Europe à la Carte

Europe à la Carte

European elites generally are in favor of the EU, but the citizenry has reservations.

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"Europe Divided? Elites vs. Public Opinion on European Integration" by Liesbet Hooghe, in European Union Politics (Sept. 2003), Sage Publications, 2455 Teller Rd., Thousand Oaks, Calif. 91320.

When it comes to an integrated Europe, leaders and led appear far apart, with the former enthusiastic and the latter not very. But that common perception is something of an illusion, contends Hooghe, a political scientist at the University of North Carolina. In reality, the elites and the citizenry are looking to the European Union for different things.

"Elites," she says, "desire a European Union capable of governing a large, competitive market and projecting political muscle; citizens are more in favor of a caring European Union, which protects them from the vagaries of capitalist markets."

Recent surveys seem at first to confirm the oftsighted huge gap between national leaders, 93 percent of whom regard EU membership as, on balance, a good thing, and the public, of whom only 53 percent agree. But when the questioning gets to specific policy areas, the gap narrows or disappears.

The real elite-public difference, Hooghe argues, is in the sorts of issues the two groups want the EU to handle. Some 69 percent of the national leaders, on average, want the EU to be responsible for matters of "high politics," such as foreign policy, defense, and currency. Only 55 percent of the public, on average, agrees.

When it comes to policies to aid disadvantaged people or regions, more than 60 percent of the public says yes to the EU, compared with 41 percent or less of the national leaders. Strong majorities in both groups want the EU to stay out of areas such as education and health, where expensive but popular national programs are well established. Both groups overwhelmingly favor putting more environmental regulation in the EU’s hands.

Europe’s elites seem to follow a "functional" logic, aiming for an EU that will capitalize on economies of scale (as with defense) or overcome member nations’ lack of incentives to act in the common interest in key areas. Ordinary Europeans, however, prefer to design the new Europe à la carte.


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