Monday, August 13, 2007

What do citizens want from the European Union?

The 50th anniversary logo of the signing of the Treaty of Rome in 1957, in the Irish language.
Many citizens are confused and bewildered by the complex organisational structure and numerous competencies of the European Union. Conversely, it is not easy for decision-makers in the EU to know what its citizens expect of them. The rejection of the European Constitution by voters in France and the Netherlands clearly shows that many citizens have trouble identifying with the European Union.

But what do its citizens expect of the European Union?

Floriana Cerniglia and Laura Pagani, University of Milan Bicocca, in their recent CESifo Working Paper, examine Eurobarometer survey results to ascertain how citizens envision the division of responsibilities within the EU and between the member states in the EU-15. They show that there are policy areas that citizens agree to be important throughout the EU. For the majority of surveyed citizens internal security, justice, education, culture, the health system and other areas of the welfare state should be assigned to the national level.

At the European level belong decisions relating to currency issues, foreign policy, development assistance and dealing with the threat of terrorism. In other areas the opinions of Europeans diverge as to where competence lies. These include agriculture, immigration and defence policies.

Some countries have a stronger pro-European stance and others are more euro-sceptical regardless of the policy area. The strongest proponents of the European Union are in southern Europe, especially in Italy, and the northern countries are the least enthusiastic. The Anglo-Saxon countries, Germany and France occupy the middle territory.

The study also determined that citizens that think well of their countries' institutions are opposed to a strong shift of responsibilities to the European level; the opposite is the case in countries whose citizens tend to be discontent with their national governments. The results are also influenced by social criteria: more educated or wealthier citizens have a stronger pro-European attitude.

Also, adherents of leftward-leaning political positions tend to favour a stronger role for the European Union.

The complete CESifo Working Paper No. 2067 The European Union and the Member States: Which level of government should do what? An empirical analysis of Europeans' preferences can be downloaded here.

The CESifo Group, consisting of the Center for Economic Studies (CES), the Ifo Institute for Economic Research and the CESifo GmbH (Munich Society for the Promotion of Economic Research), is based in Munich Germany and is a research group unique in Europe in the area of economic research. It combines the theoretically oriented economic research of the university with the empirical work of a leading Economic research institute and places this combination in an international environment.