The most mainstream political theories on the building of European institutions are clear on what the ingredients for the EU to become a supranational political community are. The common denominator of all these requirements is legitimacy: the extent to which the supranational power is recognized as such. We can get a rough idea of how far this legitimation process has gone by surveying people. The 2004-2008 round of The World Values Survey paints a clear picture. People were asked about their local, national and global attachments. Their national and global identity was measured relative to local attachments. It turns out, people feel the most connected to their national identity, with countries such as the US and India having the strongest national attachments. This is even stronger than local identity. On the other hand, people tend to have a very low global attachment, with China scoring the lowest. Where does attachment to European citizenship stand? Europeans have a weak European identity. Their European attachment is almost as low as their global attachment. Note that this emerged from surveys taken before 2008, namely before the crisis started. You could speculate that attachment to European citizenship has even decreased since 2008.
In the aftermath of the Eurozone crisis, the relationship between debtors and creditors has gotten tense, Eurosceptic parties have gained momentum and Grexit or Brexit might be close. On September 30th, Professor Simon Hix gave an insightful talk at the London School of Economics on “the Future of Britain and Europe”. As professor Hix put it, “Britain can choose to be either isolated inside Europe or isolated outside Europe”. He argued that England has always been an outlier and has always seen the EU as an economic project rather than political one. David Cameron is now trying to push the EU to obtain what he wants: an opt-out for Britain on an “ever closer union”, more protection for the City of London, a cut in benefits to contain immigration, reforms for the single market. Not only “Britain has one hand on the exit door” now, but it has always been further from integration than all other European countries. If you look at trade dependency, the UK trades less with the EU (both as a share of GDP and as a share of total trade) than any other country in the EU. Nevertheless, the EU is still the biggest trading partner for the UK: trade with the EU makes up 47% of total trade in the UK.
YouGov asked UK citizens the following question: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”. In September 38% of respondents said “remain in the EU” and 40% said “leave the EU”. But when asked “If there was a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, how would you vote?”, 45% said they would vote “remain in the EU” while 36% of people said they would vote to “leave” (May 2015).
Professor Hix pointed out some interesting predictors of support for leaving or staying: people who vote left-wing parties are more likely to vote to stay in the EU than people with right-wing political preferences. People who rank “economics” as a priority want to remain in the EU, whereas people who rank “immigration” as a priority want to leave. White British tend to be more anti-EU than other ethnicities. People who have university level education are more likely to vote to remain in the EU. The bottom line is that there is a limit on the predictions we can make on how people are going to vote in the UK.
On October 1st, Professor Stephen M. Walt gave a public lecture at the London School of Economics about the future of Europe and the challenges that Europe faces today. Of course, the refugee crisis is one and it has triggered various policy responses. On the one hand, Germany welcoming thousands of migrants. On the other hand, Hungary shutting borders. A recent study by “The Economist” suggests that Eastern European countries such as Hungary actually need refugees to counterbalance labor shortages and population ageing. On the other hand, the picture that Martin Wolf has portrayed on the FT is rather different, with immigration not having such a significant impact on the “dependency ratio”.
According to Professor Walt, another main challenge Europe faces is expansion limits. Has Europe reached its expansion potential? Convergence appears to be slow and incomplete and consensus hard to obtain. Expansion gives rise to economies of scale and scope; on the other hand, heterogeneity of preferences calls for more division. Research shows that there is a fundamental trade-off between these two elements. Then, should Turkey join the EU? What lies ahead?
In the postwar period, Europe was able to recover extremely quickly. Catch-up phase was going fast and GDP per capita growth was strong and positive. Today Europe is at a turning point. As Professor Walt emphasized “past success is no guarantee of future performance”.