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Referendums in the European Union  

Derek Beach

Referendums are frequently used to ratify European Union (EU)–related propositions. Since 1972 there have been in total 46 EU-related referendums, excluding third-country referendums on EU-related matters. While referendums are constitutionally mandated in some countries in order to ratify new treaties, other referendums are held for either normative or for political reasons. Referendums deal with topics that are less familiar to voters, where key issues typically do not map onto domestic political cleavages. This means that we should expect that campaigns and the information they provide about the issues and the positions of political actors might matter more in framing issues than in first-order national elections. While there is by no means a scholarly consensus, recent research has shown, for instance, that an issue that dominates media coverage can impact how voters evaluate a proposition. Finally, what do we know about voter behavior? While referendums on EU affairs have been criticized as being decided by “second-order” factors such as government popularity, there is evidence that when a proposition matters for voters, voting behavior is more dominated by issue-voting. Recent research has drawn on advances in cognitive psychology to investigate the impact of attitude strength and personality characteristics for voter behavior.

Article

Solidarity and European Union Politics  

Andreas Grimmel

Solidarity is one of most contentious and contested concepts in European Union (EU) politics. At the same time, it was, and remains, a central value of European integration that has been more and more institutionalized over time. The numerous codifications in the EU treaties and the Charter of Fundamental Rights, along with the increasingly frequent references to the value in political declarations and decisions, prove the value’s growing significance. Yet, there also exists a fundamental divide between rhetorical commitments to solidarity and the practice of the EU and its member states. The most recent crises of the EU have shown the instrumentality and strategic use of the concept in order to promote particular political positions rather than work toward a more common understanding of European solidarity. This makes the application of solidarity in the EU a question not just of arriving at definitional clarity, but also of developing practices that reflect solidarity in concrete cases. Such practices are inextricably linked with three grounds for action: voluntariness, selflessness, and identification. Despite, or precisely because of, these difficulties in defining, concertizing, and implementing solidarity as a European value, there is a rising interest in solidarity in various fields of studies, such as political science, sociology, philosophy, law, and history, making it an interdisciplinary and multidimensional subject matter.

Article

Iceland and European Integration  

Baldur Thorhallsson

Iceland’s European policy is a puzzle. Iceland is deeply embedded in the European project despite its non-EU membership status. Iceland is a member of the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) (1970), the European Economic Area (EEA) (1994), and Schengen (2001). Moreover, Iceland applied for membership in the European Union (EU) in 2009. Nonetheless, the Icelandic political elite have been reluctant to partake in the European integration process. They have hesitated to take any moves toward closer engagement with Europe unless such a move is seen as necessary to deal with a crisis situation. Decisions to engage with the European project have not been made based on outright economic and political preferences. They have primarily been based on economic or political necessity at times when the country has faced a deep economic downturn or its close neighboring states have decided to take part in European integration. The country has essentially been forced to take part in the project in order to prevent crises from emerging or to cope with a current crisis situation. For instance, in 2009, Iceland unexpectedly applied for membership in the EU after the collapse of its economy nine months earlier. However, four years later, after a swift economic recovery and after Iceland having been “betrayed” by the EU in the so-called Ice-save dispute with the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, the accession process was put on hold. The EU was no longer seen as an economic and political savior. Iceland’s close relationships with its powerful neighboring states, the United States and the United Kingdom, have also had considerable influence on the country’s European policy. Iceland’s membership in the EFTA, the EEA, and Schengen was largely dictated by the Nordic states’ decisions to join the organizations and because of crisis situations their lack of membership would have meant for Iceland were it to be left out. Moreover, the decision by the United Kingdom to leave the Union has firmly frozen Iceland’s accession process and contributed to increased criticism of the transfer of autonomy from Reykjavik to Brussels that takes place with the EEA Agreement. Furthermore, many at the right of center in Icelandic politics do not see any security reasons for joining the EU, as Iceland’s defense is guaranteed by a bilateral defense treaty with the United States and membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). European debates about partial and full participation in the European project have led to harsh opposition in Althingi (the National Parliament), deep divisions in society at large, and public protests. Opposition has been driven by an overwhelming focus on sovereignty concerns. The political discourse on sovereignty and self-determination prevails except when the country is faced with a crisis situation. To prevent a crisis from emerging or to deal with a current crisis, Icelandic politicians reluctantly decide to take partial part in the European project. They are determined to keep autonomy over sectors of primary political importance, sectors that are close to the heart of the nation, those of agriculture and fisheries.

