from a loss of national identity. Table 1 provides a summary of the responses to the question of whether, in the building of Europe, respondents are ‘currently afraid’ of the ‘loss of our national identity and culture’ and its relationship to a fairly standard measure of support for European integration: whether the respondent's country's membership of the European Union is a good or bad thing, or neither. Several unexpected results appear in Table 1. First, the vast majority of those who are afraid of the loss of national identity and culture as a result of European integration do not think their country's membership of the EU is a bad thing (Column 2). Even in Britain and Denmark – generally the most guarded of the Member States when it comes to national sovereignty – only between 30 and 35 per cent of those who fear a loss of national identity from the EU also think their country's membership of the EU has been a bad thing. Also, rather surprisingly, fairly large portions of the individuals who are worried about the loss of identity and culture due to integration believe that their country's EU membership is a good thing (Column 3). This approaches or exceeds a majority in Italy, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Northern Ireland, Ireland, Greece, Spain and Portugal. Alternatively, fear of loss of national identity and culture goes with having no opinion regarding the goodness or badness of the country's membership of the EU among a fairly large portion of respondents (Column 4).

Table 1.  Concern about the loss of national identity and opposition to integration
Country1. % Afraid2. % Afraid who think membership in EU is bad3. % Afraid who think membership in EU is good4. % Afraid who have no opinion on goodness or badness of EU membership5. Gamma*6. N
  • *

     Ordinal relationship between fear of loss of national identity and culture and believing one's country's membership of the EU has been a good thing or bad thing.

Italy38.114.447.638.0−.34987
Belgium42.112.548.139.5−.451,048
Netherlands42.110.262.927.0−.311,004
Austria42.138.219.042.8−.571,000
W. Germany42.321.339.539.3−.371,013
E. Germany42.619.031.050.0−.331,014
Spain42.86.859.333.9−.211,000
Sweden43.947.218.534.4−.481,000
Denmark45.035.132.232.7−.571,000
Finland46.331.528.739.8−.401,015
Luxembourg47.64.175.220.7−.14609
Portugal50.86.352.641.1−.261,000
France53.221.933.744.4−.521,003
Ireland57.55.774.020.3−.171,001
Britain60.029.320.949.8−.431,058
Greece65.59.059.631.4−.131,002
N. Ireland66.56.747.146.2−.08313
EU48.019.243.737.1−.3416,067

This is not to say that fear of loss of national identity and attitudes toward the EU are unrelated to one another, however. The final column of the table (Column 5) provides the gamma values for this relationship, and indicates that in many of the countries, there is indeed a strong relationship between concern for the effect of the EU on loss of national identity and feelings about the EU itself. On the other hand, the relationship is fairly weak in Luxembourg, Northern Ireland, Ireland, Greece and Spain, and is only moderate in Italy, Netherlands, Portugal and eastern Germany.

While hostility toward the EU is clearly (and perhaps unsurprisingly) partly a function of worry that the EU is a threat to national culture and identity, this is not the entire story behind variation in opinion regarding the EU and other factors must explain levels of opposition to integration. This is an extremely powerful result, given that the question about national identity specifically pertains to the threat posed by the EU and not to threat posed by minorities, as investigated by McLaren (2002), nor is it simply inferred based on statistically significant country dummies, as in the work by Deflem and Pampel (1996).

In sum, EU citizens have highly ambivalent feelings about the EU. In many countries, despite fears about the destruction of their national identity and culture, citizens continue to be happy that their country is an EU Member State, or at the very least, do not have strong feelings in either direction. This result is considerably marked in countries that have been direct beneficiaries of the EU's attempts to promote democratic stability and economic growth (Spain, Portugal, Greece and Ireland): people in these countries are generally no less fearful of the threat that the EU poses to their national identity and culture than the rest of EU citizens, but they have perhaps learned to tolerate such fears and still support their country's EU membership in very large numbers because of the economic and political benefits that have been received.

Support for integration: Alternative approaches

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. National identity and public opinion toward integration
  4. Fear of loss of national identity and opposition to European integration
  5. Support for integration: Alternative approaches
  6. Measurement
  7. Analysis
  8. Conclusion
  9. Acknowledgments
  10. References

Besides fear of loss of national identity, what other factors are likely to have an impact on levels of support for European integration?

