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Friday, March 16, 2012

Do Germans really want a "United States of Europe"















Over on the Telegraph blog, we argue:

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.

4 comments:

Rik said...

1. What is imho important to make a distinction between what the people/voters want and what the main stream political parties/politicians want. This is sometimes the same but sometimes different. In the UK basically most of the time the political parties were at least somewhat Euro-skeptic, may be by themselves, may be because they knew that they would not get away with it in the next general election.
2. So it plays at 2 levels, the level of politicians and the level of the voter.
3. Re the level of the politicians, it brings up issues like: history; historical standpoints of the political party; international relations; getting a nice job after retiring from politics; traditional views of the class most politicians come from; being reelected by voters; being re-electable by the party.
4. At these point lots of the difference in views between countries can be explained.
5. But also how difficult it is to change the political system and the party structure. Basically in the UK it is extremely difficult to start effectively a new political party. You basically need an overall 10-20% support to get in parliament (unless it is purely regional). Germany is also a good example effectively only their Green party (and now possibly the Pirate part) is new, the last 50 years, effectively only because there is a 5% hurdle.
6. In other countries like say Holland/Denmark with no such or less restrictions many new parties have come up.
7. Re Euro-skeptic parties this means that it is difficult to come up in countries with an overall climate not pro political change.
8. The UK was basically pretty Euro-skeptic (in the sense that it is pro common market but clearly against a USE) by nature/history, Germany was basically pro Europe.
9. In other countries Euro-skeptic parties could come up (like in Holland/Austria/Denmark). And not only directly but also indirectly start to play a politically significant role. In a lot of countries these Euro-skeptic political parties have also more anti-immigrant, anti-globalization views. When these parties do well in elections or polls as a start you see the established parties making a move into that direction. Even more when it is clear that they are here to stay, see Sarkozy’s campaign at this moment.
10. The problem for Euro-skeptics is that basically only the UK, France and Germany can make real changes. Plus they would need support from several smaller countries. With the UK having the problem that it has put itself partly out of the EU. So effectively only Germany and France. With Germany not having Euro-skeptic main stream parties and France having a rather weird one (although it is getting better) and if it would be Euro-skeptic in main stream politics it is likely to change it into a Louis XIV state managed economy. Hardly helpful.
11. Re the voters they are mainly important (one might think), if they will likely change the outcome of elections).
12. Anyway Europe/Euro has been put high on the voter-agenda mainly by the faults in its set up and the mismanagement of certain issues (like the Euro). And it looks clearly that it is there to stay.
13. Re the UK imho a common market focused structure is likely the most positive economically but also in the long run. Basically cut away international red tape (and reduce (unnecessary costs)) but not create more like the EU appears to be doing at the moment. It does not mean totally free market; there should be controls on certain sectors like the financial ones. But at the moment we see the EU getting involved with things like the wolf population in Sweden and women-quota in boardrooms. Plus the quality of the EU administration should be improved in certain sectors it is often simply appalling.

Rik said...

11. Re the voters they are mainly important (one might think), if they will likely change the outcome of elections).
12. Anyway Europe/Euro has been put high on the voter-agenda mainly by the faults in its set up and the mismanagement of certain issues (like the Euro). And it looks clearly that it is there to stay.
13. Re the UK imho a common market focused structure is likely the most positive economically but also in the long run. Basically cut away international red tape (and reduce (unnecessary costs)) but not create more like the EU appears to be doing at the moment. It does not mean totally free market; there should be controls on certain sectors like the financial ones. But at the moment we see the EU getting involved with things like the wolf population in Sweden and women-quota in boardrooms. Plus the quality of the EU administration should be improved in certain sectors it is often simply appalling.
14. Anyway imho the UK should go for a Plan A and a plan B. Plan A being mainly national and plan B is to change the EU so that it fits the UK.
15. This brings me to Open Europe. Imho it is mainly focused on Plan A. A lot of the Euro skeptic parties all over Europe are heavily understaffed (both numbers and quality). The quality as most quality people move to private enterprise (re remuneration) or to political parties that have realistically some influence (and can provide them possibly with a well paid political job).
16. These parties (either as new parties or as a change in political ideas in mainstream parties) really can need some more academic support on this issue. So focusing on ‘new’ (or rebranded) parties all over Europe might be a good way to work on plan B. Or parts of political parties (fractions) that are Euro-skeptical (like the CSU in Germany).
17. There are few political parties that are homogenous pro-Europe. The left have fractions against less labor-protection, the conservative right against ‘Big Europe’. The business right against costs and red tape. Eastern Europe is full of new parties not yet formed, Western Europe is clearly ripe for populism and politics have lost its credibility with a huge part of the population.
18. Of course trying to get away as much as possible from the real funny ones.
This post is one of the few not not UK-focused. Whether you like it or not this is overall a European game.

Rollo said...

Who cares what voters want? Nothing to do with them. Very clever politicos and bureaucrats know what is good for them, and will enforce this regardless.
The only way to stope them is to stop paying them; or shoot them.

Rik said...

@Rollo
You miss the point the politicos and burocrats are simply not very clever, they make the impression on many voters may be and they are good having their organisation work like a sort of desertsand so your car get stuck in it.
Effectively if you use similar resources my experience is, that they are:
- lazy (prepare complicated issues very badly and it takes ages);
- not used working under real stress (put pressure on them and they make lots of mistakes).
- pretty stupid. Specialists with hardly any ability to look at the overall picture.
- afraid of losing. They get very stressful when the situation turns like that, not when it only involves other peoples money, but when it starts to involve themselves.
Basically imho (and experience) they are simply approached/attacked totally the wrong way, with as much creativity as these burocrats and politicians have or even less.