Academic research on the EU, Enlargement, Europe in the news, Euroscepticism, Future of the EU, the Netherlands

The contradictions of the Dutch referendum on the Association agreement with Ukraine

As the day of the advisory referendum in the Netherlands on the Association agreement with Ukraine nears, the bulk of the commentary seems to focus on the campaign, its trends and its context rather than the referendum question and the agreement it addresses. There have been lots of commentaries focusing on the geopolitics of the referendum, evaluating Russia’s possible attitude or role, as for example this recent piece  assessing a potential ‘no’ vote as a symbolic victory for Russia. Many analysts note the passive stance taken by the Dutch government and political parties of the government coalition who, after all, participated in the negotiations of the agreement that started all the way back in 2008. In a highly critical post, Judy Dempsey denounces the lackluster campaign by Dutch and European politicians and the lack of visible commitment to the  treaty and the values it embodies (rather than just trade) by the Dutch Prime Minister Rutte himself. In terms of the implications of the referendum results, there is little agreement on the significance of a potential ‘no’ vote. Some, consider the whole exercise to be meaningless, as given the advisory nature of the referendum, the government could ignore the results if they are negative.This post by Korteweg provides an overview of recent history of both the agreement and the Dutch referendum and of potential scenarios after the referendum.

Yet, as Kristof Jacobs pointed out in the SRV blog and also in a debate we held yesterday, the political consequences of ignoring a possible ‘no’ vote would be much wider  and harder to ignore than the legal ones. Both domestic and international consequences could be quite broad and far reaching. At least one of the government coalition parties, the Social Democrats, has committed to respecting the outcome of the referendum. Changing the wording of the Association agreement to satisfy the Dutch voters would also be quite problematic: in a total of 486 articles and 179 pages without the annexes, identifying which bits would have been found objectionable by Dutch votes in case of a ‘no’ majority would be difficult. The EU’s credibility in other international settings and policies, such as the revised European Neighborhood Policy or even ongoing enlargement process with the Western Balkans, would be compromised.

If we accept that future accessions or associations will become more and more politicized, as found in our enlargement assessment project maxcap (see here), we should try to take the question of the referendum seriously and evaluate, to the best of our current knowledge, what effects the Association agreement might have. Given its scope and the fact that establishing a Deep and Comprehensive Trade Area is quite a novel enterprise, as shown in this legal analysis, effects are difficult to estimate ex ante. The political reform provisions in the treaty, however, are both far-reaching and promising, in the clear commitment to domestic reforms in Ukraine (art 6), extensive requirements for transparency and the planned involvement of civil society (articles 299, 443). All other things being equal (which is not a given in Ukraine’s neighbourhood), the Agreement will provide both a roadmap and a set of incentives for reforms in democratic governance, as the EU has done in the past for countries like Bulgaria, Romania or Slovakia. It will be up to Ukrainian policy makers and politicians to take this opportunity. Yet rejecting the treaty by means of a negative vote in the Netherlands, or letting it exist in some kind of legal and political limbo while the Dutch government decides how to react to a potential negative result, would sap what energy and determination exist for reforms in Ukraine. So paradoxically, if we assume that at least some of the initiators of the Dutch referendum care about democracy and citizens, their democratic impulse might kill the attempts to make democracy mean something in Ukraine. This would be a strange outcome indeed.


Enlargement, EU law, Europe in the news, Euroscepticism, Future of the EU, the Netherlands

Between Scylla and Charybdis: how will the Dutch Presidency connect our Union to citizens?

The flow of refugees from the war zones around Syria has become more and more a test to the European Union. This is also the case for the Dutch government, which will have the EU Presidency in the coming months. Before the EU-Turkey summit on November 29 last year, the Second Chamber in the Dutch parliament had a firm message to Prime Minister Rutte before he left for Brussels: Turkey needs to increase its border controls and shelter refugees in Turkey, and there will be no concessions on the accession of Turkey to the EU. The Christian-Democratic MP Pieter Omtzigt remarked on the latest Commission progress report: “It is better to call this a deterioration report.”[1]

The EU-Turkey summit made it clear how many European political leaders struggle with the refugee problem. Next to a package of measures to substantially reduce the flow of refugees—including 3 billion in support for the establishment of camps, health and education—there was a promise for visa liberalization. The talks on Turkish accession will be resumed.[2] European leaders, including the Dutch Prime Minister Rutte, had to pull all the stops to make a “deal” with Turkey.

Whether the accession negotiations with Turkey will really take off is not clear. The Dutch Presidency does not want to relax any of the existing criteria for enlargement, as has declared again and again. It is also striking that the chapter that will be re-opened, does not follow the Commission’s current policy. This new policy puts the most difficult chapters at the start of negotiations, so that a candidate builds a track-record of its performance during the accession period. In the Turkish case this would include issues like respecting the rights of minorities and improving the functioning of the judiciary. Evidently, both Brussels and Ankara were not yet ready to engage in this litmus test.

