How European do our European neighbours feel?

By Professor Edoardo Mollona, Professor of Business Economics, Department of Computer Science and Engineering, Universita’ degli Studi di Bologna.

Edoardo Mollona is the principal investigator of PERCEIVE project and full professor of Business Economics and Strategic Modelling in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Bologna. In the area of policy modelling, he edited the book Computational Analysis of Firms’ Strategy and Organizations for Routledge.

A vibrant Euro-sceptic attitude challenges the European integration project. At the same time, the European Union allocates a large portion of its budget to its Cohesion and Regional Policy (CRP) to counterbalance economic pressures and equilibrating the economic disparities among European regions. According to the EU Commission, CRP is the key redistributive mechanism.

In this context, the PERCEIVE project – a three-year EU-funded research project coordinated by the University of Bologna – investigates how European Union communicates CRP and how European citizens perceive the role of CRP and EU.

Recently, two of PERCEIVE’s researchers from the University of Goteborg, Nicholas Charron and Monika Bauhr (2017), designed a public opinion survey.

The survey conveys several messages for policymaking. We highlight four.

First, on the average, about 45% of Europeans are aware of CRP. The awareness seems to be dependent on the benefit received. In Poland, the country that receives the highest benefit from EU CRP, awareness is at 80%. On the other hand, in the Netherlands and United Kingdom, awareness is below 25%. These results highlight the need to better design the communication strategy of the policy. At the moment, communication is articulated at three different levels: European Union, at a national level and through regions. In different nations, the three layers play different roles. A question is how these three levels may better interact to increase the level of awareness not only to reach potential beneficiaries but also to let the results of the policies be known by the citizens.

Second, the good news; most citizens – 63% – still believe that their country’s EU membership is a ‘good thing’, while 13% said a ‘bad thing’ and 22% said ‘neither’.  This is slightly different than a 2017 Eurobarometer[1], which found that 57% responded ‘good thing’, 14% ‘bad thing’ and 27% ‘neither’ (however, Greece, Croatia and Czech Republic, three of the four most sceptical countries are not included in our sample, which could help explain our higher ‘good thing’ average).  This is a good point of departure to think of the future of European policy and governance.

Of course, the results show high variance by countries. In Germany, Poland and Romania between 60 and 70 per cent believed EU membership was a good thing, while under 40 per cent of the Italian participants believed Italy’s membership was a good thing.

Third, participants were asked to express their levels of identification with their region, their country and Europe. A group of countries emerged that combine high identification with their nation and relatively lower identification with Europe (Bulgaria, Latvia, Estonia, Sweden and UK) and countries such as Germany, Spain and Austria, in which identification with Europe is on average closer to the identification with their nation. In other countries, such as Italy and Romania, citizens identify with regions.

Finally, to investigate the mechanisms underpinning how they identify, respondents were asked the extent to which several items were important to ‘being European’, including the Euro currency, Christianity, the European flag, having a common history and the right for all EU citizens to live and work in any other EU country.  Our sample-wide results point to ‘the right for all EU citizens to live and work in any other EU country’ as clearly the most important aspect of what it means to ‘be European’ today.

Policy makers should carefully consider this finding. If euro-scepticism thrives in the fear of immigration, the citizens who feel European appreciate the protection that Europe offers to freedom of movement within the countries of the Union. Therefore, the governance of people flows – within the Union and through the EU borders – emerges as a dominant issue for policymaking.

References

Charron, Nicholas and Monika Bauhr.  2017.  “Dataset built from the survey at citizen level for the case-studies regions and report with preliminary qualitative results” Deliverable 1.2 PERCEIVE project, GA nr. 693529

[1] http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20170427IPR72790/belonging-to-the-eu-is-a-good-thing-say-a-growing-number-of-citizens

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