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The Institutional Response to Crises and European Identity: A Quantitative Analysis of Public’s (un)Responsiveness in Times of Crisis

Since the early 1990s, the European Union (EU) has experienced international and domestic crises of different nature, – financial, terroristic, migration and health issues –, which encouraged the exacerbation of a political convergence and a sense of Europeanness among European citizens (Checkel & Katzenstein, 2009), gradually transforming the “permissive consensus” for European integration into a “constraining dissensus” (Hooghe & Marks, 2006). This resulted in significant and frequent drops in levels of trust in EU institutions, support for European integration and affection to and attachment towards the EU and Europe. Additionally, this distance between EU policymakers and citizens’ interests during these critical points translated into increasing volatility in national politics and gave rise to a crisis of EU democratic legitimacy. Here, EU’s policies along with their poor economic and social performance created different trends of responsiveness over policies’ effectiveness, appropriateness, and outcomes among European citizens, thus dividing Europeans between winners and losers, core and peripheral countries (Schmidt, 2015, p. 7). In this regard, scholars have advanced different explanations for this EU democratic deficit: some point to the harmful outcomes of EU policies, some others report the lack of citizen political participation in EU decision-making (i.e. politics), and finally others decry the low quality of EU policy processes (Schmidt, 2013). When considering output legitimacy, scholars mainly argued that this democratic legitimacy largely depends on the effectiveness and performance of policy outcomes, and that effective outcome performance can make up for the little input through citizens’ participation and/or government responsiveness (e.g. Caporaso & Tarrow, 2008; Majone, 1998; Moravcsik, 2002). Through this thesis, on the contrary, I argue that the mechanism works in reverse: EU legitimacy is not mainly based on the levels of citizens’ satisfaction with respect to a certain policy, but rather on the position that citizens take towards the specific content of that policy. Thus, EU legitimacy is not established on the performance and effectiveness of a regulation (evaluated by the public) in short-and long-terms, but instead on the gap between the policy positions of Europeans and a policy measure itself adopted by EU institutions. The distance between the policy positions of citizens and a policy itself is, I argue, what determines the degree of support or opposition of citizenry towards specific policies. Thus, the key factor here is not the extent to which each citizen can gain, benefit or lose from that policy in the long-term; on the contrary, the pivotal element for EU legitimation is the level of proximity of a policy’s content to citizens’ values and interests. The more the distance, the more discontented Europeans will be with the EU and its policymaking, eventually carrying a collateral damage on individual identities and attachment towards the EU. To test this assumption, the current thesis project employs the aforementioned operationalization of policy measures to examine the impact of different crises on European identity and on individual attachment towards Europe. Thus, the present research will address the following research question: “To what extent and how have policy measures adopted by EU institutions to fight these crises influenced European identity?”. To answer this research question, this study will consider the three most recent crises affecting Europe: the Brexit referendum held in June 2016, COVID-19 outbreak at the end of 2019, and the Russian-Ukrainian War’s escalation in February 2022. Although these three crises concern highly distinct policy areas, the possibility of testing contrasting situations related to these crises represents an opportunity for assessing the presence of diversified impacts on public opinion about the EU. Whilst polls might suggest different outcomes for this top-down approach, no structured studies that investigate this relationship in view of the Brexit phenomenon, COVID-19 insurgence and the Russian-Ukrainian conflict have been conducted. To support the aforementioned theoretical framework, the project employs different data sources for the dependent and independent variables. The dependent variable will be assessed through survey questions retrieved from the Eurobarometer (EB) series from 2013 to the most recent year available (2023, coming). Here the matching sample procedure will be used to create a quasi-panel dataset, where individuals are grouped over time according to political ideology, gender, age and other background characteristics. Although the matching sample procedure allows to conduct a quasi-panel analysis, these data still remain cross-sectional. For this reason, Eurobarometer findings will be complemented with panel analyses conducted on the German Longitudinal Election Study (GLES) and/or the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS). The independent variable, that is the policy measures approved and enforced by EU institutions, will be measured through the assessment of individuals’ positions on these policies. European Parliament (EP) Committees’ legislative reports adopted according to the ordinary legislative procedure will be used here as main source for operationalizing citizens’ policy positions. In turn, by inspecting individual policy positions, this thesis will assess the impact of institutional response to crises on European identification through an original measure of policy congruence. Overall, the purpose of this study is to test the assumption of EU legitimacy based on policy positions versus policy performance by advancing a new measurement for EU policies, determine whether these policies adopted by EU institutions during crises affect significantly European identity, and lastly compare EU institutional response to crises according to each EU member state (MS) and the crisis considered. The expectations for this research are to find substantial evidence for a policy position-based legitimacy of the EU, a considerable congruence between policies and EU identity’s trends, and higher asymmetries between EU Member States policy positions for COVID-19 crisis compared to Brexit and the Ukrainian conflict. Due to this innovative approach advanced in this project and the little available literature assessing top-down approaches during critical time points, the present inquiry contributes to the existing research on European identity first by advancing a new theoretical basis for EU legitimacy through an original operationalization of policies, secondly by assessing crises’ impact on European identity through EU decision-making, and lastly by mapping different types of EU institutional response based on the three most recent crises.

Date:5 Sep 2023 →  Today
Keywords:Responsiveness, Institutions, European Union, identity, Public, Crisis
Disciplines:Social behaviour and social action, Research methods in political science
Project type:PhD project