The main question that arises is whether the opening of some chapters is nothing more than an attempt to polish the Turkish international reputation after the shooting down of a Russian yet. There is no real intention to let Turkey eventually join. At the same time, and this is the problematic issue, European citizens are given the impression that Turkish EU membership is still feasible. An important group of these citizens has, as confirmed by recent research, no interest whatsoever to allow Turkey join the EU.

Comparative research shows that among citizens, in addition to a Euro-positive discourse, several discourses exist that are very critical of more European integration and further enlargement.[3] In the Netherlands, but also in Germany, there are at least two critical discourses. The first one would like to empower citizens in the EU and make the Union more democratic. This discourse emphasizes a deepening of existing cooperation in which citizens should be more involved in European decision-making. Enlargement is not categorically rejected but is only relevant in the long run.

The second critical discourse is much more radical and points to all kinds of problems with the Union. Expansion has become, according to this discourse, too costly, the participants refer to the Eastern enlargement. Moreover, the discourse also points at the increased competition on the labor market, which reduced wages and contributed to higher unemployment rates. Accession of Turkey is rejected because, in the words of some these participants, “Islam and democracy do not mix.”

These discourses show that many are not ready to have Turkey play a role in the Union. Many citizens do not understand the recent move of European politicians to offer EU membership to Turkey as a possible solution for the migration crisis. The main challenge of the Dutch Presidency is to get around these two issues in a way that is understood and appreciated by European citizens. This requires broad political and popular discussion about the direction Europe is heading in a way in which citizens can be better involved. It requires a clear political debate on whether Turkey could become a EU member. It also requires a discussion with these very same citizens on migration and the current influx of refugees. This debate is not only a European one, but also a national debate, since these issues also affects national politics. This puts the Dutch Presidency for the exceptional and difficult task, both in Europe and the Netherlands, to navigate between Scylla and Charybdis. Without committing to such a debate, especially in these two difficult issues, Dutch citizens will lose confidence in European solutions, and eventually in Dutch politics.[4]



[3] B. Steunenberg, S. Petek en C. Rüth (2011) ‘Between Reason and Emotion: Popular discourses on Turkey’s membership of the EU’ South European Society 16 (3): 449-68 (zie; A. Dimitrova, E. Kortenska en B. Steunenberg (2015) Comparing Discourses about Past and Future EU Enlargements: Core Arguments and Cleavages, MAXCAP Working Paper Series, No. 13, August 2015 (zie

[4] A Dutch version of this post can be found at De Hofvijfer,

Britain, Enlargement, Euroscepticism, Public opinion

Immigration from Central and Eastern Europe fuels support for Eurosceptic parties in the UK

Combining political, demographic and economic data for the local level in the UK, we find that the presence of immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) is related to higher voting shares cast for parties with Eurosceptic positions at the 2014 elections for the European Parliament. Evidence across Europe supports the connection between immigration from CEE and the electoral success of anti-Europe and anti-immigration political parties.

Immigration has become the top political issue in the UK. It played a pivotal role during the European Parliament elections in 2014 and it is the most-talked about issue in the build-up to the national elections in 2015.

The arrival of Eastern Europeans in the wake of the ‘Big Bang’ EU enlargement in 2004 and 2007  has a large part of the blame to take for the rising political salience of immigration for the British public. Figure 1 shows that ever since the EU accession of the first post-communist countries in 2004, immigration has been considered one of the two most important issues facing the country by a substantial proportion of British citizens, surpassing even concerns about the economy, except for the period between 2008 and 2012.

Data source: Standard Eurobarometer (59 to 82).
Data source: Standard Eurobarometer (59 to 82).

These popular concerns have swiftly made their way into the electoral arena. Some political parties like UKIP and BNP have taken strong positions in favor of restricting immigration and against the process of European integration in general. Others, like the Conservative party, have advocated restricting access of EU immigrants to the British labour market[5] while retaining an ambivalent position towards the EU. Parties with positions supportive of immigration and European integration have altogether tried to dodge the issues for fear of electoral punishment. Arguably, political and media attention to immigration (and East European immigrants in particular) have acted to reinforce the public concerns. In short, British voters care about and fear immigration, and political parties have played to, if not orchestrated, the tune.

But there is more to this story. In recent research we find evidence that higher actual levels of immigration from Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) at the local level in the UK are related to higher shares of the vote cast for Eurosceptic parties at the last European Parliament elections in 2014. In other words, British Eurosceptic parties have received, on average and other things being equal, more votes in localities with higher relative shares of East European residents.

The relationship is not easy to uncover. Looking directly into the correlation between relative local-level CEE immigration population shares and the local vote shares of Eurosceptic parties would be misleading. Immigrants do not settle randomly, but take the economic and social context of the locality into account. At the same time, this local economic and social context is related to the average support for particular parties. For example, local unemployment levels are strongly positively correlated with the  vote share for the Labour party, and the local share of highly educated people is strongly positively correlated with the vote share for the Greens (based on the 2014 EP election results). Therefore, we have to examine the possible link between CEE immigration shares and the vote for Eurosceptic parties net of the effect of the economic and social local contexts which, in technical terms, potentially confound the relationship.