Article

Croatia and the European Union  

Pero Maldini

Croatia’s accession to the European Union (EU) meant, in political terms, the recognition of its political and normative-institutional achievements in the establishment of a nation state and the democracy. At the same time, for the vast majority of Croatian citizens EU membership also had a symbolic meaning: a departure from the troubled past and a return to the Western, European cultural circle, which they have always felt they belong to. This feeling is the source for the strong pro-European orientation, which, as state independence was being achieved, and democracy established—as an expression of the strong political will of Croatian citizens for freedom and autonomy—helped achieve those historical and political goals. The EU was perceived as a framework that would enable those goals to be realized, so there was a general political consensus about joining it among all relevant political actors, and the vast majority of Croatian citizens granted their consent. The path to full EU membership was long and arduous, primarily because of the specific conditions that marked the process of establishing a Croatian state and a democratic order. On the one hand, these are endogenous structural and socio-cultural factors: the structure and activity of political actors and the functioning of institutions, which were significantly marked by their authoritarian political and historical legacy. On the other hand, was a war of aggression and a struggle for freedom and independence with long-lasting and difficult social and political consequences. These specific conditions—which none of the other acceding countries had—slowed down the process of democratization and, consequently, hampered the EU accession process. All these reasons are why Croatia had the most comprehensive and longest accession negotiations, including the most extensive body of pre-accession conditions. Although the extent and duration of negotiations, as well as the lack of expected support from the EU (especially during the war) have led to an increase in Euroskepticism and criticism of the EU—and consequently to the low turnout in the referendum for accession—the pro-European orientation remained dominant in Croatia. In general, public support for EU accession in Croatia was based on a set of mutually connected factors: identity-based (cultural affiliation), institutional-political (democracy), and utilitarian (socioeconomic benefits). In the period after joining the EU, due to insufficient preparation, Croatia has relatively slowly used the opportunities (especially economic) provided by EU. Nevertheless, EU membership has accelerated the increase in institutional capacity and better use of European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF). At the same time, the free movement of people, goods, capital, and services, and the opportunities brought by the open EU market, had a double impact: strengthening the economy due to greater orientation toward the EU market, but also slower economic growth, due to structural problems (the lingering power of the state, and regulations to the economy and the market) and increased emigration of the highly educated younger population (chronic labor-force deficit). Nonetheless, through Croatia’s participation in the EU institutions, the real benefits of full membership are becoming increasingly visible, and the sense of integration in the EU’s social, political, cultural, and economic space is growing stronger. At the same time, EU membership affects further improvement of the normative-institutional framework of Croatia.

Article

Cohesion Policy and European Union Politics  

Simona Piattoni and Laura Polverari

Cohesion policy is one of the longest-standing features of the European construction; its roots have been traced as far back as the Treaty of Rome. Over time, it has become one of the most politically salient and sizable policies of the European Union, absorbing approximately one-third of the EU budget. Given its principles and “shared management” approach, it mobilizes many different actors at multiple territorial scales, and by promoting “territorial cooperation” it has encouraged public authorities to work together, thus overcoming national borders. Furthermore, cohesion policy is commonly considered the most significant expression of solidarity between member states and the most tangible way in which EU citizens “experience” the European Union. While retaining its overarching mission of supporting lagging regions and encouraging the harmonious development of the Union, cohesion policy has steadily evolved and adapted in response to new internal and external challenges, such as those generated by subsequent rounds of enlargement, globalization, and shifting political preferences regarding what the EU should be about. Just as the policy has evolved over time in terms of its shape and priorities, so have the theoretical understandings of economic development that underpin its logic, the nature of intergovernmental relations, and the geographical and administrative space(s) within which the EU polity operates. For example, whereas overcoming the physical barriers to economic development were the initial targets in the 1960s and 1970s, and redesigning manufacturing clusters were those of the 1980s and 1990s, fostering advanced knowledge and technological progress became the focus of cohesion policy in the new century. At the same time, cohesion policy also inspired or even became a testing ground for new theories, such as multilevel governance, Europeanization, or smart specialization. Given its redistributive nature, debates have proliferated around its impact, added value, and administrative cost, as well as the institutional characteristics that it requires to function. These deliberations have, in turn, informed the policy in its periodic transformations. Political factors have also played a key role in shaping the evolution of the policy. Each reform has been closely linked to the debates on the European budget, where the net positions of member states have tended to dominate the agenda. An outcome of this process has been the progressive alignment with wider strategic goals beyond cohesion and convergence and the strengthening of linkages with the European Semester. However, some argue that policymakers have failed to properly consider the perverse effects of austerity on regional disparities. These unresolved tensions are particularly significant in a context denoted by a rise of populist and nativist movements, increasing social discontent, and strengthening Euroskepticism. As highlighted by research on its communication, cohesion policy may well be the answer for winning back the hearts and minds of European citizens. Whether and how this may be achieved will likely be the focus of research in the years ahead.

