The Strategist

Chatham House finds three fault lines in Europe

06/27/2017 - 12:08

A few days ago, the British analytical center for international relations Chatham House published a report on the prospects for the European Union and possible ways to resolve the political crisis that Europe has been experiencing in the last decade. Researchers singled out three lines of social splits that, without stabilization, could turn out to be even greater shocks than the UK's exit from the EU.

Garry Knight via flickr
Garry Knight via flickr
The researchers are basing on sociology, and are assuming that the EU’s future will depend on how far the attitude towards the union differs among the public and elites. Therefore, the report’s core is a survey conducted during six months - from December 2016 to February 2017 in 10 EU countries - Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Spain and the UK.

The survey was attended by 10 thousand ordinary citizens and more than 1.8 thousand representatives of the privileged strata of the population - the establishment, businesses and other opinion leaders at the local, regional, national and pan-European levels.

Redistribution of wealth and migrants

The data showed three lines of split in public opinion. The first and the most obvious separates elites from society. For example, the elite feels benefits of integration into the EU, and is generally more liberal and optimistic about the future union. 71% of the elites believe that their countries have benefited from the creation of the European Union.

Only 34% of the population among ordinary European citizens believe that their countries have benefited from the EU. In addition, 54% of citizens are convinced that life in their country was better two decades ago, and now the migration crisis and the policy on its settlement just made the situation worse.

Most representatives of the privileged strata of the population believe that migrants have a positive effect, strengthen the cultural life of countries and not having a significant impact on the level of crime. However, ordinary citizens tend to believe that migrants are undesirable, and reject the idea that they benefit local national culture.

Nevertheless, the two groups agree that one of the main tasks of the European Union as an international project is the redistribution of wealth. Exactly half of the population of Europe believes that rich countries should provide financial support to poor countries. Only 18% disagree with this statement. 77% of the elites are convinced in this statement.

"This does not simplify the task of building a more equitable, more united union, but this confirms the premise that the European Union, with its non-monolithic socio-economic composition, should continue to be based on solidarity," the study said. In general, the majority of representatives of the privileged strata of the population and ordinary citizens are proud of their common European identity.

However, the survey also discovered a part of society who are dissatisfied with the fact that the European identity in many issues overshadows and pushes the national identity to the background - discontent with the migration policy is one of the main factors here.

Only 8% of ordinary citizens in all 10 countries believe that politicians care about what people think.

Another EuroExit is just around the corner

The second break occurs along the line of liberal and conservative-oriented groups. Researchers believe that this gap is likely to have a much greater impact on the future of the union, rather than on differences in issues, say, on economic policy. "The political problems arising from this gap are likely to persist for many years, even after the recovery and stabilization of economic growth", the authors of the report write.

Thirdly - according to the survey, there is no consensus on the direction of the EU development among the elites, especially in matters of deepening, freezing or weakening of integration. 28% of the citizens of the privileged population support the status quo, 37% believe that the EU should have more powers over member states, and 31% believe that the European Union should give its members greater independence.

"The lack of a pronounced preference for a majority in the future development of the EU requires an integration project that goes beyond the rude notions of a" bigger "or" lesser "Europe," the report’s authors write.

Most (55%) of ordinary citizens believe that at least one more country will leave the EU in the next decade. Among the elites, the ratio reaches 43%.

The researchers say there are two factors - pan-European economic growth and relative political stability – that can create a foundation for such renewal. "This process seems more likely given the election of Emmanuel Macron as President of France," the authors write and pin their hopes on the forthcoming parliamentary elections in Germany on September 24 this year.

Their outcome will largely determine the future of the European Union, since Germany is one of the most stable pillars of its existence in general.

According to Chatham House, 48% of ordinary Europeans and 62% of elites believe that Germany plays a positive role in the European Union, whereas 28% and 23% disagree with this statement, respectively.

Now, forecasts are predicting victory for the Christian Democratic Union of the current German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The main competitor of the Chancellor, the Social Democratic Party and its leader Martin Schultz, confidently shortened the gap in the first months of 2017, and at some point even razed the ratings to the level of statistical error. Recently, however, popularity of the Social Democrats has dropped noticeably. The rating of the ultra-right party "Alternative for Germany" now fluctuates in the range from 5 to 10%.

However, whatever the outcome of the election will be, this does not negate the fact that the EU countries need to rework their approach to discussing the future of the EU. "There is a need for political leadership capable of formulating a long-term vision that will satisfy both the majority of privileged citizens and the public", the researchers write. "The genuine political renewal of Europe requires more open, creative and even conflicting discussions."