In addition, immigrants themselves can vote at the EP elections and they are more likely to vote for EU-friendly parties. This would tend to attenuate any positive link between the votes of the remaining local residents and support for Eurosceptic parties. Lastly, the available local level immigration statistics track only immigrants who have been in the country longer than three months (as of 27 March 2011). Hence, they miss more recent arrivals, seasonal workers and immigrants who have not been reached by the Census at all. All these complications stack the deck against finding a positive relationship between the local presence of CEE immigrants and the vote for Eurosceptic parties. It is thus even more remarkable that we do observe one.

Figure 2: A scatterplot of the relative share of CEE immigrants from the local population versus the residual share of the vote cast for Eurosceptic parties (UKIP and BNP) at the 2014 EP elections

Figure 2 shows a scatterplot of the logged share of CEE immigrants from the local level population as of 2011 (on the horizontal axis) against the residual share of local level vote shares of Eurosceptic parties (UKIP and BNP) at the 2014 EP election (on the vertical axis). Each dot represents one locality (lower-tier council areas in England and unitary council areas in Wales and Scotland) and the size of the dot is proportional to the number of inhabitants. A few localities are labeled. The voting share is residual of all effects of the local unemployment level, and the relative shares of highly educated people, atheists, and non-Western immigrants in the population. In other words, the vertical axis shows the proportion of the vote for Eurosceptic parties unexplained by other social and economic variables.

The black straight line that best fits all observations is included as a guide to the eye. Its positive slope indicates that, on average, higher shares of CEE immigrants are related with higher Eurosceptic vote shares. Formal statistical tests show that the relationship is unlikely to be due to chance alone.

While the link is discernable from random fluctuations in the data, it is far from deterministic. Some of the localities with the highest relative shares of CEE immigrants, like Brent, have in fact only moderate Eurosceptic vote shares, and some localities with the highest share of the vote cast for Eurosceptic parties, like Hartlepool, have very low registered presence of CEE immigrants. Nevertheless, even if it only holds on average, the relationship remains substantially important.

Does this mean that people born in the UK are more likely to vote for Eurosceptic parties because they have had more contact with East Europeans? Not necessarily. Relationships at the level of individual citizens cannot be inferred from relationships at an aggregate level (otherwise, we would be committing what statisticians call ecological fallacy). In fact, there is plenty of research in psychology and sociology showing that direct and sustained contact with members of an out-group, like immigrants, can decrease prejudice and xenophobic attitudes. But research has also found that the sheer presence of an out-group, especially when direct contact is limited and the public discourse is hostile, can heighten fears and feelings of threat of the host population as well. Both mechanisms for the effect of immigration presence on integration attitudes – the positive one of direct contact and the negative one of outgroup presence – are compatible with the aggregate level relationship that we find. And they could well coexist – for a nice illustration see this article in the Guardian  together with the comments section.

Is it really the local presence of immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe in particular that leads to higher support for Eurosceptic parties? It is difficult to disentangle the effects of CEE immigrants and immigrants from other parts of the world, as their local level shares share are correlated. Yet, the relative share of non-Western immigrants from the local population appears to have a negative association with support for Eurosceptic parties across a range of statistical model specifications, while the effect of CEE immigrants remains positive no matter whether non-Western immigration has been controlled for or not.

There is also evidence for an interaction between the presence of immigrants from CEE and from other parts of the world. The red line in Figure 2 is fitted only to the localities that have lower than the median share of non-western immigrants. It is steeper than the black one which indicates that for these localities the positive effect of CEE immigrants on Eurosceptic votes is actually stronger. The blue line is fitted only to the localities with lower than the median share of non-western immigrants. It is sloping in the other direction which implies that in localities with relatively high shares of immigrants from other parts of the world, the arrival of East Europeans does not increase the vote for Eurosceptic parties.

It is interesting to note the recent statement by UKIP leader Nigel Farage that he prefers immigrants from form former British colonies like Australia and India to East Europeans. Focusing rhetorical attacks on immigrants from CEE in particular fits and makes sense in light of the story told above.

We (with Elitsa Kortenska) also find that CEE immigration increases Euroscepticism at the local level in other countries as well. In a recently published article (ungated pre-print here) we report this effect in the context of the referenda on the ill-fate European Constitution in Spain, France, and The Netherlands in 2005 and on the Treaty of Lisbon in Ireland in 2008. In ongoing work we argue that local level presence of CEE immigrants is systematically related to higher vote shares cast for Eurosceptic parties in Austria, The Netherlands, and France, in addition to the British case discussed in this post.

Why does this all matter? The process of European integration presupposes the right of people to move and work freely within the borders of the Union. This is not only a matter of convenience, but of economic necessity. People from regions experiencing economic hardship must be able to move to other EU regions with growing economies for economic integration to function. In an integrated economy like the EU or the US, a Romanian or a Greek must be free to seek employment in the UK or in Poland the same way an American living in Detroit is able to relocate to California in search of work and fortune.

