The MAXCAP Working Paper No. 2 “The ‘Old’ and the ‘New’ Europeans: Analyses of Public Opinion on EU Enlargement in Review” by Dimiter Toshkov, Elitsa Kortenska, Antoaneta Dimitrova and Adam Fagan has been published. You can download the Working Paper here.
This working paper takes stock of what existing public surveys and academic studies reveal about the state and about the determinants of the opinions, attitudes and evaluations of EU citizens about past and future enlargements of the EU.
The first conclusion from this overview is that EU public opinion is getting increasingly hostile towards the possibility of EU enlargement in the future. With regard to the Eastern enlargement, a plurality of EU citizens expressed a positive rather than a negative evaluation the last time they were polled in a EU–wide representative survey during 2008. Yet this weak net positive assessment already concealed a considerable dissatisfaction in many of the old member states.
As of 2012, a majority of the European population expressed opposition towards future enlargements of the EU. Practically in all member states, and in some official candidates for membership as well, support has eroded since the early 2000s. It is quite significant that countries which had already low levels of net support in 2002 have found potential for additional decreases (e.g. France, Austria, Germany) and those starting from high levels have similarly followed the trend. Still, some of the prospective candidates for EU membership (e.g. Turkey, Albania) receive systematically lower levels of support than others, although the EU public has very low awareness of which countries are actually in the accession process. Altogether, the most recent surveys of EU public opinion outline a considerable “enlargement fatigue” among the EU citizens.
Surveying the growing academic literatures which try to explain public attitudes towards enlargement, the paper finds that both utilitarian (interest-based) and identity factors are considered influential. Furthermore, the influence of structural variables is complemented by the potential impact of media framing and cues provided by political parties. Determinants of public opinion do not appear to differ consistently between old and new member states although they are usually analyzed separately: a point the scholarship needs to be improved upon.
The existing studies also find a significant gap in EU enlargement attitudes and evaluations between the elites and the general public. Several key findings which may partly explain the elite-public gap can be found in research on national and EU level media discourses. In particular, recent work has discovered a discontinuity between utilitarian national-level justifications of the last EU enlargement and common norms and values based EU-level justifications. This leads the authors to conclude that citizens’ opinions and perceptions of enlargement should be studied in the context of the discourses which influence them – a task the authors will undertake in the next stage of research for Work Package 3 of MAXCAP.
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