Understanding public Euroscepticism

From Firenze University Press Journal: Italian Journal of Electoral Studies (IJES)

Simona Guerra, University of Surrey

On Saturday, 2nd July 2016, thousands of people marched through Lon-don to show their support for the EU (European Union) and in protest against the UK (United Kingdom) EU membership referendum (23 June 2016) result, when 51.9 per cent of British citizens voted Leave. Gathering around Park Lane, demonstrators walked up to Parliament square within a wave of EU flags and placards, reading slogans as ‘We Love EU’, ‘Never gonna give EU up’ and ‘Brexshit’. One of the organizers, Mark Thomas, commented that he felt ‘anger [and] frustration’ and needed to do something (BBC 2016).A few months later, after the EU institutions received the UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s notification letter triggering Art. 50 (29 March 2017), the EU Council President Donald Tusk (2017) gave his official speech by clos-ing on an emotional tone, ‘…we already miss you.’ On a similar note, the European Parliament (EP) Brexit Coordinator Guy Verhofstadt talked of the letters he had been receiving, and the emotion coming up nearing the open-ing of the negotiation to exit the EU (BBC 2017).

The 2016 British referendum shows that, theoretically, identity, rational utilitarian frameworks of analysis, political parties’ cues or other quantitative analyses can-not fully explain its outcome. Narratives, and embedded national discourses, are missing from the overall picture. Yet, narratives engage through psychological real-ism, such as the red bus used in the British Leave campaign, and mobilize emotions. The role of narratives is critical to examine how people relate to the EU and what Euroscepticism is about. Recent EU crises reclaim the urgency of understanding how the EU is represented and articulated to accept the challenge of the persistent distance between the EU and citizens. This study focuses on the narratives that mobilize public Euroscepticism that emerged after the British EU referendum, examining what the narratives are and what they tell us about public Euroscepticism.When studying public attitudes at the end of the 1990s and early 2000s, before the EU enlargement, the focus tended to examine decreasing levels of support, across member states and candidate countries — ie.: mainly Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries.

In Poland, the largest of the EU candidate countries, and member states, as in Germany and Austria, citizens were fearing the social costs of the negotiation reforms in the former cases, and floods of immigration from neighbouring countries, in the latter. Identity, rational utilitarian frameworks of analysis or the study of the relationship between attitudes towards the nation state and democracy, or political cues could explain general pat-terns of support and opposition, where a ratio between costs and benefits determined attitudes in the Eastern region (Guerra 2013), and domestic politics could affect attitudes across Western member states (Guerra and Serr icch io 2014).Since then, research has also sought to explain that public Euroscepticism is different compared to party Euroscepticism. With the Treaty of Maastricht (1992), when public opinion became for the first time ‘both a measure and a determinant of the process of European integration’ (Gabel 1998: 9), studies developed more to explain than to understand public Euroscepticism. This analysis first explores why it is fundamental to address a question on understanding Euroscepticism, following the British EU referendum campaign and outcome, to then present the established literature on Euroscepticism, and key concepts and contributions.

The analysis of the narratives on the British referendum shows how generalizations can be challenging and people’s voices are critical to understand the main embedded themes and dimensions of opposition to the EU. While these are mainly explanatory at the domestic level, this research suggests that a comparative analysis could offer an essential overview to understand public Euroscepticism.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.36253/qoe-9672

Read Full Text: https://oaj.fupress.net/index.php/qoe/article/view/9672



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The University of Florence is an important and influential centre for research and higher training in Italy