Weary of the EU

By Nichole Kanios

As a professor at Leiden University in the Netherlands Dr. Antoaneta Dimitrova has pursued academic directives and investigations into the EU with regard to varying themes of decision making, democratization, institutionalization, and so on. In her lecture entitled “Why Are Europeans Getting Weary of EU Enlargement? Public Opinion, Perceptions, and Institutions in New and Old Member States,” she set out to explain her research with regard to the ever-perplexing question of EU expansion.

Euroscepticism has received a lot of attention in global affairs within the last few years. With situations like Brexit making their way into political discussion it is no shock that the question of EU stability has led to a questioning of EU enlargement. Dr. Dimitrova set out to answer the very question of why citizens within the EU are becoming weary of EU enlargement as a whole by focusing on public opinion, perception, and institutions within old and new member states. By focusing on this shift in enlargement sentiments Dr. Dimitrova provides an insight into public regard for expansion, and also a means by which elites may be capable of addressing and changing such sentiments in order to further the European project.

The evidence presented in her research relies on “Q methodology,” a technique wherein the goal was identifying national trends towards enlargement with cases in the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, and Bulgaria. This process involved focus groups as well as interviews wherein participants were allotted free rein in their conversation of EU enlargement.  These statements were sorted into a set of 64 and then broken down even further into a normal distribution with the resulting information providing the “national discourses” of her case studies.

Evaluation of these discourses revealed several trends. People felt they had not been adequately consulted with regards to EU enlargement (shown in discourses with the Netherlands and Germany). Citizens felt that previous rounds of enlargement did not provide the prosperity that was expected (shown in discourses in all four cases). While there was also discussion over whether or not the EU was ready to expand (deepening vs. widening), as well as actual readiness of candidate countries. Dr. Dimitrova further suggests that the negative sentiments citizens currently hold towards EU enlargement may be subject to change should further enlargement processes proceed with a more inclusive and consultative manner; if they were to lead to better governance and institutions; and if the entire process were to be conducted in an objective fashion.

To conclude she proposes that the former “permissive consensus” characterized as citizens maintaining an apathetic acceptance of enlargement being handled by elites is now gone and has been replaced with “constraining dissensus” in that citizens have become politicized and alert to enlargement. The evidence presented in her argument is well supported in that enlargement is no longer the “de-facto” EU future that it once was. Even the existence of debate around the topic presents evidence towards her claim that citizens are becoming more conscientious and skeptical. The larger gain presented by her research is that it does not simply answer the question of whether or not negative enlargement sentiment exists, but it identifies factors on a national level which may provide answerable responses by elites. In essence it creates a platform that elites can use to further discussion and progress with regard to EU enlargement, without upsetting the citizenry.

However, while Dr. Dimitrova claims that drivers for enlargement sentiment are largely domestic, is it possible that referenda held on account of enlargement or exit (such as Brexit) are somewhat used as a domestic mouthpiece for dissatisfaction with a current political regime as opposed to the EU itself? Furthermore, if enlargement were to be halted completely due to such strong anti-enlargement sentiment, how much would that minimize the “global role” that the EU supposedly plays?

Nichole Kanios is a Junior at Miami majoring in Diplomacy and Global Politics with an interest in international law.

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