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What drives euroscepticism? December 10, 2008

Posted by didacgp in Uncategorized.
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By Dídac Gutiérrez-Peris


“(…) instruire c’est construire”

Victor Hugo, 1850

Even if some authors like Majone (2002) and Moracsivk (2002) find it exaggerated and too idealistic to speak about a “crisis of legitimacy”, for me there exist too many signs of an erosion between citizens and the European Union to still deny a certain “malaise” towards the European Union.

A “malaise” that could be defined first of all as a “crisis of justification,” as Hannah Arendt puts forward, that is: “as the feeling of losing the direction of things, when doubt is the reaction that a purpose or a project provokes”. In other words, a situation where citizens are unable to answer to the questions for what purpose? with who? and in which direction? in relation to European Integration.

To my mind, two main factors are shaping the current attitude of mistrust towards the European Union: first, the disinformation and second the political disconnection between European institutions and citizens.

The role of disinformation or “if you don’t know, say no

In fact, if we start from the point of view that to deliberate we need to be informed, and that to be informed we need to be educated on the subject in question, we find that the current media (as the main way in which we are informed) and our educational systems (as the place where we learn the tools to form our opinion) are probably the two of the most important factors that could explain some of the contemporary attitudes towards the European Union.  

The absence of a political process of integration within the European Union had led, during these last years, to a situation where many domains, such as education and social policies, are still almost exclusively the responsibility of members States.

The fact is that we need to rethink and re-invent a new post-national education for European citizens. We cannot pretend that future generations will be sufficiently informed about Europe and its functioning if schools remain an absolute and inviolable domain of national States, based permanently in national approaches. 

This objective is obviously not easy: it is necessary to anchor in traditions and national spirits a new shape of patriotism, a new sense for “we”.

Considering the European media one cannot fail to notice that they remain rather silent on Europeans issues. The problem beyond this silent and inexact treatment by the media is that the reaction about something that is unknown is often refusal, rejection, and blaming.

The insecurity, the uncertainty of the res publica, the spirits disoriented, they’ve lost their usual references, the vagueness of politics, all this brings people closer to indifference, tempted of withdrawing from the socio-political game. Then we get closer to the abstention motivated by our fears

Pierre Lenain, L’indifference politique, 1986

In relation to this, European citizens miss out on the necessary information about Europe that could allow them to form an opinion about European Integration (only 31% of citizens feel informed enough about the rights that European citizenship brought them and more than 49% think that they do not have any idea about the subject; in the case of young people, no more than 1 young person out of 2 feels well informed about European politics).

The political disconnection or an island called Brussels

Even if the role of media and education is important, probably the most importing factor when understanding the contemporary attitude towards European Union is the absence of politicisation and lack of accountability in the European Union. As Simon Hix points out, the “growing Left-Right political battles in the EU are inevitable now that the policy agenda has shifted away from creating a single market to deciding how far this market should be regulated or deregulated. What Simon Hix emphasizes is that a new and “political” European agenda will also lead to a new and “politicised” way of deciding about it.

That is the point that could explain the “malaise” towards the EU: the lack of some kind of mechanism that engages citizens, that allows them “to identify policy options, take sides in debate, and ultimately accept being we the losing side in one period in expectation that they will be on the winning side in the near intended.

The real problem is that European institutions are discussing issues that citizens have something to say about but nobody asks them. Issues such as which place the European Union has to occupy in the world, or what would be the best way to protect citizens from social, economic and environmental instability, or even the best and most productive way to fight climate change. Subjects for which people will answer in function of their political views and beliefs, and not in function of a supposed “rational optimal choice”.  

Europe has to make a shift toward a Europe of information and a Europe of confrontation and deliberation and this shift would depend on the practices and decisions made by journalists, teachers, lawyers and politicians. It’s time to speak about Europe.

Expression used by the Irish Times to explain the main reason of the victory of NO in the Referendum, Irish Times, june 5, 2008.

Hix, Simon (2006), ‘Why the EU needs (Left-Right) politics?’, Notre Europe Working Paper: Politics: The Right or the Wrong Sort of Medicine for the EU?, available online.



1. Alina Girbea - January 14, 2009

I completly agree. I would maybe add to your point the fact that the raising level of Europeans with higher eduction would justify that political elites give citizens more credit and make them feel that their opinion that has weigh.

On the other hand, having aquired a certain experience in the last year on the organization of “citizen events” of the French Presidency of the European Union, I am forced to notice that very often people are very hard to mobilize and those who participate in debates are those that are already informed and that are already convinced Europeans. Thus, the communication policy of the European Union often equals preaching to the preasts …

So which is the solution? Well, maybe finally Bruce Akerman was right in his book “We, the people” when noting that in normal times the capitalist systems produces apatic citizens from a political point of view and interested in their private affairs. It’s also a sign that the system works – people have nothing to complain about! Following these remarks, maybe in these troubled times of financial crisis citizens will mobilize themselves and make their opinions heard. In this case the European leaders should listen. But this process should be a bottom up one. Because, as we have already seen, the other way around does not really work …

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