The European Union (EU) is facing one of the rockiest periods in its existence. Not often in its history has it looked so economically fragile, so unsecure about how to protect its borders, so divided over how to tackle the crisis of legitimacy facing its institutions, and so under assault of Eurosceptic parties. The unprecedented levels of integration in recent decades have led to increased public contestation, yet at the same the EU is more reliant on public support for its continued legitimacy than ever before. Eurosceptic parties are expected to increase their vote share in the upcoming European Parliamentary elections, and the outcome of the Brexit vote provides glimpse of what could happen when Euroscepticism hardens.
In this talk, I discuss the role of public opinion in the European integration process. Based on my 2018 book Euroscepticism and the Future of European Integration, I outline a novel theory of public opinion that stresses the deep interconnectedness between people’s views about European and national politics. It suggests that public opinion cannot simply be characterized as either Eurosceptic or not, but rather consists of different types. This is important because these types coincide with fundamentally different views about the way the EU should be reformed and which policy priorities should be pursued. These types also have very different consequences for behaviour in elections and referenda. Euroscepticism is such a diverse phenomenon because the Eurozone crisis has exacerbated the structural imbalances within the EU. As the economic and political fates of member states diverged, people’s experiences with and evaluations of the EU and national political systems also grew further apart. The heterogeneity in public preferences has implications for the European project, as it makes a one-size-fits-all approach to addressing Euroscepticism unlikely to be successful.
Catherine E. De Vries is a Westendijk Chair and Professor of Political Behaviour in Europe at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, where she also acts as the Director of the VU Interdisciplinary Center for European Studies. In addition, she is an Associate Member of Nuffield College, University of Oxford and an affiliated Professor of Political Science at the University of Essex. Finally, she serves a scientific advisor the eupinions project of the Bertelsmann Foundation and as a board member of the European Institute at the London School of Economics and Hertie School of Governance in Berlin.
Co-sponsored by the Hoover Institution