“There cannot be any other Europe than that of the States, of course, apart from myths, fictions, parades. From this solidarity depends on all hope of uniting Europe in the political field and in the field of defense, as in the economic field,” said Charles de Gaulle during the press conference in Elysée Palace in 1962. Forty years have passed since those words, and Europe is now in a very different place. Emmanuel Macron, de Gaulle’s successor as president of France, loudly stresses the need to strengthen Europe’s “strategic autonomy,” making it clear that he regards national borders on the old continent as obsolete. And it is apparent that a growing group of politicians in many EU countries would be happy to shift their thinking from the national to the EU level.
But not across the continent. In Central European countries, the attachment to borders seems much stronger. Surveys show that they generally remain in favor of strengthening national sovereignty and see the role of the EU through the prism of the traditional tasks of the Union. How deep-rooted is this difference between the two regions of Europe?
The simplicity of the four freedoms
At the heart of the project to integrate European states was the conviction that only close cooperation could eliminate the risk of another war on the continent. But for this cooperation to become possible, it could not just become a paper declaration but should be filled with specific actions. “Europe will not be made all at once or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity,” as written in the “Schuman Declaration” from 1950.
There cannot be any other Europe than that of the States, of course, apart from myths, fictions, paradesCharles de Gaulle
This declaration started the European Coal and Steel Community, created by six countries: France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. In 1957 it evolved into the European Economic Community and is now known as the European Union. The foundation for building a European community has become four freedoms: free movement of goods, free movement of the workforce, free movement of services, and free movement of capital. And all these freedoms, equally respected by all EU countries, are still the Union’s greatest asset.
This is confirmed by the results of opinion polls. A Eurobarometer survey earlier this year showed that support for the four economic freedoms is very high in all EU countries. On average, 85% of Europeans favor these four freedoms, and only 12% are against them (the rest have no opinion). The largest groups of supporters of these four freedoms live in: Estonia (94%), Latvia, Cyprus (93%), Finland, and Spain (92%). The lowest support was noticed in Romania (68%), Austria (70%), Italy (81%), France, Poland (82%), and Croatia (83%).
But in general, terms looking at this data, it is clear that overall support for the freedoms that are the foundation of the EU is very high. The simplicity behind the four freedoms – and the effects they have had – have made them the de facto trademark of the EU today. And the European single market, multiplying the profits of the companies operating in it, is one of the most effective policies pursued in Brussels. No wonder everyone in the EU supports its functioning.
While people in EU countries have a similar opinion of the four economic freedoms of the Union, other common policies raise more questions and divisions. For instance, the issue of the enlargement of the Union. Although it is one of the oldest policies used by the EU and has been applied with many successes, today’s attitudes towards it divide rather than unite the community’s citizens.
According to a Eurobarometer survey, 52% of Europeans favor expanding UE, while 38% are against it. But these rates are mostly higher in the last countries to join the EU, while they are lower in the founding states. The highest approval for enlargement is in Poland and Lithuania (73% of citizens are in favor), Latvia, Spain, and Malta (71%). Those most opposed to enlargement are the people of France and Austria (54%), Germany (52%), Belgium (46%), and Greece (40%).
On the opposite side, we have the issue of the single currency. The monetary union was supposed to be one of those factors that would consolidate the countries that make up the EU. But today, attitudes to it are strongly divisive. In general, 71% of EU citizens endorse the euro, while 23% are against it. But answers vary depending on the country.
The biggest supporters of the common currency are the inhabitants of Malta (89%), Cyprus, Ireland, and Slovenia (87%), and Spain, Luxemburg, and Estonia (86%). The completely opposite attitude to it is held by citizens of Sweden (68% are against the euro), Czechia (63%), Denmark (62%), Bulgaria (49%), and Poland (47%). Even in countries that have already joined the currency union, the number of opponents is higher than the EU average (23% of Europeans are against the euro). For example, 32% of Croatians do not accept the euro, as well as 25% of Austrians.
These figures show what a controversial solution the monetary union is. Although, after all, it has been fully in place since the beginning of 2002, it still raises many doubts and objections today. “No policy is worth anything outside of reality,” said Charles de Gaulle during a televised speech in 1960. A very universal thought, still relevant, despite having been delivered more than half a century ago.
This is confirmed by another survey conducted by Eurobarometer, in which inhabitants of EU countries were asked whether decisions should be made at the national or EU level. On average, 57% of Europeans wanted more decisions to be made at the EU level (35% against). But taking a closer look at the data, it’s easy to see the difference between Western and Central European states – while the former is much more likely to favor moving decision-making to Brussels, the latter largely prefer to keep it at the level of their own capitals.
The highest percentage of supporters of increasing the EU’s powers are residents of Cyprus (87%), Spain (76%), Belgium (68%), Malta, Italy, and Croatia (66%). Among those in favor of retaining national competence are mainly those in northern and central Europe: Sweden (65% against increasing Brussels power), Denmark (62%), Finland (59%), Czech Republic (56%), Austria (51%), Slovakia (48%), Ireland (46%).,
Similar differences can be seen in the survey, in which respondents were asked about how the Union represents their interests. 60% of Europeans think it does well – 34% are against such a statement. The most satisfied with the way Brussels takes their country into account are the residents of Luxemburg (77%), Ireland (76%), Portugal and Denmark (74%), and Sweden (71%). In contrast, the view that the EU takes good care of their country’s interests is most often disagreed with by residents of Cyprus (64%), Greece (61%), Slovakia (53%), Slovenia (52%), Bulgaria (50%), Czechia (49%).
“Of course, one can jump up and down yelling Europe! Europe! Europe! But it amounts to nothing, and it means nothing,” to quote Charles de Gaulle once again (from the interview in 1965). In these words, one could hear the echo of thoughts written by Robert Schuman. “My idea is not to merge States to create a Super State. Our European States are a historical reality. From a psychological point of view, it would be impossible to do away with them. Their diversity is a good thing, and we do not intend to level them down or equalize them,” wrote this founding father of the European Union in his book “For Europe” from 1963.
Today, it is clear that these words are valid – especially in Central European countries, where acceptance of traditional EU policies is high. The situation is already different in Western European countries. How this tension between the two trends is resolved will determine the future of the entire EU.