This is especially true given the lack of large-scale redistribution between EU regions. Economic Integration creates regional inequalities. One way to respond is to redistribute the benefits of integration. Another is to allow people and workers to move where employment chances are currently high. If none of these mechanisms is available, economic and political integration are doomed. Therefore, if immigration within the EU indeed fuels Euroscepticism, as our study suggests, the entire European integration project is at risk.

Euroscepticism, Public opinion

How Bad is the EU’s “Communitarian Deficit” Compared to the US’s Shared Identity?

Caspar van den Berg

Whenever the European Union does not function the way we would hope a political community would function, there is a temptation turn to the absence of a shared European culture or identity as an explanation. If only Europeans would have a stronger sense of an European-wide “imagined community” (Anderson, 1991; 2006), there would be more popular support for the EU’s political system, there would be a greater economic and financial solidarity across member states, and an EU systems of taxation and defense would be less sensitive and problematic. Amitai Ezioni recently phrased the argument as follows: “[t]he insufficient sharing of values and bonds – not the poor representative mechanism – is a major cause of alienation from ‘Brussels’ and limits the normative commitment to make sacrifices for the common good” (Etzioni, 2013: 312).

In this discussion, the comparison is often made with the US, the only other political community that roughly resembles the EU in terms of population and territorial size and liberal-democratic principles. The US is often thought of as a polity with a strong sense of “imagined community” that is internally coherent and externally unique, and one which newcomers relatively easily buy into (Wright, 2011). That shared cultural identity is all the more admirable given that America’s ethnic and religious diversity is arguably larger than the EU’s is.

The stronger internal solidarity and implicit support for the political system in the US is for instance illustrated by the fact that wealth transfers through the federal tax system and spending programs take place on a large scale from the North to the South and Midwest, but they are seldom cited as problematic, let alone protested (The Economist, 2011). These wealth transfers are rarely mentioned as troubling, let alone protested (Etzioni, 2013: 314.).

By contrast, much smaller transfers within the EU, for instance from Northern countries to Southern ones and to Ireland, are currently rousing storms of protest and work towards the advantage of the anti-EU parties in the national arena’s of the member states and probably also in the European election of next year (see Mueller, 2013). Whereas these wealth transfers are seen as relatively normal in the US, in the EU they raise questions about the legitimacy of the polity as such. Apparently, the US, despite its polarization along partisan lines and despite its generally greater popular anti-government culture, succeeds in mobilizing greater internal solidarity and greater diffuse support for federal-level governing institutions than does the EU.

In this contribution, we explore how different or alike the US and the EU are in terms of their sense of “imagined community”, i.e. a “socially constructed community, imagined by the people who perceive themselves as part of that group” (Anderson, 1991: 224). How strong should such a community be in order to sustain either a federal union in the case of the US, or an economically integrated polity in the case of the EU? Is an insufficient sense of imagined community the cause of the EU’s lack of popular support and effectiveness in certain policy areas? Is worrying about the EU’s democratic deficit therefore pointless if not first the “communitarian deficit”, as Etzioni puts it, is addressed?

In order to answer these questions, some conceptual grounding is helpful. Firstly, it is generally accepted that a well-functioning political system needs to be underpinned by the diffuse support of the population over which it exerts authority (Easton, 1965; Moravcsik, 2002). Diffuse support is distinguished from specific support for any given policy, and understood as “allegiance, attachment or loyalty to governing institutions” (Gabel, 1998: 17). That diffuse support is to a considerable extent, but not exclusively[1], driven by the sense among the population that they together form a community (Hooghe and Marks, 2004), and are “engaged in a shared enterprise” (Mitchell, 2013: 2). For political systems of continental scale and which demand large transfers of wealth from one part of the territory to another, there is an additional complication: the functioning of the system depends on a substantial degree of internal solidarity. That internal solidarity is in turn strongly dependent on the degree to which the population feels they together form a community engaged in a shared enterprise (Fligstein, 2008).

Secondly, when we talk about imagined communities, the opposing analytical constructs of “Diversity within Unity” and “Unity in Diversity” are useful. Both constructs reflect a view on cultural and political community, where the former places greater stress on unity and the latter more on diversity. “Diversity within Unity” signifies that there is a collective baseline of respect for and adherence to basic values and institutions that are considered part of the shared framework of society. At the same time, every group in society is free to main its distinct subculture – those values, traditions, habits, and institutions that do not conflict with the shared core. In short, the unifying set core values must always trump the particular cultures of the sub-groupings in order for the community to be thick and robust, but beyond that, diversity is generously accepted. (Ignatieff, 1993; Geddes, 1996).

By contrast, the model of “Unity in Diversity” signifies a type of integration in which diversity is taken as the collective’s starting point and which assumes that in creating a shared identity, diversity is not the problem but rather the solution. A shared commitment to preserving the subgroupings’ cultural heritages is considered to be enough to constitute a new community. In this cosmopolitan view, “Europe must be understood as plural – as societies, it must be understood in additive, or, at best, comparative terms” (Beck, 2005: 109).  European unity should not be sought in an idea of a European nation. Rather, this view contends that the persistence of the member states’ nations is the condition of a cosmopolitan Europe; and that “the more secure and confirmed Europeans feel in their national dignity, the less they will shut themselves off in their nation-states” (Beck, 2005: 116).

