And there seems to be a strong consensus among pundits that political union in Europe is a pipe dream.
The problem is that this oft-repeated assertion — usually invoked as if it were irrefutable — is thrown at audiences without a shred of evidence to back it. The naysayers simply point to the latest European parliamentary elections as clear evidence of a rising tide of Euroskepticism.
In doing so, they err, for they equate Eurocritics with Euroskeptics. The French National Front and UKIP are against the very concept of the EU; but they should not be confused with Spain’s Podemos, Syriza in Greece, and the Italian Five Star Movement, who are against this EU in particular.
There is a big difference. If you give Alexis Tsipras, Pablo Iglesias or Beppe Grillo the chance of having a federal and democratic union, with a Commission president directly elected by the peoples of Europe, they would very likely sign up to it. Give it to Nigel Farage or Marine Le Pen, however, and they would laugh in your face. That is the difference between Eurocritics and Euroskeptics.
Even among the Euroskeptics, the anti-EU rhetoric has a voting ceiling. Europe’s main political divide is not between those for or against the EU, but between those who are more cosmopolitan — and largely in favor of further integration under the principle of subsidiarity — and those who would like to withdraw behind their national borders.
That is why the National Front, UKIP and Alternative for Germany have switched from anti-EU rhetoric to anti-immigration discourse. They realize that their potential voters are not anti-European, but rather those who have lost out from globalization. Euroskeptics comprise no more than 15-20 percent of the electorate of any European country. In Germany, the EU’s largest member state, the figure is even lower.
That Euroskeptics are no more than 20 percent does not necessarily mean that the remaining 80 percent are keen to create a United States of Europe; far from it. However, the figure does call into question the widespread assertion that political union in Europe is impossible. There is little conclusive evidence on the subject. However, data from the Eurobarometer — the closest we have to a gauge for measuring public opinion in Europe — suggest that Europeans want more, not less, integration.
The difference is whether they live or not in the eurozone. While 67 percent of those within the zone are in favor of the euro, only 35 percent outside it are. In the UK the figure is 20 percent, but in Germany it rises to 74 percent. The same can be said about having a European identity. Up to 62 percent of those in the eurozone feel that they are European as well as their own nationality, but outside the eurozone the figure is 53 percent. Not surprisingly, only 39 percent of Britons feel European (compared with 64 percent of the French).
"For or against a European economic and monetary union with one single currency, the euro" 67% said yes,, 26 % said no, and 7% said they don't know.
"Do you see yourself as Nationality only; European and Nationality; European only; or Don't know;"- 61% considered themselves European and national, 34 % said they were more nationally oriented, 2 % said they considered themselves only European and 1% did not know./
Overall, the limited evidence available strongly suggests that Britons do not want further integration, but that all other Europeans, especially those in the eurozone, are more open to the idea. Fortunately, the Eurobarometer asks two more specific questions on the topic.
One is whether more decisions should be taken at the EU level. In that respect, ‘only’ 48 percent of Europeans are in favor, so enthusiasm about giving more power to Brussels is tepid. However, there are still more in favor than against (40 percent). Yet again there is a difference between the percentages within the eurozone — 50 percent — and those outside — 43 percent.
The second, and more important question, is whether the EU should develop into a federation of nation states. Here, only 41 percent are in favor, but, again, those against are even fewer, at 34 percent. A whopping 25 percent just do not know.
It may well be that the peoples of Europe (especially in the eurozone) want more integration, but that it is their national governmental elites that are holding back because they stand to lose the most from a greater degree of union.
For the latest EU Barometer polls click here