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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Euro-skepticism Overstated?

It is perhaps all too easy to stereotype certain states in the E.U. as “Euroskeptic.” To be sure, the polls in Britain provide ample support for this label. Even in that case, however, a majority polled in 2012 was in favor of remaining in the Union. The question is perhaps whether Britain is an outlier in terms of the extent of public dissatisfaction with the E.U. nevertheless.
When Poland had a conservative government, it was easy to view that state as being in the “Euroskeptic” camp. Then a change of government brought the state firmly in support of Angela Merkel’s pro-integrationist position. Similarly, the Czech Republic under Vaclav Klaus resisted any further transfer of governmental sovereignty to the European Union. Klaus was a “state’s rights” man if there ever was one. Then Milos Zeman because president of the Czechs. Suddenly the prospect was for a Czech push for more integration.
                     Will the Czech pride represented in the Prague Castle allow for a stronger E.U.? The answer may hinge on which party is in power in the state.  
“I very much believe that though the future development will not be smooth, I’m convinced that it will lead to greater integration, sooner or later, and therefore a president who believes that we should be part of the hardcore of integrated, democratic Europe, is for me a signal that the danger that we would finish on some kind of periphery of our own continent is now gone forever,” Jan Kavan, a former foreign minister said following the election. According to Deutsche Welle, “Milos Zeman is certainly more pro-European than his predecessor Vaclav Klaus, who never missed an opportunity to attack the pace and direction of European integration.” Was the remarkable shift present in the Czech people, or is it more accurate to say that a party rather than a people is “Euroskeptic”?
Even in Britain, Tony Blair was much more pro-E.U. than David Cameron. Although it is possible that a shift occurred in the British people against the E.U. due to the risks in the debt crisis and the E.U.’s muted or gradual response, the shift of party in power probably explains more of the recognition that the British had become “Euroskeptic.”
If “pro-Europe” and “Euroskeptic” stances are partisan at the state level rather than characterizing a state as a whole, then we could expect state politics to bear heavily on a state government’s position on particular proposals bearing on the European Union. This is suboptimal from the perspective of Europe as a whole, for what may be the optimal partisan stance is not necessarily in the best interest of the Union. Furthermore, the sense that there are certain “Euroskeptic” states may be an overstatement needlessly holding back European integration. In other words, the opposition to transferring more governmental sovereignty to the federal level may not be as formidable or as permanent as one might conclude.
Poland and the Czech Republic “shifting” over to the integrationist camp in Europe raises the possibility that Britain may be increasingly isolated for as long as the parties in power retain their position. Indeed, even the perception of Britain being isolated in the E.U. may be a function of David Cameron’s party being in power. This is not to say that there are not plenty of Europeans with a negative view of the European Union. Even so, it might be erroneous to label certain states “Euroskeptic” and assume that their respective governments will permanently veto additional competencies proposed for the Union at the expense of the state governments (but in their long-term best interest of peace and prosperity in place of nationalist war). The future for Europe might be brighter than momentary appearances may lead us to suppose.

New Czech President No Stranger to Controversy,” Deutsche Welle, 29 January 2013