Egocentric utilitarianism

Utilitarian accounts of attitudes toward European integration are almost exclusively concerned with economic utilitarianism. Specifically, those who benefit (or are likely to benefit) economically from European integration should be more supportive of the process; those who lose (or are likely to lose) should be more hostile. The theory then infers that the economic policies adopted in the EU, especially since the Single European Act (which came into effect in 1987), pose clear costs and benefits to individuals living within the territory of the EU, and that these individuals realise they are likely to do well/badly and determine their positions on the issue of European integration accordingly.

The specific portions of the integration project that present fairly clear costs and benefits are thought to be the free movement of labour and capital provisions, as well as provisions making it easier for businesses to move from one to another of the EU Member States. In the absence of a Europe-wide social protection safety net (which is still very much under negotiation), the implications are quite clear: companies can go freely to where they find cheaper labour or cheaper labour is likely to come to them, providing competition for people who do certain types of work. Those with lower-level job skills are thought to be most potentially hard-hit because they are more easily replaceable by companies moving elsewhere or hiring ‘foreign’ (non-national) workers. Alternatively, there are people with other types of work backgrounds who are more likely to see potential gains from a Europe-wide market: those with more developed job skills can easily use their skills and knowledge (of running top-level international businesses, for instance) to find better-paying jobs, to increase their salaries at their current jobs by threatening to migrate to a country where people in their position are paid higher salaries, or to actually go to another EU Member State to start up a business there. They are also likely to be rather hopeful about easier cross-national mergers that would put them at the head of fairly large-scale corporations.

Free movement of capital is also likely to benefit some more than others. Those who do not have much capital to begin with are not likely to care much that it can flow freely across the EU. Those who do have such capital (i.e., those with higher incomes) could benefit from the freed capital market in terms of banking and purchasing and selling stocks. Moreover, fiscal requirements for participating in the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) and later in the adoption of the euro were rather strict regarding the size of the national budget deficit and debt that would be allowed, forcing participating Member States to reign in their spending, much of which was for social welfare benefits. (It should be noted that several Member States are now failing to comply with this agreement.) Again, especially in the absence of a Europe-wide social protection system, according to the utilitarian approach, those with less developed job skills, less education and lower incomes are likely to be most fearful of the consequences of these national-level spending cuts, as they are likely to be most in need of such spending (Gabel 1998a, 1998b).

This personal utilitarianism, however, clearly assumes that those at lower levels of the labour market are well informed about the potential economic effects of European integration on their own job situations. This assumption is not directly testable, but questions asked in Eurobarometer 53 (Spring 2000) suggest that Europeans do perceive certain groups to benefit more than others from European integration. For instance, in response to a question specifically about which groups have received more advantages and disadvantages from the country's membership of the EU, large businesses are clearly seen as the big winners in the integration project along with those who speak a foreign language, young people and politicians (tables available from the author on request). In addition, in the same survey, respondents were asked whether they personally had received more advantages or disadvantages from the country's EU membership. Top-level managers feel themselves to have been personally advantaged by EU membership in larger percentages than people from other occupational backgrounds. Other groups that feel they have received relatively more advantages include employed professionals, students and farmers. The unemployed, the retired and unskilled workers feel that they have received more disadvantages at relatively higher rates than people in other job categories. However, it should be added that the modal category for all of these seemingly disadvantaged professions is the centre response of having received as many advantages as disadvantages from EU membership. In other words, the unemployed, the retired and unskilled workers do not appear to see tremendous gains or losses from EU membership, but those in the executive and professional category see quite clear benefits for themselves. These results indicate that the utilitarian argument requires rephrasing: those with better occupational skills (and higher incomes, we could add, as the same results were found for the income variable) are likely to feel more personally benefited by integration than those with lesser occupational skills and lower incomes, with the latter perhaps perceiving less benefits but no more costs. In other words, perhaps there are winners and non-winners in the integration process rather than winners and losers.

