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Ambivalent Europeans? Public Support for European Integration in East and West

  • Catherine E. de Vries
Abstract

In the midst of the economic crisis sweeping across the European continent, popular support for European integration has become a common theme in political discourse. This article revisits the debate regarding popular support for European integration. Although many journalists, politicians and pundits currently argue that the public is becoming increasingly sceptical of further steps towards integration, this study qualifies that claim and suggests that public opinion towards Europe is best described as ambivalent. Also, it shows that ambivalence regarding European integration is higher in Western than in Central and Eastern Europe. This is probably due to the fact that as citizens in Western Europe have gained more experience with the positive and negative consequences of integration over the years, they have also become more ambivalent about the European project. Rather than suggesting that citizens are by and large turning their backs on Europe, I put forward the view that we seem to be witnessing growing uncertainty about the future scope and depth of the integration process. This, I argue, could be viewed as a natural by-product of experiencing both the virtues and the vices association with membership. Consequently, attitude ambivalence as such may be demonstrative of a maturation of public opinion concerning European integration.

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Catherine E. de Vries is Professor of European Politics in the Department of Politics and International Relations and a Fellow of Lincoln College at Oxford University. Contact email: catherine.devries@politics.ox.ac.uk.

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