A high-level panel was hosted yesterday at the National Gallery for the launch of the second paper of the Algebris Policy and Research Forum: “Europeans Vote: An Existential Moment for EU Integration?”. The advisers of the Forum together with the Head of Research, Silvia Merler, discussed their findings and outlined suggestions.
The paper investigates an apparent contradiction: at a time when a historically high share of Europeans appear to be aware of and acknowledge the benefit of EU membership, yet Eurosceptics and nationalists are increasingly popular and are expected to perform very well in the upcoming European election.
Making use of individual-level data from the European Commission’s Eurobarometer survey, pooled over 15 years, the analysis highlights two opposite issues underlying this dynamics. On the one hand, while the EU is not perceived as undemocratic, people feel cut-off and that their voice does not “count” in the EU. This sense of powerlessness and disenfranchisement increases with age, and is stronger amongst those who are low-skilled or outside the labour market. On the other hand, for many Europeans the EU is no longer seen unequivocally as an opportunity, and it does not offer a convincing answer to feelings of economic anxiety or preoccupation with security.
Rebuilding a positive meaning for the EU in the eyes of Europeans and bringing back “voice” will be two key challenges for those wishing to strengthen EU integration. As the speakers hastened to add, this will entail an open and honest discussion about the meaning of EU solidarity both in economic and in social terms. At the same time, it will be necessary to put citizens at the very centre of the EU democratic process, engaging them more through bottom-up initiatives.