Seeking solutions for cross-border problems: intuitive functionalists and support for the European Union

Abstract

Most of the established predictors of individual-level support for the European Union (EU) concern externalities of the integration process, such as economic performance at the national level and the EU’s effect on national identity, rather than any of the original motives behind the creation of the European project. In contrast, many of the elite-driven theories explaining European integration focus on what European countries actually gain from being members of the EU. This paper serves to connect these two bodies of scholarship, arguing that there is a functionalist dimension to support for European integration. Some individuals may perceive the EU as important for addressing certain cross-border problems (such as combatting pollution or organized crime) that cannot be resolved by any state acting in isolation. To test this possibility, the paper relies on survey data from Eurobarometer 72.4, conducted in the fall of 2009. The results suggest that, in addition to the established predictors, the perception that the EU fulfills essential noneconomic functions also drives EU support.

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Fig. 1

Source Eurobarometer 73.4

Fig. 2

Source Eurobarometer 73.4

Fig. 3

Source Eurobarometer 73.4

Notes

  1. 1.

    Rather than just comparing levels of elite and mass support for EU authority over different clusters of policy areas.

  2. 2.

    Functionalism is often grouped together with supranational theories and, more broadly, liberal theories because functionalists argue that public welfare should take precedence over any concerns about state sovereignty—indeed, Mitrany argued that scholars fixated too much on the state (Rosamond 2000). However, Mitrany also sought to adopt a more pragmatic approach in discussing the possibilities for international cooperation and to avoid the normative and ideological objectives of liberal theories.

  3. 3.

    The management of intercontinental railway systems, aviation and broadcasting are three examples of functions that could be assigned to such organizations.

  4. 4.

    Two of the survey items in this battery asks respondents for their level of agreement with the statements that the EU and the USA and China (respectively) have the same interests when dealing with globalization. Another item asks for the level of agreement with the statement that the EU has the sufficient power to defend its interests in the global economy.

  5. 5.

    The models were analyzed with an alternative coding of the dependent variable where “a good thing” is coded as 3, “neither good nor bad” is coded as 2, and “a bad thing” is coded as 1 and a multilevel ordinal logit command. The results were largely unchanged, with the exception that there appears to be an even weaker interaction between cross-border issue salience and knowledge.

  6. 6.

    Given the stacked nature of the data and the resulting necessity of clustering standard errors by individual, the models reported do not make use of multilevel modeling.

  7. 7.

    The measure of perceptions of the national economy actually has a significant, positive effect (meaning that increasingly positive perceptions correspond with a higher likelihood of supporting EU authority) on the following areas: Fighting terrorism, Immigration, Protecting the environment, Defense and foreign affairs, Energy, Support for regions facing economic difficulties, Agriculture and fisheries, Fighting crime, Fighting unemployment, The educational system, Pensions, Social welfare, Consumer protection, Competition, Transports, Economy, and Fighting inflation. The measure of perceptions of one’s personal economic situation actually has a significant, positive effect (meaning that increasingly positive perceptions correspond with a higher likelihood of supporting EU authority) on the following areas: Fighting terrorism, Defense and foreign affairs, Support for regions facing economic difficulties, Fighting crime, Fighting unemployment, Scientific and technological research, and Economy.

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Acknowledgements

The author thanks Todd Makse, Tim Hellwig, John Scherpereel, and the anonymous reviewers at Acta Politica for their comments and suggestions.

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Correspondence to Nicholas Clark.

Appendix

Appendix

The coding for each response metric that is used in this paper is noted in parentheses after each response.

EU broad support “Generally speaking,” do you think that (OUR COUNTRY)’s membership of the European Union is a good thing (1), a bad thing (0), neither good nor bad (0), or don’t know (0). 55% of respondents replied that membership is a good thing.

EU-specific support “For each of the following areas, do you think that decisions should be made by the (NATIONALITY) Government, or made jointly within the European Union?” The areas include fighting crime, taxation, fighting unemployment, fighting terrorism, defense and foreign affairs, immigration, the educational system, pensions, protecting the environment, health, social welfare, agriculture and fishery, consumer protection, scientific and technological research, support for regions facing economic difficulties, energy, competition, transports, economy, and fighting inflation. The issues identified as cross-border are fighting terrorism, defense and foreign affairs, immigration, protecting the environment, agriculture and fishery, support for regions facing economic difficulties, and energy.