Article

Legislative and Judicial Politics of LGBT Rights in the European Union  

Uladzislau Belavusau

Since the 1980s, the law of the European Union (EU) has become a substantial transnational source of political empowerment for LGBT actors in Europe. The Rome Treaty (1957), which established the European Economic Community, contained a gender equality clause. In the 1990s, this provision was used to protect employment rights of intersex individuals via litigation schemes based on EU law. Yet the subsequent attempts to push forward a similar legal protection for gay and lesbian equality at the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), based on the EU sex-equality clause, failed. Since then, the position of the LGBT community in EU legislative politics has evolved significantly through two dimensions. First, the Amsterdam Treaty (1997) extended the number of grounds protected against discrimination in EU law, adding sexual orientation, among others, to this palette. The Amsterdam Treaty permitted the EU Council to adopt the Framework Equality Directive 2000/78/EC, an instrument of secondary Union law that has safeguarded minimum standards of protection against homophobia in relation to matters of employment in all member states. This framework EU legislation has been used by LGBT litigants in their fight for equal working opportunities and pension rights at the CJEU. Second, the introduction of EU citizenship by virtue of the Maastricht Treaty (1992) and the respective secondary law (the EU Citizenship Directive 2004/38/EC) have paved the way for status recognition of same-sex spouses in the member states that have not previously recognized same-sex partnership or marriage. The future of LGBT legislative politics and the LGBT community in Europe will largely depend on whether EU law is able to extend protection beyond the current confines of the employment area, broaden its scope to cover social dimensions such as health and education, and fully recognize same-sex marriages and partnerships throughout the EU.

Article

Democratic Backsliding in the European Union  

Nick Sitter and Elisabeth Bakke

Democratic backsliding in European Union (EU) member states is not only a policy challenge for the EU, but also a potential existential crisis. If the EU does too little to deal with member state regimes that go back on their commitments to democracy and the rule of law, this risks undermining the EU from within. On the other hand, if the EU takes drastic action, this might split the EU. This article explores the nature and dynamics of democratic backsliding in EU member states, and analyses the EU’s capacity, policy tools and political will to address the challenge. Empirically it draws on the cases that have promoted serious criticism from the Commission and the European Parliament: Hungary, Poland, and to a lesser extent, Romania. After reviewing the literature and defining backsliding as a gradual, deliberate, but open-ended process of de-democratization, the article analyzes the dynamics of backsliding and the EU’s difficulties in dealing with this challenge to liberal democracy and the rule of law. The Hungarian and Polish populist right’s “illiberal” projects involve centralization of power in the hands of the executive and the party, and limiting the independence of the judiciary, the media and civil society. This has brought both governments into direct confrontation with the European Commission. However, the EU’s track record in managing backsliding crises is at best mixed. This comes down to a combination of limited tools and lack of political will. Ordinary infringement procedures offer a limited toolbox, and the Commission has proven reluctant to use even these tools fully. At the same time, party groups in the European Parliament and many member state governments have been reluctant to criticize one of their own, let alone go down the path of suspending aspect of a states’ EU membership. Hence the EU’s dilemma: it is caught between undermining its own values and cohesion through inaction on one hand, and relegating one or more member states it to a second tier—or even pushing them out altogether—on the other.