If judged solely on the British public debate on the future of the EU, one could be forgiven for thinking that – driven by eurozone crisis – everyone else in "Europe" is now happily storming towards a European superstate, leaving the UK behind. It's sort of inevitable, the logic goes.
Such a narrative is deceptively simplistic.
A new, interesting YouGov-Cambridge poll out this week, looking at European attitudes amongst citizens in the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Scandinavia is a case in point. As expected, a full 40% of Brits want a “looser” relationship with Europe. Another 13% want no more integration while 20% want to withdraw altogether. These attitudes span the political divide.
Pointing to the results in the three eurozone countries surveyed, YouGov-Cambridge concludes: "The eurozone and Britain are heading in two starkly different directions, with Europe on course for more integration – and possibly all or some elements of a 'United States of Europe." But is this really what this poll, and similar ones on voter sentiments, are telling us?
In particular, does such a conclusion capture the complex debate currently taking place in Germany – a country which, in the wake of the euro crisis, to a large extent holds the key to the future of Europe? (See here, here and here for examples.)
Regarding the particular question which commentators have focused on, respondents were asked whether they supported “'turning the EU into a fully integrated ‘United States of Europe’, with a central European treasury that strictly enforces common rules on national budgets and government spending for individual countries”. 35% of Germans answered in favour (as did 38% of French and 63% of Italians).
It's easy to get excited about this, but it is important to consider a number of factors. First, German voters are actually split right down the middle on the question, with 32% saying they opposed the idea. Secondly, the question will have had different connotations in Germany, where federalism means a structure with clearly defined powers across all levels of government, with a system of checks and balances. In Britain, it simply connotes more EU centralisation. Thirdly, and most importantly, the question itself is phrased in such a way that implies greater enforcement of budgetary discipline.
It’s hardly surprising that German voters would support this, given the widely held perception there that what "profligate" eurozone members need is more budget discipline (German taxpayers’ cash is on the line, remember).
Unsurprisingly, as soon as the focus switches from more budget oversight and discipline to more cash, Germans’ support for further integration plummets, which YouGov-Cambridge also concedes. For example:
- In a separate question, which made no reference to strict penalties” or “enforcement” 68% of Germans said they believed “tax rates and national budgets” should be controlled nationally
- 53% think that it’s “wrong” for Germany to spend money to save the euro
- 40% think Eurobonds would be a “bad thing” for Germany, and only 17% think they would be a “good thing”
- 51% want Greece to leave the euro, which per definition is integration in reverse
In other words, Germans – and voters in most other EU countries for that matter – tend to be supportive of EU integration where this conforms to their own image, but they otherwise oppose it. This also means that Germans still remain opposed to the form of eurozone integration that to many obersvers really counts at the moment – more cash going from north to south.
There clearly are areas where UK public opinion differs from core eurozone countries, for example on military cooperation and banking regulation. But following the money, all of a sudden, the ideological gap between German and British public opinion looks a lot narrower.
All of this to say that, ultimately, we have no idea how voters in the eurozone – and Germany in particular – will respond to proposals for a fully-fledged political and fiscal union, and therefore what the future of the euro will look like.
Friday, March 16, 2012
Do Germans really want a "United States of Europe"
Over on the Telegraph blog, we argue: