Building European citizenship by improving democracy in the EU

The European Union is facing challenges and questions to its legitimacy and democratic capacities due to a dual process of integration and decentralisation at both the national and European level. At such a time it is particularly important to address the issues around the concept of EU citizenship.

The IntUne project addressed this fundamental question by looking at how these challenges are affecting three major dimensions of citizenship - identity, representation and practice of good governance. The main research issues were:

  • How does a particular kind of political structuring shape citizenship? In a complex system, how do different identities coexist?
  • What sense of obligation is the EU citizenship developing? How do coexisting identities affect the relationship between elites and the general public?
  • What do citizens expect from the EU as a level of government?

IntUne – Integrated and United? A Quest for Citizenship in an 'Ever Closer Europe' - was a four-year project which began in September 2005 and involved over 100 researchers from 29 European institutions across Western and Eastern Europe. The project was coordinated by the University of Siena in Italy. Interdisciplinary in nature, IntUne involved fields such as political science, sociology, public policy, media, linguistics and socio-psychology.

Attitudinal and behavioural surveys, and semi-structured interviews were conducted with political and economic experts, and citizens. Television and newspaper attitudes were also assessed and citizens’ juries were conducted. The timing was chosen so as to study the European public in a period of intense political debate, close to a European election (in the fourth year of the project) and in a period in which European issues were expected to be less prominent (in the second year).

Political elites in Member States were asked about their trust in the EU institutions of Parliament, Commission and Council. Economic elites were also asked about their views on national institutions such as national parliaments and government, and regional government.

Most national political and economic elites support the idea of Member States continuing as the central actors in the policy making process, and national governments are largely seen as effective. Although the same proportion was in favour of strengthening the power of the European Parliament, their support for enhancing the powers of the European Commission was far less strong. Only a minority of respondents shared a clear identification with Europe, while national identification was significant.

The researchers believe that by increasing understanding of how governance can be legitimised at the EU level, they have come up with usable knowledge for policy makers, key actors and the general public. Their wide-ranging methods provide evidence of the relationship existing between participatory governance, enhanced policy outcomes, and an overall improvement of the democratic functioning of the EU system.

A wide range of working papers has resulted from the data. For example, from the paper Nation-State vs. the EU in the perceptions of political and economic elites. A comparison among Germany, Spain and Poland1 it emerged that:

  • In Spain, Germany and Poland, 100 per cent of the economic elite believe that EU membership has benefited their country.
  • The German political elite have above average trust in the European Parliament, while Poland (comparable with the UK) has the least confidence in the institution.
  • In Spain and Germany, the elite mostly perceive EU membership as beneficial. This is in line with the pro-EU stance held by the majority of the public in Spain and in Germany.
  • Post-Communist countries in general were a little below average in their attachment to Europe, although almost nine out of ten of the interviewed elite felt positively about their countries becoming an EU member.

The paper Changing Patterns of Political Engagement in Europe and the EU, 1945-20022 revealed:

  • EU citizens’ preparedness to turnout in national elections has, in most Member States, declined moderately over recent decades.
  • People engage less in politics as they get older, and men engage more than women.
  • People who make more use of the media also engage more with politics.
  • People who locate themselves at the centre of the political spectrum are less engaged than people on the political extremes of left and right.

 

1. Nation-State vs. the EU in the perceptions of political and economic elites. A comparison among Germany, Spain and Poland. Miguel Jerez-Mir and Rafael Vázquez. See: http://www.intune.it/research-materials/elite-group

2. Changing Patterns of Political Engagement in Europe and the EU, 1945-2002. David Sanders, Paolo Bellucci. See: http://www.intune.it/file_download/68/David

IntUne – Integrated and United? A Quest for Citizenship in an 'Ever Closer Europe' (duration: 1/9/2005 – 31/8/2009) was an Integrated Project funded under the 6th Framework Programme for Research of the European Union, Thematic Priority 7 – Citizens and governance in a knowledge-based society.

See: http://www.intune.it/

Contact: Maurizio Cotta, circap@unisi.it