In a series of articles, I plan to elaborate on the survey on EU Perceptions commissioned by the ECR Party, whose broad results have been previously summarized here.
It is often reported that conservatives are generically skeptical when it comes to Europe. Their awareness of national interest is perceived as a barrier to any European construct. And yet, as this survey makes clear, the reality is quite different. Conservatives’ idea of Europe is by far more articulated than what is sometimes depicted.
What emerges from the survey is that conservatives exhibit multi-layered views on Europe that do not lend themselves to a simplistic portrayal. Interviewees, when pushed, found strengths in the European model; likewise, they underscored frustration related to specific policies in place. This suggests that conservative views are policy-dependent.
It is not surprising, then, that most survey respondents (52 percent) acknowledge feeling proud to be European, while just over a third (35 percent) admit to negative feelings. In the former case, when asked to elaborate on their positive views, ECR-sympathizers (44 percent) overwhelmingly emphasize the economic and cultural connections between countries, much more so than their non-ECR sympathizer counterparts (41 percent versus 33 percent of non-ECR sympathizers).
Additionally, ECR sympathizers with a positive take on Europe emphasize the economic opportunities that Europe offers in terms of living and working in another country, though to a lesser degree than non-ECR sympathizers (38 percent versus 45). ECR sympathizers also appreciate the equal treatment – including protection of labor standards – to which they are entitled. Other aspects they praise include the benefits of the Single Market, including the possibility to sell goods and services and the availability of infrastructure funding.
It is equally enlightening to examine the responses of those who expressed negative feelings towards Europe, of which ECR-sympathizers accounted for almost half. When prompted to explain themselves, ECR-sympathizers pointed to excessive red tape (38 percent as opposed to 29 percent among non ECR-sympathizers), the fear of individual countries losing their cultural identity (37 percent vs. 24), and the increase in crime resulting from open borders (23 percent and 16 percent, respectively).
In other words, conservatives do appreciate the benefits of a greater locus that connects European societies, and the cultural and economic opportunities that arise therefrom. However, they tend to be wary of any connection that dilutes their unique cultural identities or imposes excessive regulatory and administrative burdens, a wariness born of better-defined priorities.
A very similar picture emerges regarding confidence in the European Union as an institution. Among those respondents who felt “a lot” or “quite a lot” of confidence (45 percent), ECR-sympathizers make up some 43 percent – a significant portion, if not the majority. Among those reporting a negative attitude toward Europe (41 percent), ECR-sympathizers are in larger proportions (50 percent), likely reflecting a negative perception of the EU bureaucracy as it exists today.
This is not to say, though, that conservatives oppose the idea of Europe per se; rather, they envisage different European priorities and policies, ones more in line with the needs and interests of the average European citizen. For conservatives, these priorities must lay the ground for the debate on European reform.