At face value, the United States seems to be built on a sufficiently strong internal solidarity to sustain large scale interregional transfers of wealth. But to what extent do Americans of different parts of the country perceive themselves really as part of the same community, engaged in a shared enterprise? Recent research suggests that regional variety in terms of political and social values is stark to the extent that the US should in political and cultural terms not be seen as one nation, but as a conglomerate of 11 distinct nations (Woodard, 2012).

The idea that there has never been an America, but rather several Americas is relatively old (Philips, 1969; Garreau, 1982; Hacket Fisher, 1989; Shorto, 2005). Yet Woodard’s book shows that when looking at a set of relevant variables at the county level – rather than the state level – including the distribution of linguistic dialects, the spread of cultural artifacts, the prevalence of different religious denominations, and the breakdown of voting in virtually very hotly contested presidential race in the history of the US, the borders of eleven American nations become clearly visible. That is not to say that each region has one exclusive culture, but that each region has a dominant culture, which embeds its residents within a cultural framework of deep-seated preferences and attitudes. The lasting cultural cleavages can be explained based on historical settlement patterns. [2] According to Woodard, the 11 nations are Yankeedom, New Netherland, the Midlands, Tidewater, Greater Appalachia, Deep South, El Norte, the Left Coast, the Far West and New France. They will be described in key phrases below, taken from Woodard’s work.[3]

picture A

Source: Tufts Magazine

Yankeedom was founded by radical Calvinists as a new Zion, and has cultural traits related to perfecting earthly civilization through social engineering, denial of self for the common good, assimilation of outsiders, and a greater tolerance of government regulation and public sector social projects that many of the other nations. New Netherland was established by the Dutch and has cultural straits related to a global commerce: materialistic, with profound tolerance for ethnic and religious diversity, a center of publishing, trade and finance, a magnet for immigrants and a refuge for those persecuted by other regional cultures.

The Midlands was founded by English Quakers, and has cultural traits related to humans’ inherent goodness, welcoming people of many nations and creeds to their utopian colonies. Pluralistic and organized around the middle class, the Midlands spawned the culture of Middle America and the Heartland, where ethnic and ideological purity have never been a priority, government has been seen as an unwelcome intrusion, and political opinion has been moderate. Tidewater was built by the younger sons of southern English gentry and has cultural traits related to semi-feudal society of the countryside they had left behind. Tidewater places a high value on respect for authority and tradition, and very little on equality or public participation in politics.

Greater Appalachia was founded in the early eighteenth century by wave upon wave of settlers from the war-ravaged borderlands of Northern Ireland, northern England, and the Scottish lowlands. It transplanted a culture formed in a state of near constant danger and upheaval, characterized by a warrior ethic and a commitment to personal sovereignty and individual liberty. Intensely suspicious of lowland aristocrats and Yankee social engineers alike, Greater Appalachia has shifted alliances depending on who appeared to be the greatest threat to their freedom. The Deep South was established by English slave lords from Barbados, and meant as a West Indies–style slave society, where democracy was the privilege of the few and enslavement the natural lot of the many. Its caste systems smashed by outside intervention, it continues to fight against expanded federal powers, taxes on capital and the wealthy, and environmental, labor, and consumer regulations.

El Norte is the oldest of the American nations, and consists of the borderlands of the Spanish American empire. Hispanic language, culture, and societal norms dominate. Norteños have a reputation for being exceptionally independent, self-sufficient, adaptable, and focused on work. The Left Coast culture is a hybrid of Yankee utopianism and Appalachian self-expression and exploration—traits recognizable in its cultural production, from the Summer of Love to the iPad. The Far West’s people are often resentful of their dependent status, feeling that they have been exploited as an internal colony for the benefit of the seaboard nations. Of late, Far Westerners have focused their anger on the federal government, rather than their corporate masters.

New France blends the folkways of ancien régime northern French peasantry with the traditions and values of the aboriginal people they encountered in northeastern North America. Its people have emerged as down-to-earth, egalitarian, and consensus driven, among the most liberal on the continent, with unusually tolerant attitudes toward gays and people of all races and a ready acceptance of government involvement in the economy. First Nation is populated by native American groups that generally never gave up their land by treaty and have largely retained cultural practices and knowledge that allow them to survive in this hostile region on their own terms.

These historically ingrained regional-national differences play out in values and attitudes towards issues including violence, capital punishment, taxation, regulations, social services, marriage equality, federal powers and general government intervention in social and economic life. Woodard sees the cultural gulf between Appalachia and Yankeedom, Deep South and New Netherland as too large and divisive to reach consensus on these issues. Yet apparently, none of this stands in the way of a shared civic-nationalist identity and sense of imagined community holding up the federal state.