Support for global rules “For (each of) the following statement(s), please tell me whether you totally agree (4), tend to agree (3), tend to disagree (2), or totally disagree (1): Globalisation requires common global rules (“worldwide governance”).” 4.8% of respondents totally disagree, 14.8% tend to disagree, 51.6% tend to agree, and 28.7% totally agree.

Issue salience “What do you think are the two most important issues facing our country at the moment?” A maximum of two responses were allowed. Responses include “Crime, Economic situation, Rising prices/inflation, Taxation, Unemployment, Terrorism, Defense/foreign affairs, Housing, Immigration, Healthcare system, The educational system, Pensions, The environment, Energy, Other, DK, Spontaneous.” The issues identified as cross-border in nature include terrorism (mentioned by 4.2%), immigration (7.4%), the environment (3.8%), and crime (19.5%). Over 31% of respondents mentioned one or two of these issues.

Economic expectations “What are your expectations for the next 11 month: will the next 11 month be better (3), worse (1) or the same (2), when it comes to…” Expectations are measured for: “your life in general, the economic situation in (OUR COUNTRY), the financial situation of your household, the employment situation in (OUR COUNTRY), and your personal job situation.” To create the measure of national economic expectations, responses for the two country-based responses were aggregated. 30% of respondents fall at the bottom of the scale (2), meaning they answered “worse” for both items. 17% fall at the top of the scale (6), meaning they answered “better” for both items. To create the measure of personal economic expectations, responses for the three personal-based responses were aggregated. 17% of respondents fall at the bottom of the scale (2 or 3), meaning they answered “worse” for at least two of the items. 18% lie at the top of the scale (8 or 9), meaning they answered “better” for at least two of the items.

Fear of culture loss “What does the EU mean to you personally?” One of the possible responses is “loss of our cultural identity (1).” 11% of respondents selected this possibility.

Political knowledge “For each of the following statements about the European Union could you please tell me whether you think it is true or false. The EU currently consists of twenty-five Member States. The Irish voted “yes” to the second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty held on October 02, 2009. The euro area currently consists of twelve Member States. (ONLY TO SPLIT A) Switzerland is a member of the EU. (ONLY TO SPLIT B) Iceland is a member of the EU.” Each respondent answered four questions. The number of correct responses was totaled each respondent. 19% of respondents were unable to correctly answer any of the questions. 25% correctly answered 1 question. 29% correctly answered 2 questions. 20.5% correctly answered 3 questions. 6.5% correctly answered all 4 questions.

Education “How old were you when you stopped full-time education?” Respondents who answered “still studying” were coded according to their current age. Responses that fell between the ages of 0 and 17 were coded as 1 (45% of the sample), between 18 and 22 were coded as 2 (39%), between 23 and 25 were coded as 3 (9%), and over the age of 25 were coded as 4 (7%).

Sex “Male” (0), “Female” (1). 53% identify as female.

Age “How old are you?”

Lives in Urban area “Would you say you live in a rural area or village (0), small or middle sized town (0), or large town (1)?” 30% report living in a large town.

Ideological extremity “In political matters people talk of “the left” and “the right.” How would you place your views on this scale? 1 (Left)….10 (Right).” Respondents who self-identified as “1” or “10” were coded as 1 representing the most polarized (10% of the sample). Those who identified as “2” or “9” were coded as 2 (7%); as “3” or “8” were coded as 3 (18%); and as “4” or “7” were coded as 4 (22%). Those who identified “5” or “6” were coded as 5 representing the least polarized (43%).

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Clark, N. Seeking solutions for cross-border problems: intuitive functionalists and support for the European Union. Acta Polit 55, 388–407 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41269-018-0121-1

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Keywords

  • Euroskepticism
  • EU support
  • Public opinion
  • Functionalism