Atakan Uzun poses a question that’s been brewing for the last number of years – is further European Union integration grinding to halt? And if we are to see a rise in the amount of far right parties and MEP’s in the new Parliament following the elections in May, will it be halted indefinitely?
A poll was recently released which showed that 27 out of 28 EU member states are in favour of European integration. However, does this mean that the citizens within these countries are in favour of further European integration and do they believe that they have benefited from European Union membership? What could be preventing further European integration?
Could it be the neo-liberal policies of the European Union which have further undermined the European Union in years gone by, and are populists using this to their advantage? If so, how can one conclude whether European integration will ever come about?
The the people want further integration?
It’s generally considered that citizens within European Union member states are actually in favour of membership, especially in smaller countries such as Ireland, which have benefited massively from membership, particularly in the improvement of a previously economically stagnant country, under the policy of self-sufficiency. Even in a member state such as Britain, which you wouldn’t expect to feel that they have gained from EU membership, 54% of people believe that they have benefited from membership. But unsurprisingly, the only country that believes that it hasn’t seen improvement though European Union membership is Italy, under the populist government of Matteo Salvini. However, this could be down to the fact that over the last couple of years, they have had a bad experience with the European Union, similarly to Greece. However, the majority of Greek people are in favour of European Union membership. But, the main question that aims to be asked in this paragraph is, does this graph tell us the full story of people’s attitudes towards the European Union.
The graph featured here can be misleading somewhat in that certain demographic groups in certain states don’t feel as connected to the European Union, France being a prime example in that only 34% feel connected to the structures of the European Union. I don’t that this graph tells the full story, because certain people in certain countries don’t feel connected to the European Union, such as France. As I mentioned in my previous blog posts, only 34% of people in France feel connected to the structures of the European Union. Recently Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ní Riada said, the European Union needs to be heavily reformed in order to reduce the democratic deficit of it and its economic policies. While EU membership has benefited the economic welfare of many countries, it has to be heavily reformed in order to go back to the glory days of the EEC.
Do Countries Really Want To Join?
While countries that are strongly in favour of European Union membership, many aren’t actually in favour of European integration. The above graph shows the rejection of the Treaty of Nice in 2001, first time around, and it getting passed a year later and the rejection of the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland in 2008, and it getting passed a year later in 2009. Even in countries most in favour of European Union membership, they are not strongly in favour of further European integration. In fact, there is a division across Europe of those who are in favour of further European integration and those who are opposed to further European integration. Ireland, with 92% in favour of European Union membership, voted against both the Nice and the Lisbon Treaties, despite being in favour of European Union membership.
Let’s look back at the Lisbon Treaty referendum result in Ireland in 2008. It wasn’t passed in 2008 in Ireland which meant that Ireland would have to call a second referendum in order to have involvement within the European integration process, especially in relation to the establishment of a European army. Many people against European integration believed that the European Union was forcing Ireland to have a second referendum and get the result that they would like, similar to the Brexit referendum result. However, the European Union gave concessions to Ireland in relation to neutrality which meant that the second referendum was passed in 2009, which led to the Lisbon Treaty taking effect across all European Union member states. There is a negative feeling across Europe towards European integration despite people being in favour of European Union membership and believing that European Union membership has benefitted their respective country. Despite people being in favour of European Union membership, it doesn’t tell the full story on whether they are in favour of further European integration.
What’s holding this up?
The barrier to further European integration is the current rise in populist governments that govern European countries across European Union member states, who are prominent Eurosceptics. Right now, multiple member states across the EU are being governed by populist parties, include Hungary, Italy, Czech Republic, Poland. In states that aren’t ruled by populist parties, parties have a significant involvement in internal affairs. Examples of populists which hold significant influence in European states would be France under Marine Le Pen and Front National as well as the Alternative For Deutschland (AFD), who were established in 2013. The AFD have called on a referendum in Germany for European Union membership. This is a similar example to when UKIP gained significantly on the Conservative Party, which led to them making a suicidal promise to the British electorate that they would deliver a referendum on membership of the European Union if the electorate would vote for the Tories in the next General Election. One could conclude that the CDU under Angela Merkel must not make any pledges to the AFD or supporters of the AFD to impose a dangerous referendum on European Union membership.