Sociotropic utilitarianism

The economic utilitarianism argument goes beyond economic benefits expected by an individual and contends that the actual benefits received by the Member States have an impact on levels of support for the EU (Eichenberg & Dalton 1993). In countries where the net benefits are negative, levels of support are expected to be lower than in countries where benefits are positive. One source of such benefits is the EU budget – wealthier Member States like Germany and France traditionally have paid far more into the EU budget than they have received out of it. Especially once the Structural Development Funds (SDFs) were established and Southern European countries began receiving the bulk of the EU SDF budget, it became even clearer who was benefiting and who was losing (this issue was unfortunately not covered in the Eurobarometer used here).

Another economic benefit for EU Member States is an increase in trade levels resulting from the removal of barriers to free trade. Countries like Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, for instance, run large positive trade balances with the EU, whereas Southern Europe, the United Kingdom and Austria have large trade deficits with the EU. According to the utilitarian model, these benefits and costs ought to translate into greater and lesser support for the integration process respectively (Eichenberg & Dalton 1993).

Proxies

After the notion of the informed democratic citizen was found to generally not match the reality of the democratic citizen in the 1940s and 1950s, the field of political behaviour turned to the question of how citizens make decisions about things like voting, given their very low level of specific information regarding campaigns and the candidates involved. If voters in national-level elections face the problem of limited information due to the (very reasonable) use of time on other tasks, then it seems highly likely that citizens in the EU face the same situation when evaluating the integration project and rely on shortcuts or heuristics (see Sniderman et al. 1991; Popkin 1991). In fact, the problem may be even more severe in the case of the EU because in considerable contrast to the amount of national-level news coverage to which people are exposed, the amount of information related to the EU that can be obtained for ‘free’ in Popkin's (1991) terminology (i.e., not actively sought) is actually very low (see Peter 2003).

In support of this idea, Anderson (1998) presents rather convincing statistics on the poor state of knowledge of the EU, and offers a proxy-based approach to help explain variation in levels of support for the EU. This approach contends that in the absence of specific knowledge about the EU, citizens are likely to use information about something they know to inform their attitudes toward something they know less well. Again, however, because of the difficulty of coming across material related to the EU in daily life, it seems that the heuristics on which people rely might be even more far-reaching than those used in trying to decide how to vote in a national election. Specifically, Europeans are far more likely to be paying attention to what their national governments are doing than to what the EU is doing, and are said to be projecting their feelings about the national government onto the EU (see also Franklin et al. 1994, 1995a, 1995b). Thus, those who are unhappy with the way things are going politically in their own country are likely to also claim in an interview that they are unhappy with the EU. Dissatisfaction with the EU then simply becomes a by-product of the overall dissatisfaction with the political situation in one's country.

Measurement

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. National identity and public opinion toward integration
  4. Fear of loss of national identity and opposition to European integration
  5. Support for integration: Alternative approaches
  6. Measurement
  7. Analysis
  8. Conclusion
  9. Acknowledgments
  10. References

Concerns for the loss of national identity and culture will be measured with the item discussed above. This section discusses other concepts thought to be related to levels of support for integration, as well as support itself.

Support for European Union

Rather than relying upon the single indicator mentioned above, we can add a second item in order to obtain a more general measure of level of support for the EU. For the remainder of the analysis, level of support for the EU consists of a composite score of the following two items: ‘Generally speaking, do you think that (OUR COUNTRY’s) membership of the European Union is a good thing, a bad thing, neither good nor bad?; and ‘In five years’ time, would you like the European Union to play a more important role, a less important role or the same role in your daily life?’ These items are strongly correlated with one another, and have thus been combined after changing the coding of the items such that high values represent greater support for the EU; the range of scale is 1 to 5.

Egocentric utilitarianism

As discussed above, much of the utilitarian argument refers to the individual's economic circumstances, and points specifically to job status and income levels. The approach contends that individuals with only manual labour work skills should be the least supportive of the EU and those with better skills, such as executives and professionals, more supportive. Thus, we include dummy variables to represent all other categories besides manual labourers. It is also generally contended that educational achievement represents the individual's level of competitiveness and that those with higher levels of education are likely to be more supportive of the EU because of this increased competitiveness (Gabel 1998a, 1998b). Our measure of education is the standard one: the age at which the respondent finished school. In addition, a standardised income measure will be included in the utilitarian portion of the analysis. We further introduce a perceptual measure of utilitarianism here: ‘What are your expectations for the year to come? Will 2001 be better, worse or the same when it comes to . . . your personal job situation?’

