How the EU can increase public support for the EU through spending

Public support is central to the functioning of the European Union. Yet over the past decades, the EU has become increasingly publicly contested, severely limiting its ability to solve problems effectively. A growing number of academics and policy-makers have become interested in public support towards the EU, however, we know little about what the EU itself can do to shape public support.

In two recent studies in the European Journal of Political Research and European Union Politics, we examine when, how, and why the EU is able to shape public support for the EU through its spending policies. The answer to these questions is critical to our understanding of the determinants of public support for the EU, the ability of the EU to legitimise itself through public policies, and the controversy about fiscal redistribution through the EU budget that is now taking place.

People who live in regions that receive high levels of EU funding might be expected to have more positive attitudes toward the EU. However, our studies show that this relationship is not as simple as it might appear. First, effects of EU funding on public support are greater among people with a European rather than a national identity as well as those who are more highly educated. Second, a region’s economic needs make a large difference to the effectiveness of EU funding in building public support: where funding meets a clearly defined need for the local population it has a far more positive effect.

Taken together, our findings make two contributions. First, they mark an important advance on existing scholarly research. Economic theories of support for the EU need to be substantially refined to identify the impact of distributional consequences or economic benefits on attitudes toward the EU. Second, it is useful for policymakers to know that the EU is found to be able to shore up public support in its institutions through spending policies – but only if spending is needs-based.

Reference: All spending is not equal: European Union public spending, policy feedback and citizens’ support for the EU;European journal of political research (2017).

Authors: Lisa Maria Dellmuth, Associate Professor of International Relations at Stockholm University and Adam William Chalmers, Lecturer of European Political Economy at King’s College London. 

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