European Federalists Before and After the Economic Recession

While debates over the future of the European Union are increasingly imbued with critical or even Eurosceptic tones, and political parties or groups frequently take a firm line against the Union, it is often forgotten that there exists a distinct opposing stand: those who are not absolutely satisfied with the European Union as it is, but still fancy seeing a successful Europe in any case in the spirit of “Europe something more”. Accordingly, they expect more decisions to be made at European level by diverse political groups. In this analysis they are referred to as federalists: citizens who unequivocally and consistently stand up for and urge more European decisions.

Like Eurosceptics, federalists can also be defined in different ways: we might approach the definition from the institutions of the European Union, and they may also be characterized as European citizens who intend to grant more and more authority and powers to these acting entities, even to the detriment of the power that the member states have. This sort of description is chiefly built upon the contrasts with Eurosceptics. Federalists may also be construed as electors who “simply” expect more decisions made and more solutions found at the EU level, primarily in policies affecting the majority or everyone.

The proportion of federalists supporting several European decisions has grown from 24% in 2006 to 34% by the end of 2011 – as is revealed by the Republikon Institute’s analysis examining altering attitudes towards the European Union.

In 2006, the proportion of those always standing up for the European decision making was the highest in Portugal and Cyprus – half of the society would choose so consistently. Sweden and Denmark came at the end of this list: in these countries hardly every tenth respondent pointed out in each case that they expect the EU to make more decisions in the listed issues.

The 2011 figures – and the growth relative to 2006 – show that federalists are powerful (or at least they are in conspicuously increasing numbers) primarily in the most crisis-stricken countries, such as Cyprus and Greece – both striving to overcome universal economic difficulties – or Portugal and Spain, facing severe unemployment rates, or in Estonia and Lithuania. The surge in figures might be related to the significant rate of decline in GDP experienced between 2008 and 2009. By contrast, there are less federalists in countries in the north or west of Europe, where people live at high standards and have fundamentally predictable prospects (such as in Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands). In such countries, fewer people stand up for strengthening the EU in every field, though this in no way shall mean that they have not considered the European cooperation hitherto positive; on the contrary, these countries deem their EU membership useful above average.

The survey carried out in 2006 reflects that, essentially, the European average is that the proportion of federalists is balanced in both groups: the proportion of federalists among the left-wingers is 23%, while among the right-wingers it is 22%, however, diverse societies show different trends. In states that joined the Community after 2004, the federalist attitude is slightly right leaning, with the exception of Slovakia and Hungary (27% of the left-wingers and 22% of the right-wingers are federalists).

Federalists prior to the economic recession: 2006

In 2006, prior to the global financial-economic recession, the EU used to make large-scale decisions, primarily in respect of issues representing a global challenge (anti-terrorism war, promotion of democracy, cooperation in the field of research and development). The respondents were not very approving of the EU having more say in issues related to unemployment and the protection of social rights, which traditionally fell under the competence of the member states.

Figure 1: More decisions should be made at EU level in the following field; number of those who agree, 2006

After analysing and summarizing the 2006 data, a narrow one fourth of the then 25 member states forming the European Society, that is 24%, belonged to this group: by and large, every fourth elector supported the reinforcement of the European level decision making in each of the thirteen areas. In 2006, federalists represented a relatively narrow group but, by all means, one being present in the European Union.

Naturally, they were present in different proportions in each country: Portugal and Cyprus were at the top of the list with the highest proportion of those who stood up for the European level decision making thirteen times; half of the society took this decision consistently. Sweden and Denmark came at the end of this list: in these countries only every tenth respondent indicated that more decisions should be expected from the EU in respect of the listed topics. If regional differences are sought, it is found that in the countries joining the EU in 2004 there is a wider group of federalists: in Slovakia, Poland or in Hungary some 30% of the society is federalist, and only the Czech Republic performs a little below average in this region (21%). In the Baltic countries, neither Latvia nor Lithuania reach the average, due to distrust, and Estonia, with its 12%, is one of the countries with the smallest federalist group.

Federalists after the economic recession: 2011

The figures recorded in show that (25% more) people would entrust the EU with more extensive decision making in issues related to unemployment management and securing economic growth and that it is also related to the economic crisis of 2007 and 2008. By no means may it be claimed that respondents would take away the power in these issues from their home countries; these figures only show that more and more people feel that the presence of the EU and decisions made collectively could combat problems more effectively.

Figure 2: More decisions should be made at EU level in the following field; number of those who agree, 2011

By comparison with the situation in 2006, the proportion of those who would grant more power to the EU in every area has increased from 24% to 34%: instead of every fourth by the end of 2011, every third European citizen consistently stood up for the reinforcement of European decision making. The figures in two Baltic countries, in 2006 still the end-of-the-list Estonia and Lithuania, bounced significantly: in these states the proportion of federalists doubled. The three list-leading positions remained unchanged, most federalists still live in Spain, Portugal and Cyprus, but their proportion has increased only below average since 2006. It is also worthy of attention that no significant change occurred at the end of the list: the group of federalists did not grew in Sweden and the proportion of those holding EU-promoter views in all thirteen fields is still extremely low (9%). This time, Scandinavia is “coupled” again with Denmark where, although the proportion of federalists has somewhat grew, this ratio is still one of the lowest among the member states. The regional trend has been further strengthened by Romania and Bulgaria after their accession in 2007: in both countries, the proportion of federalists is above average.

As we can see, in the past five years, the proportion of federalists has increased from 24% to 34 %; needless to say, this happened to a different extent within different groups of society.

As formerly experienced, our Central European region has reacted similarly: in the majority of the countries here, the proportion of federalists grew above average among the inhabitants of cities; this view was held by one and a half or two times more people in 2011 than in 2006. Slovakia and Slovenia represented an exception, because in these states, a similar figure was surveyed among those living in rural settlements. The general growth in the area is remarkable, because neither the data from 2006 nor 2011 show results that could underlie a statement whether it is the cities or the villages where federalists make up the majority; however, it is clear that their proportion grew significantly in the cities.


Republikon Institute