Sociotropic utilitarianism

Also incorporated in the standard utilitarian model are measures of the actual benefits received in a country by the integration process. These include the budget balance that the Member State carries with the EU and the intra-EU trade balance. The figures used here are the 1999 budget balance statistics obtained from Eurostat (2001a) and are in millions euro; the trade balance statistics are also from 1999 and were obtained from Eurostat (2001b) and are also in millions euro. Specifically, individuals living in countries that are net beneficiaries of the EU budget are expected to be more supportive of the integration project than individuals living in countries that pay far more into the budget than they receive (Anderson & Reichert 1996; Gabel 1998a). Similarly, some Member States clearly benefit more from trading with EU partners than others (Gabel 1998a; Carrubba 2001), and those living in such Member States are likely to value integration more than those living in countries that run a trade deficit with their EU trading partners.

Proxies

Anderson (1998) contended that since most Europeans do not know much about the EU, they are likely to be relying on something other than specific knowledge of the organisation to help them decide whether they support the project or not. One of the key proxies and strongest predictors of level of support for integration in Anderson's model was ‘system support’ measured by the question: ‘On the whole, are you very satisfied, fairly satisfied, not very satisfied or not at all satisfied with the way democracy works in (OUR COUNTRY)?’ I also include controls for political discussion (i.e., cognitive mobilisation), left-right self-placement, age and gender. In addition, Franklin et al. (1994, 1995a, 1995b) contend that support for the governing party is used as a proxy for support for integration, at least within the context of referenda – a vote in a referendum on an integration issue is likely to reflect the respondent's level of support for the party in power. Thus, I include both the democratic support and government support variables in the analysis below.1

Analysis

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. National identity and public opinion toward integration
  4. Fear of loss of national identity and opposition to European integration
  5. Support for integration: Alternative approaches
  6. Measurement
  7. Analysis
  8. Conclusion
  9. Acknowledgments
  10. References

Given the above findings related to the threat of national identity and levels of support for European integration, I thought it useful to enter the former into the analysis first and then step the rest of the variables into the model, in order to determine the maximum impact of the former. This analysis appears in the first column of the OLS analysis in Table 2.2 As indicated by the unstandardised regression coefficient, a change from not being afraid that the EU will produce a loss of identity and culture to being afraid of such an occurrence reduces support for integration by more than half a point on the 5-point scale (the national identity loss variable ranges from 1 to 3). This is not a very large effect, especially when we consider the degree of closeness between these variables, both conceptually and in their operationalisation. The size of the effect changes only slightly when other variables are introduced to the model (Column 2 of Table 2).

Table 2.  Predictors of support for European integration
 BSEBetaBSEBeta
  1. Notes: * p < 0.01; ** p < 0.001; omitted categories are manual workers, lowest income and males.

Nationalism
Fear of loss of national identity−0.270.01−0.22**−0.240.01−0.19**
Egocentric Utilitarianism
Professional0.330.060.04**
Executive0.310.040.07**
Unemployed0.120.050.02*
Retired0.210.040.07**
Small business owner0.300.050.06**
Farmer0.140.080.01
Student0.380.040.09**
Housewife0.260.040.07**
Other occupation0.170.030.06**
Education−0.020.00-0.07**
Low–medium income0.020.030.01
Med–high income0.080.030.03*
High income0.170.030.05**
Income–DK0.130.030.05**
Personal job situation0.160.020.07**
Sociotropic Utilitarianism
EU budget balance, 19990.000050.000.20**
Intra-EU trade balance, 19990.000010.000.11**
Proxies
Satisfaction with democracy0.110.010.11**
Support current government0.060.020.02*
Control variables
Left-right self-placement−0.010.00−0.01
Age0.0040.00−0.05**
Gender−0.090.02−0.04**
Cognitive mobilisation0.120.020.06**
Constant 4.170.02**3.460.08**
Adj. R2 0.05  0.12  
SEE 1.19  1.14  
N15,364  15,364  

