Returning to Europe as Reluctant Europeans: Revisiting Trends in Public Support for the European Union in Central and Eastern Europe Twelve Years after the 2004 EU Accession

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Series Details Vol. 12, 2016, p275-297
Publication Date 2016
ISSN 1845-5662
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This paper examines less discussed aspects of Euroscepticism in Eastern Europe as a component of the institutional history of the 2004 EU enlargement. A focus on public support for European integration allows us to evaluate the consequences of the EU’s enlargement policy from the perspective of democratic legitimacy, as public attitudes demonstrate how institutions live up to the expectations of the citizens in a democratic setting. It also allows us to relate the legislative history of the eastward enlargement to its social impact and domestic political implications.

The paper posits Euroscepticism as an unexpected outcome of the legal-institutional implementation of the EU enlargement policy. It argues that while East-European Euroscepticism defies clear categorisation as it fails to demonstrate consistent longitudinal trends not consistent across its performance evaluation, identity, and democratic legitimacy dimensions, it is indicative of the disconnect between the adjustment dynamics of the EU accession of Eastern Europe, accomplished at the elite level, and the broad-based public response to it.

The core of East-European Euroscepticism is declining public trust in the European Union, its policies, institutions, and the economic benefits it generates against the background of general dissatisfaction with the workings of national and European democracy. The East-European publics have become increasingly sceptical of their representation as citizens whose voice ‘counts’ in the EU. They perceive the EU as less relevant to their personal situation although it represents well the interests of the Member States.

Such contradictory evidence suggests that the conventional measures of Euroscepticism as a pan-European phenomenon need to be re-examined by exploring trends of continuity and change in public support for the EU in Central and Eastern Europe in the context of the 2004 enlargement.

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