Fair Weather Friends or Pillars of Support: Assessing the Sources of Legitimacy of EU Governance Among the Public Across Europe
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ABSTRACT Fair Weather Friends or Pillars of Support: Assessing the Sources of Legitimacy of EU Governance Among the Public Across Europe Out of the current sovereign debt crisis, the continuing debate over the proper role and responsibility of national institutions and priorities shaping the European Union’s response to the current fiscal and economic crisis flowing from the global “Great Recession”, is a growing concern for policy makers and scholars alike regarding the legitimacy of the EU. The fear many hold is that the trust in the EU governance system has been seriously compromised in the eyes of the public across Europe. To many, it seems evident that the more the EU and European-level institutions struggle to navigate turbulent waters of the European financial crisis, the more the legal authority of the EU itself comes into question as both a legitimate and effective tool for easing the public’s anxiety over the present and future course of well-being. Manifestations of this include civil disturbances, electoral shifts among voters, government collapses, and most dramatically, demonstrations of anti-system actors and strident and often virulent populist expressions by nationalist political parties on the fringes of European nation-states. Often overlooked in the contemporary analysis of these turbulent, somewhat confusing, and very challenging times is a fundamental question: Is what appears on the surface to be a growing and clearly apparent erosion of the legitimacy of the European Union as both an appropriate and effective steward of public security and prosperity something genuine and real, or is the legitimacy of the EU as a governance system actually secure and largely intact despite surface disturbances growing out of the frustrations and disappointments of policy? The question is far more than rhetorical. If the EU governance system is a normal regime, understood in its basic sense, then it can and will absorb the expressions of discontent that color all stable and legitimate democratic regimes in times of unusual economic and social stress. It will confront such challenges as come with global financial shocks, banking system failures, austerity cuts to public welfare, and the shifting tides of partisan support across the nation-state polities within its domain of authority, and still enjoy a reasonably stable reservoir of legitimacy in the public’s opinion. This paper holds that the legitimacy of the EU rests fundamentally on a public belief in the trust extended by the public to the institutions and broader EU governance system as a means of managing European social conflict and economic prosperity. However, in developing an empirical assessment of this proposition, we note important qualifications to the primary model connecting public expressions of trust in the EU to perceived economic conditions at both the EU and nation-state level. We segment the EU public into (1) “elites” and “non-elites” based on vocational status, (2) control for the public’s emotional symbolic resonance with the EU, and (3) the “left-right” political ideology across the EU public. We expect that these filtering mechanisms – occupational status, emotional attachment, and political ideology -- have significant implications for conflict management and resolution which will challenge both national and EU-level political leadership. The study compares Eurobarometer data for two cross-sectional time points, 2006 and 2009, a particularly difficult and challenging period of time for the EU and its institutions and policy-making devices. Following the analysis, we discuss the implications which these findings offer for the future specifically of European-level, and more generally, democratic governance. This paper will also provide necessary context to the challenges to European governance through the use of in-depth interviews of European experts and EU policy makers. This small, open-ended data base will supplement the Eurobarometer survey data to provide perspective on the contours of legitimacy across the landscape of European public opinion.
SubjectEU, Legitimacy, Governance
Bastin, Mariah Margareta (2013). Fair Weather Friends or Pillars of Support: Assessing the Sources of Legitimacy of EU Governance Among the Public Across Europe. Honors and Undergraduate Research. Available electronically from