All of the other variables predicted to be related to support for the EU did indeed have statistically significant effects. For instance, people who work as professionals and executives are more supportive of integration than manual workers (the omitted category). Students are also more supportive of integration than manual workers, perhaps indicating the benefits they receive by being able to move across the EU to study. In fact, people in almost every occupational category are more positive about European integration than manual workers, providing considerable support for the utilitarian hypothesis. In addition, those at higher income levels and those who predict that their job situations will improve in the next year are generally more supportive of integration. The only utilitarian variable that does not perform as expected is education: although the bivariate relationship between education and support for integration is positive, the results here indicate that, after controlling for other effects, education has a very slight negative impact on attitudes toward the EU.

Utilitarianism in the realm of benefits received by the Member State in which the respondent lives also appears to be important in predicting levels of support for integration: people living in countries that receive more from the EU budget than they pay into it and people living in countries that have a positive trade balance with the EU tend to be more supportive of the integration project. Thus, national-level benefits, as well as expected individual-level benefits, are quite important in explaining why some EU citizens are more supportive of integration that others.

Finally, greater satisfaction with democracy and support for the governing party both tend to produce higher levels of support for the EU. It should be noted that – consistent with the findings reported by Anderson (1998) – the results here indicate that support for the governing party tends to have a far weaker effect on attitudes toward the EU than does the general level of satisfaction with democracy in the country. The former is simply measured by a dummy variable, and so its maximum effect is the same as the size of the unstandardised coefficient (0.06); on the other hand, the latter is measured on a 1 to 5 scale, and so its maximum effect is 0.44 (0.11*5–0.11*1). When combined, the two variables have an impact of one-half of a point on the index of support for integration, but the bulk of this effect comes from the more general measure of support for the way democracy is working in the country.

In order to compare the size of effects for the different groups of variables and thus estimate their actual impact on support for the EU, I have computed the maximum and minimum scores on support for integration using the OLS coefficients in Table 2 (Column 2), setting dummy variables to zero when those variables are not at play and setting non-dummy variables to their means.3 The results of this estimation appear in Figure 1, which indicates, for instance, that the difference in effect for fear of loss of national identity when all other variables are held constant is slightly less than half a point. On the other hand, for professionals with high levels of income and good job prospects, as compared to manual workers at low income levels and with bad job prospects, the difference in support for integration is about three-quarters of a point. The largest effect, however, comes in the realm of country-level utilitarianism – the difference in levels of support between countries that pay more into the budget than they receive and those that do quite well from the EU budget is slightly less than one point on the integration scale. Trade is also an important factor in increasing levels of support, but its maximum impact is weaker than that of the country's EU budget balance. On the other hand, the effect of proxies is weak by comparison and is virtually identical to the size of the effect of fear of loss of national identity.

image

Figure 1. Size of effects for groups of variables.

Download figure to PowerPoint

These results are consistent with analysis that has been conducted on European and national identity by Duchesne and Frognier (1995, 2002): while we might expect these two forms of identity to be negatively related to one another, according to Duchesne and Frognier the empirical evidence mostly suggests a lack of relationship. The findings here confirm that within the realm of support for the EU (as opposed to the more general notion of European identity), the degree of fear of denigration of one's national identity plays some role, but it is not as great as might be expected. Moreover, as contended by economic utilitarianism (see Gabel 1998a), the EU is indeed seen more in terms of specific benefits and costs than as a major threat to national identity. However, it should be noted that the largest effect found here is for one of the variables measuring actual costs and benefits to the country, indicating perhaps that some form of economic nationalism may be at play – that is, people who perceive that the EU has been a drain on the national economy are likely to be less supportive of integration than those who feel that their entire country has benefited from the EU. However, concern for national identity clearly carries less weight than either of these in explaining levels of support for the EU. This is also consistent with Scheuer's (1999) contention that the creation of a political community in the EU might in great part be due to the economic success of the process of European integration. Furthermore, the proxy approach has received an equal amount of empirical support as concern for loss of national identity. Thus, people appear to be relying on general feelings about their national governments to help them determine how they feel about the EU just as much as they are using feelings of fear of loss of national identity in this attitude formation process.

