Sme: Are you hesitant, balanced or a rejecter?

December 1, 2017

What kind of European are you? Today, the UK think tank Chatham House released a study mapping the attitudes of EU citizens. It placed them into six broad categories. It comes as no surprise that the biggest single group, about 36 percent of Europeans, are characterized as “hesitant”.

The hesitant “tend to be apathetic about politics, are concerned about immigration and tend to prioritize national sovereignty over deeper EU integration,” Chatham House writes. If that sounds like somebody you know, it’s probably because it is like somebody you know. Not only do members of the hesitant “tribe”, as Chatham House calls them, sound like the kind of people who tend to decide elections everywhere — in this case, the future direction of the European project — but in this survey the hesitant category are “more likely to live in Central and Eastern Europe”.

On any other political idea, the hesitant category are equal parts risk and opportunity. They present a riddle as while they are open to persuasion, they tend not to pay much serious attention to larger political issues. According to Chatham House they have “low or moderate incomes, while their networks of friends across different occupations are more confined and less dense.” In other words, their social networks tend to include other members of the hesitant tribe. As they are unlikely to encounter other opinions, this means that convincing them of one point of view or another is difficult. At the same time, if one were able to change a few minds, that new point of view would likely to spread rapidly.

This means the members of the other so-called tribes, people with stronger views about the EU one way or another, have their work cut out for them as they try to influence the EU’s future. Elsewhere in the study, about 23 percent of Europeans are actually satisfied with the direction of the EU and fell optimistic about its future. Meanwhile, about 40 percent of Europeans are unhappy with the direction of the EU, but are very much split over the reasons.

Chatham House divides the unsatisfied 40 percent into four categories — 9 percent are pro-EU and want more of it (especially in the form of progressive social policies), 9 percent are driven by opposition to EU economic and budgetary policy and want control to revert to member states (they disproportionately live in the crisis hit Mediterranean, especially Greece and Italy), 14 percent are “rejecters” and adamantly oppose the cosmopolitan values of the EU (especially migration policy) and another 9 percent are so-called federalists who want more of the EU in the form of fully integrated structure that amounts to a United States of Europe.

In the end the Chatham House study reveals little about the future course of the EU, other than to say citizens — especially the 36 percent that have yet to make up their mind one way or another — will yet have a profound impact on where things go.