What do we see when we project this onto the European continent? While the stakes and the content of the differences and rivalries between the nations are markedly different in Europe compared to the US, at a constellation-level the analogy is quite striking: Woodard’s study and others suggest that the US is, much more than one nation, “a patchwork of separate nations, each with its own origins and prevailing values”. That already sounds reasonably similar to what the EU is.

But a deeper discussion of the political implications of the politically and culturally separate US nations reveals that the various regions find each other in changing coalitions and alliances vis-à-vis different political topics. “Among the eleven regional cultures, there are two superpowers, nations with the identity, mission and number to shape continental debate: Yankeedom and Deep South” (Woodard, 2012). It goes further in discerning Yankee-led bloc that includes New Netherland and the Left Coast in opposition to a bloc that contains the Deep South, Greater Appalachia, Tidewater and the Far West. A European analogy would probably talk about the two superpowers as Germany and France, with a Germany-led bloc that also included the Benelux and the Scandinavian countries in opposition to a Southern bloc including the countries formerly referred to as the PIGS (Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain).

So, it seems that the US and the EU are both patchworks of separate nations with markedly different values and political viewpoints across its regions. Then the question remains why the Americans find enough that binds them together to maintain a reasonably uncontested political community and to accept large interregional fiscal transfers, while the Europeans do not.

While the American melting pot model in its ideal form seems to conform to the “Diversity within Unity” model, Woodard’s research shows that in reality the core of cultural and political values, to which all Americans adhere may be smaller than the doctrine would like us to believe. But without this shared sense of imagined community the US would probably not be a country. So notwithstanding the regionally defined national cultures of the US, there is another layer of cultural identity that unites all 11 nations, and which guarantees the functioning of the Union. Woodard focusses on the differences, and underemphasizes the commonalities, let alone the multi-layered nature of cultural identity. Woodard sees 11 distinct national cultures, whereas it would probably be more accurate to talk about 11 distinct subnational cultures or 11 distinct national subcultures. In other words, the construct of “Diversity within Unity” does seem a justified way to typify the US reality.

This reality is nicely illustrated by the culinary choices during the holiday of Thanksgiving this weekend. While the basic dishes and ingredients are the same from East to West en from North to South, tastes differ as to how they are prepared (Economist, 2013).

picture B

Source: The Economist,[4]

Where does this leave Europe? Certainly the US-type “Diversity within Unity” does not apply to Europe. The latest Eurobarometer results show that only 62 percent of the population of the EU feel they are a citizens of the EU, and 38 percent of the population of the EU still identify exclusively as the nationality of their member state. Moreover, 60 percent of the Europeans “tend to not trust” the European Union. In addition, large cross-national differences persist when asked about the values which are the most important for them (Eurobarometer79, 2013: 48-51).  Other indicators of a sense of European community point to a similarly low degree: Less than half of Europeans have socialized with people from another EU country during the twelve months preceding the survey, the proportion of Europeans who have visited another EU country during the last twelve months is 39 percent and the 22 percent of Europeans have used the Internet to buy a product or service in another EU country in the past year. Based on these figures, it is perhaps even doubtful whether “Unity in Diversity” applies, the phrase that nominally is the EU’s motto. While the “Unity in Diversity” model claims to be able to combine the call for the recognition of differences and the call for integration of divergencies, whether the latter is happening at the moment is up for debate.

So, while it seems fair to suggest that both the US and the EU are a patchwork of nations under an overarching political system, the threads and seams that hold the patches together are of a quite different nature. The American models resembles the “Diversity within Unity” model more closely if not as closely as the national doctrine would suggest, in the sense that over and above the national-regional cultures, there is a sense of shared civic citizenship, based on adherence to legal norms and a minimum of shared moral values and affective ties. The European model is more grounded in persistent high levels of diversity.

This discussion has shown that the US political system would unlikely be able to stand on diversity alone. Especially if some parts of the country have to make sacrifices for the community and the common good, a core of unity and belief in a shared destiny seems instrumental. Also, we know that European integration does by no means automatically give rise to supranational identity, and a more robust European imagined community seems necessary before deeper or wider integration should be undertaken.

On a more optimistic note, the fact that the relatively strong national-regional cultures in the US do not inherently or systematically seem to undermine the strength of the federal political system, neither through low levels of diffuse support for the idea of federal governing institutions or low internal solidarity, supports the notion that a strong member-state national identification in European does not necessarily preclude European identification or support, and that the key to a stronger imagined European community is in the kindling of a layered and inclusive “European-plus-national” identity roughly similar to the layered and inclusive “American-plus-regional” identity has taken shape.



Anderson, B (1991; 2006) Imagined Communities: Reflections on the origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso.

Beck, U. (2005) “Re-Inventing Europe: A Cosmopolitan Vision’, Quaderns de la Mediterrania 10: 109-116.

Bishop, B. and R. Cushing (2008) The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart. Houghton Mifflin

Economist (2011) ‘America’s Fiscal Union: The Red And The Black’, The Economist

Economist (2013) ‘Gobble, Gobble: How The Thanksgiving Day Plate Varies Across America’, The Economist,

Etzioni, A. (2013) “The EU: The Communitarian Deficit”, in: European Societies, 15:3, 312-330.