Conclusion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. National identity and public opinion toward integration
  4. Fear of loss of national identity and opposition to European integration
  5. Support for integration: Alternative approaches
  6. Measurement
  7. Analysis
  8. Conclusion
  9. Acknowledgments
  10. References

This article began by arguing for the systematic investigation of the effects of fear of loss of national identity on levels of support for the European integration project. The findings have been somewhat counter-intuitive: although such fears do have an impact on support for the EU, the impact is not very strong. Indeed, both personal utilitarianism and actual benefits received by one's country have greater impacts on levels of support for the EU, as does the proxy of general feelings about the current government. Generally, it appears that while the EU is seen to some degree in terms of its threat to long-established national identities, it is perceived far more in terms of the benefits it can provide or costs it imposes, both to the individual and to the country. The effect of the country-level costs and benefits on support for integration perhaps indicates that EU citizens are as concerned about the benefits that are accruing to the entire entity of the nation-state as the benefits accruing to themselves (or, alternatively, the costs that the nation-state must bear).

The findings here also point to what appears to be a considerable amount of ambiguity among EU citizens regarding the threat that integration poses to their national identities and cultures and what this ought to mean for their feelings about the EU. In some countries, such fears do clearly translate into less support for the EU. However, it should be re-emphasised that ‘less support’ generally means having ambiguous feelings about the EU and not feeling outright opposition to it. To reiterate, such findings point us to the conclusion that the EU generally is not perceived as a major threat to the national identities and cultures of the Member States and confirm that it is seen more in terms of specific economic costs and benefits that it imposes or provides. Thus, it seems that the role of national identity in forming citizen opinion toward the EU should not be over-emphasised and that other factors are at least equally relevant in explaining variation in such opinion.

Acknowledgments

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. National identity and public opinion toward integration
  4. Fear of loss of national identity and opposition to European integration
  5. Support for integration: Alternative approaches
  6. Measurement
  7. Analysis
  8. Conclusion
  9. Acknowledgments
  10. References

This research was originally presented at Nuffield College, Oxford University, 17 May 2002. The author is extremely grateful for comments received by audience members during that presentation.

Notes
  • 1

    The latter was obtained by using the question relating to voting intention if there were a general election tomorrow and determining which party was actually in power at the time of the election based on European Journal of Political Research Political Yearbook data.

  • 2

    I have chosen to use OLS rather than a technique such as ordered logit or probit because of the complexity in dealing with interpreting the coefficients with such techniques. However, it should be noted that I have conducted the analysis and computed predicted probabilities for the same groups of variables in the model below and determined that the same conclusions regarding the size of the effects would be drawn from an ordered logistic regression analysis as have been drawn here based on OLS (the results are available from the author on request). Also, these analyses were pooled across countries for two reasons. First, there are country-level effects in the model; second, within each country, the number of people in each of the job categories is quite small, increasing the size of the standard error and making it difficult to determine whether there is indeed a relationship between occupation and support for integration. However, it should be noted that models were run for each country separately, omitting the country-level effects, and the only two countries for which we would draw substantively different conclusions with regard to the fear of loss of national identity are Denmark and Austria. In the former, being fearful of the threat that the EU poses to national identity reduces support for the EU by one full point, and in the latter, the reduction is almost one point (0.80). Outside of these two countries, the general weakness of the effect of this variable is replicated across the EU, with even weaker effects in countries like Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland.

  • 3

    Budget balance and trade estimated effects are shown separately rather than in combination with one another because it was unrealistic to estimate the effect of having both a large, positive trade balance and receiving a large portion of the EU budget, as such conditions cannot actually be found in the EU. In other words, countries with the larger trade balances generally are the ones also paying larger amounts into the EU budget.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. National identity and public opinion toward integration
  4. Fear of loss of national identity and opposition to European integration
  5. Support for integration: Alternative approaches
  6. Measurement
  7. Analysis
  8. Conclusion
  9. Acknowledgments
  10. References
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