Analysis: Calming down: The EU recovers in a period of reflection

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

This study is published by Barbara Lippert and Timo Goosmann of the Institut für Europäische Politik (IEP) in Berlin within the framework of EU-CONSENT, a “Network of Excellence”.

Summary and excerpts

The second issue of “EU-25 Watch” summarises the debate in the EU member states as well as in three of the candidate countries (Croatia, Romania and Turkey) on a number of EU topics. These include the Lisbon Process, the constitutional treaty and enlargement. 

The economies and welfare systems within the European Union differ greatly, which leads to diverging preferences of old and new members in many economic concerns. The Lisbon Process is one of the major projects of the EU. However, in the EU as a whole, there is only limited support for the Lisbon Process as a framework that could work as a “point of reference for shaping national strategies”.

The study investigates which topics receive the greatest attention in national debates and concludes that member states still focus primarily on national issues such as elections. “Foreign” issues are mainly only covered when their salience is high and when there are perceived possibilities for “spillover effects”. 

The study reaches two conclusions about public debate in the member states:

  • Identity-related questions show more heterogeneity and diversity compared to other EU issues, which are dealt with in a “rationalist framework”, and; 
  • “EU-Europe, in particular after enlargement, is not a community of shared memories and historical experiences.”

In all countries taking part in this survey, a lack of EU leadership is perceived. The survey shows that many Europeans expect German Chancellor Angela Merkel to take a strong position and revive the constitutional process. Many EU citizens still look to the German-French tandem to provide impetus, but doubts remain about the economic performance and political strength of the two countries. 

The study refers to the period of reflection as “the sound of silence”. There seems to be general consensus that the time for EU “mega-projects” has “passed its peak”. Countries wish to focus on concrete projects such as citizen’s rights, a job-plan for Europe, democratic reforms, economic reforms, more action against organised crime and trafficking etc. 

Despite “enlargement fatigue” and the rising debate on the “absorption capacity” of the Union, EU governments are convinced that the membership perspective is essential for the Western Balkans. However, only citizens in the new member states support EU membership of these countries. 

To sum up, the study concludes that a relaunch of the constitutional process is not a “top issue of a wider public” and that the “Europeanisation” of debates is only progressing very slowly. The question of identity still marks heterogeneity and diversity between member states and the Lisbon Process is at this point far from fulfilling its goal of “profound reform”.

To access the full study, click here.

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