Easton, D. (1965) A Systems Analysis of Political Life. New York: John Wiley and Sons.

Eurobarometer (2013) Standard Eurobarometer 79, Spring 2013. Public Opinion in the European Union. Report.

Fligstein, N. (2008) Euro-clash: The EU, European Identity and the Future of Europe. New York: OUP

Garreau, J. (1982) The Nine Nations of North America. Avon Books

Gabel M. (1998) “Public Support for European Integration: An Empirical Test of Five Theories”. In: Journal of Politics: 60:2, 333-354.

Geddes, Andrew. The Politics of Immigration and Race. Baseline Books (1996).

Hackett Fisher, D. (1989) Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hooghe, L. and G. Marks (2004) “Does Identity of Economic Rationality Drive Public Opinion on European Integration?” Political Science and Politics 37:3 415-420

Ignatieff, Michael. (1993) Blood and Belonging: journeys into new nationalism. BBC Books and Chatto and Windus.

Mitchell, K. (2013) “European identity and the Eurozone Crisis: Diffuse Support for the EU and Specific Support for Integrative Economic Policies”, Paper presented at the 13th Biennial Conference of the EUSA, Mya 9-11, 2013, Baltimore, Maryland.

Moravcsik (2002), “In Defence of the ‘Democratic Deficit’: Reassessing Legitimacy in the European Union” Journal of Common Market Studies 40:4 603-624

Mueller, J.W. (2013) “How Europe Could Face its on Shutdown: Just as the Tea Party has Paralyzed Congress, an Alliance of Populist Anti-EU Parties Could Force Europe into Gridlock” The Guardian, 21 October 2013.

Philips, K. (1969) The Emerging Republican Majority. Arlington House

Public Tableau (2013) ‘A Nation Divided: The U.S. Can’t Agree on a Pie Flavor, But Everyone Loves Cranberry Sauce’

Sharpf, F. (2009) “Legitimacy in the Multilevel European Polity” European Political Science Review 1:2 173-204

Shorto, R. (2005) The Island at the Center of the World. Vintage

Woodard, C. (2012) American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America. Penguin Books.

Wright, M. (2011) “Diversity and the Imagined Community: Immigrant Diversity and Conceptions of National Identity”, In: Political Psychology, 32:5 837-862.

[1] Other factors being e.g. perception of representation and institutional fairness and justice (see Scharpf, 2009).

[2] While it seems plausible that the US’ high degree of cross-regional mobility would over time dissolve at least some these regional differences, in effect mobility has over time reinforced the differences, as people increasingly sort themselves into like-minded communities, a phenomenon analyzed by Bill bishop and Robert Cushing in The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart (2008).

Europe in the news, Euroscepticism, Future of the EU, Public opinion, the Netherlands

The EU’s Budget Negotiations and the Dutch Government: A Commentary

The Dutch government’s mission for last week’s budget negotiations, which had to be secured by Prime Minister Rutte, was three-fold: First, to maintain the 1 billion euro rebate on The Netherlands’ contribution to the EU. Second, to lower total EU spending. This goal might have seemed ambitious, given that new EU budgets had always been higher than the previous one, and given that the European Commission had asked for and increase of 5,5 per cent compared to the old 2007-2013 budget.

Third, Rutte’s goal was to modernize the budget in order to create more financial room for investing in the EU’s earning capacity, in areas such as research, innovation, transport, energy and digital networks.

While the latter goal is the most substantive in nature, the first two are highly political: Rutte seemed to be particularly keen on being able to demonstrate that he could succeed in making Brussels “give in and give up”, and to show that he could come home with spoils of some sort for the national electorate.

The first of these goals has been achieved: Rutte managed to maintain the Dutch rebate. The second goal was also successfully negotiated: for the first time in the history of the EU the budget has been pushed down. This makes The Netherlands part of the winning team in last Friday’s decision making process, together with Britain, Germany, Sweden and the other net-contributors.

By contrast, Rutte was not successful in securing a more modern EU budget: spending on Competitiveness for Growth may increase by 40 per cent to more than 125 billion euro, it still remains a very modest part of the total budget (12,6 per cent compared to 32,6 per cent for regional development and 37,4 per cent for agriculture).

So it can be concluded that Rutte has succeeded politically but lost in more substantive terms. In his first response to the press, Rutte stated: “Of course it is not possible to get everything you want when you negotiate with 27 member states. But we keep our rebate, for which we fought hard, and the total budget will be smaller. That’s appropriate, because all member states have to cut their spending”.

What Rutte does not mention is that since the last budget was made, the member states have asked the EU to do more, for instance in the field of regulating the financial services and national budgets, foreign policy and fighting cross border crime. The EU institutions will have to perform these additional tasks with fewer funds. For The Netherlands, there is a clear analogy with what the present central government demands from local authorities: policy decentralization has been paired with budget cuts for municipalities.

