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To what extent is Euroscepticism a West European Phenomenon?

Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar) 2003 13 Seiten

Politik - Internationale Politik - Thema: Europäische Union


Table of contents

1. Introduction – Euroscepticism in Western Europe

2. Public Opinion in Central and Eastern Europe

3. Reasons for Euroscepticism in Central and Eastern Europe
3.1 Poland
3.2 The symbolic character of the European Union – waking up from a dream
3.3 The Czech Republic

4. Conclusion – Euroscepticism, an overall phenomenon


“Why can’t they see that the sort of centralised unitary European state we shall be ruled by

if the federalists have their way is such a threat to our right to govern ourselves

that membership of it is not even worth considering?”[1]

1. Introduction – Euroscepticism in Western Europe

Sweden voted against joining the Euro in September this year; Tony Blair does not even dare to hold the referendum on taking part in the monetary union he promised the people in the United Kingdom, because he is afraid of the supposedly negative outcome. These two recent examples for a nation not embracing the fast move forward of the European Union are just the most striking ones, a sample out of a vast choice. Euroscepticism in general seems to spread – that is at least the impression English newspapers give. The “undeniable defects” of the European Union, namely a “lack of democracy, its excessive regulation, its corruption and its structural bias against British interest”[2], made the British, and other nations with them, as sceptical and critical towards the Union as they are today. In fact, since Margaret Thatcher’s 1988 Bruges-speech moved Euroscepticism from a sideshow to centre stage[3], the United Kingdom is always the first country that comes to mind when talking about Euroscepticism. The critical view’s major supporters, amongst them Russell Lewis, warn their readers that general elections become a farce because “unelected bankers and bureaucrats” become Europe’s masters[4] and the EU is run by a Franco-German axis[5]. They predict that a complete harmonisation with the rest of the EU, containing minimum wages, strong union power and rising social costs, could easily increase UK unemployment by three million people.[6]

The future members to the East on the other hand are regularly portrayed as welcoming the idea of joining the Union without even the slightest concerns – not only by the media but also by numerous scholars. After all, it’s them who will profit from the enlargement. They almost seem desperate.

This essay will show however that Euroscepticism is not a purely Western phenomenon. By taking a closer look at the latest Eurobarometer surveys (chapter 2) and then examining possible reasons for an upcoming Euroscepticism in the candidate countries (chapter 3), mainly focussing on Poland and the Czech Republic, the conclusion will try to differentiate between the form of Euroscepticism found in the Western states that already are members of the Union and the countries in the East that will join in May 2004 or are still negotiating.

In the following analysis, a distinction between hard and soft Euroscepticism will be made. The former, also called principled Euroscepticism, encompasses outright rejection of the EU integration project and is in opposition to the respective country’s joining or staying in the Union. The latter, frequently termed contingent Euroscepticism as well, can be either concerning the policies (overall support of EU integration but critical to the transfer of power to a European level in certain areas) or the national interest (defending the national interest while supporting the overall integration). While hard Euroscepticism would not allow any European integration, soft Euroscepticism remains “compatible with the spirit of the EU project” because it’s qualified rather than absolute and therefore resolvable through negotiations.[7] Hard Euroscepticism is hardly found at all; even the British do not really want to leave the European Union and could therefore be classified as soft Eurosceptics.[8]

Although there is research on the fields of party-based Euroscepticism as well as Euroscepticism in public opinion, this essay will not explicitly differentiate between the two because they go hand in hand when analysing the question whether there is any Euroscepticism in Central and Eastern Europe at all.

The obvious Euroscepticism in Western countries could be linked closely to the fact that they have been members of the Union for quite a long time by now.

“Looking at long-term trends in public opinion in the EU, Milner observes differences in levels of support by countries who joined the EU at different times and suggests that a ceiling of support might have been reached in the founding states.”[9]

In an interview with the German weekly magazine “Spiegel”, Pierre Moscovici[10] supported this idea. When talking about the Eastern enlargement of the Union, he said France needs a little more time to let everything sink in and think about all the reforms and alterations to come. He made a point in saying though, that this time needed should not be mistaken for Euroscepticism.[11] But it is exactly this time that is perceived as an unnecessary delay in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, which leads to rising scepticism among the applicants. The following chapter will show these developments in more detail.

2. Public Opinion in Central and Eastern Europe

Looking at the most recent Eurobarometer polls from this year, the often-used clear-cut situation East – West, Eurooptimists – Europessimists/Eurosceptics does not prove true. When asked whether the membership of their respective country in the European Union was a “good” or a “bad thing”, people in member and candidate states had similar views. As figure 1 shows, the ranking from the top countries embracing the European Union down to the most eurosceptic ones mixes Eastern and Western countries to the biggest extent possible.

Figure 1

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Source: Eurobarometer 59, Comparative Highlight Report, 2003

Although the most eurosceptic country is a Western one, namely the United Kingdom, the most embracing one is Western as well, being Luxemburg. On both sides of the list, an Eastern country takes on number two; Romania being the second most europositive country in the survey, Estonia being the second least.

“The proportion of those who consider membership in the EU as a good thing and the proportion that judges it a bad thing is practically the same in the present member states and in the new enlarged EU.”[12]


[1] Lewis, 2002, 151

[2] ibid, 151

[3] Holmes, Introduction, 2002, 1

[4] Lewis, 2002, 151

[5] ibid, 153

[6] ibid, 152

[7] Lees, 2002, 250

[8] Baker, 2003, 237

[9] Taggart/Szczerbiak, 2001, 8

[10] Moscovici is the French former Minister delegate, attached to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, with responsibility for European Affairs. He resigned from this position in May 2002.

[11] Leick, 2001, 128

[12] European Commission, 20031, 3


ISBN (eBook)
597 KB
Institution / Hochschule
University of Bath – European Studies and Modern Languages
Euroscepticism West European Phenomenon



Titel: To what extent is Euroscepticism a West European Phenomenon?