Economists Recommend Policies to Encourage a Sense of European Identity
| Press release
European policymakers need to do more to encourage citizens to identify with Europe. Pan-European political consciousness could be encouraged by having citizens vote for European party lists rather than national party lists in the European elections. An EU Citizens’ Assembly should serve as a platform to discuss specific political issues and propose potential solutions. Europe could also raise its profile overseas through shared EU embassies and consulates. These are some of the main policy recommendations from a new study conducted jointly by the Centre for European Economic Research (ZEW), Mannheim, and the ifo Institute, Munich for the EconPol Europe research network. The authors of the study also suggested the establishment of a European public broadcaster to provide more accurate and neutral information about the EU. There need to be more debates on European issues and international exchanges for groups that have so far had little opportunity to visit other EU countries and who generally do not strongly identify with Europe. Ideally, the European Union should introduce new programmes such as “Erasmus for Pensioners” or a work exchange programme (“European Waltz”) allowing workers to spend several months working in another European country.
The starting point for the study was determining which groups of people feel a sense of European identity alongside their national identity. Surprisingly, the study found that the percentage of people who felt a connection to their European identity actually increased in the years following the financial crisis. Currently, more than 60 per cent of people across the whole of Europe identify as European. However, the analysis also revealed stark differences between different groups.
People who view themselves as European tend to be young, well educated, well-travelled and are in regular contact with people from other EU countries. Meanwhile, older and less wealthy people who know little about the EU and live in rural areas are less likely to identify as European. An interest in politics and satisfaction with the democratic system also made people more likely to have a sense of European identity.
Based on these findings, the study puts forward several new ideas for how to encourage citizens to more strongly identify as Europeans. “If we can get citizens to identify more strongly with Europe, then they are likely to be better informed about European politics and make more rational decisions,” says ifo President Professor Clemens Fuest. “Existing programmes such as Erasmus for students tend to only reach those people for whom interacting with other European cultures is already part of their everyday life,” says Professor Friedrich Heinemann, head of the ZEW Research Department “Corporate Taxation and Public Finance”.
“These recommendations are not about trying to boost the popularity of the EU or its policymakers, but rather about giving as many people in Europe as possible the chance to dismantle prejudices and experience Europe for what it is. Only once we achieve this, can truly balanced decisions about Europe and its future development be made,” concludes Friedrich Heinemann.
Sarah Ciaglia, Clemens Fuest and Friedrich Heinemann: What a feeling?! How to promote ‘European Identity’, EconPol Policy Report 9, October 2018.