Another part of the budget that pleased the Dutch government is the demand for all EU institutions to cut down 5 per cent of their staff in the next years. Those EU-civil servants that remain will have to work longer hours without additional compensation and will face a salary cut of 6 per cent, seen as a “token of solidarity” with indebted EU member states. This measure tallies nicely with the recurrent debate on public sector rewards in The Netherlands. Just last week, there was outrage in Dutch newspapers and TV shows in response to the news that more than 3000 EU civil servants enjoy a higher salary than the Dutch prime minister himself.

The failure to truly modernize the EU’s budget is seen by many as a missed opportunity to use the budget negotiations as stating an ambition for Europe, rather than underlining the popular perception that EU budgets are more about finding a “gloomy compromise between political opportunism and subsidy addiction” as the Dutch Commissioner Neelie Kroes for Europe’s Digital Agenda called the budget agreement in the papers.

In sum, Rutte succeeded in achieving the two political goals that prevent him from losing political prestige domestically, but he failed to triumph in terms of creating more common added value for Europe, by moving away from the old economy and embrace the new economy. This can be taken as an indication of Europe’s long road ahead, both in terms of economic recovery and in terms of increasing multi-level political legitimacy.

Academic research on the EU, Euroscepticism, Public opinion, Uncategorized

Europeanization and its discontents

The generally held view that the smooth functioning of political systems depends on trust has caused much concern about dropping levels of support for the EU political institutions. In his blogpost in December, Dimiter Toshkov showed that trust in the EU institutions has decreased by more than 20% (from its 2009 levels) implying a decline in the EU’s legitimacy. The latest results from the Eurobarometer published in December 2012 (Standard Eurobarometer 78) show that trust in the European Union has increased with 2 percentage points to 33% since spring 2012, but that the long-term trend since 2004 indicates a steady erosion of support for the EU. Trust levels in the EU are now approaching the trust levels of national governments (27 %) and national parliaments (28%).

How worrisome is this falling level of trust in the EU? It is commonplace to say that trust is good and that declines are bad. Declining trust generally connotes a public that is not happy with its political institutions. But the wealth of explanations found in the political science literature for the declining levels of trust in advanced industrial democracies, indicate that the erosion of political support is also a result of a better-educated, better-informed cohort of politically astute citizens that is more apt to use critical criteria when asked to evaluate governments or political institutions. Some political theorists argue that it is not trust, but vigilance and scepticism that provide the hallmark for well-functioning political systems. Declining levels of trust may, thus, represent the rise of a public that is—and perhaps as they should be—sceptical of political power. Trust in the EU falling to the (lower) levels observed in the member states suggests a progressive political normalisation of the EU. Citizens, when forming opinions, judge the EU apparently with similar standards and skepticism that they also use in their evaluations of political institutions at the national level. Maybe the problems of legitimacy facing the EU are not so fundamentally different from those facing the member states.

Euroscepticism, Future of the EU, Public opinion

The European Commission vs. the People

The Commission has recently published its vision about the future of European integration. The report is more than ambitious calling for full banking, economic, budgetary and political integration, including ‘dedicated fiscal capacity for the euro area’ which I believe means taxation powers for the EU. Here is the assessment of the Commission about the present state of EU’s legitimacy:

The Lisbon Treaty has perfected the EU’s unique model of supranational democracy, and in principle set an appropriate level of democratic legitimacy in regard of today’s EU competences. would be inaccurate to suggest that insurmountable accountability problems exist. (p.35)

Wow, wait a minute! P e r f e c t e d    the model of supranational democracy?! Appropriate level of democratic legitimacy?! Are the Commissioners living on the same planet as the rest of us? According to data from autumn 2012, fewer than 1 in 3 Europeans said they trust the EU. 60% don’t trust the EU. For only 31% of European citizens the EU ‘conjures’ [sic] a positive image, while for 28% it ‘conjures’ a negative one. In late 2011 only 45% of European expressed satisfaction with the way democracy works in the EU. 43% were not satisfied with the ‘perfected model of supranational democracy’.

And what about the impact of the Lisbon Treaty? Here is a graph of the trust Europeans have in the different EU institutions. By the way, the Commission currently stands at 36% (click to enlarge the graph).

New Picture (1)

The trend is quite clear from a bird’s eye-view, but let’s zoom in on the period after the Lisbon Treaty entered into force:

New Picture

Trust in EU institutions has decreased by more than 20% (from its 2009 levels) so that currently even the directly-elected European Parliament doesn’t get the trust of more than half of the European population. The Lisbon Treaty has perfected things indeed.

Finally, let’s look more specifically at what people think about EU’s expansion into some of the policies mentioned in the report. An absolute majority of Europeans consider that it is only for the national governments to make decisions about public debt (51%), unemployment (58%), social welfare (68%), taxation (68%) and pensions (73%).

If these are not ‘ insurmountable accountability problems’, I don’t know what is. For all its ambition, the Commission offers few answers how the reforms will be pushed through in the face of such strong opposition from the people. There is no way to proceed behind the backs of the citizens, and there is no magic trick to earn their trust overnight. The Commission might be applauded for expressing a bold vision for future Europe, but some reality check is in order.