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Dissatisfaction with Europe

Leiden experts examine European legislation and ways in which better European legislation lead to citizens' support.

Citizens are becoming more critical, and questions are being raised about the extent to which the existence of an additional - European - layer of government is supported by the majority of the population. In spite of the fact that European citizens can choose their representatives in the European Parliament once every five years,  there still seems to be a feeling among the public that as a citizen you have very little influence on the course of the European supertanker. Faced with major issues, the European heads of government sometimes make decisions that are difficult to sell back home. Wim Voermans, Professor of Constitutional and Administrative Law, examines ways in which better European legislation can strengthen the legitimacy of ‘Brussels decisions.’ If citizens know the intent behind European rules and what they deliver (rules on food safety, for example), the discussion will be less about the European project and more about the content of the collaboration.


In parallel with the increasing importance of Europe, criticism of the collaboration is also increasing. Not only have new political parties, such as the Dutch Party for Freedom (PVV), emerged that are anti the EU, established parties, too, are becoming increasingly critical. European collaboration is no longer a panacea for national political problems.

In the Netherlands too, the scepticism increases.

Political scientist Hans Vollaard’s research shows that this critical attitude is not new. The Dutch Labour Party (PvdA) in the 1970s was also less than positive about the European internal market, under the terms of which the free movement of goods and workers between EU countries was guaranteed. In that period, the left-wing socialist PSP (Passive Socialist Party) was in favour of leaving the EEC. Euroscepticism, that is visible particularly in the Socialist Party (SP) and the PVV, is not so exceptional. Having a better understanding of Europe will make a positive contribution to a more critical debate on this administrative body that can take far-reaching decisions that affect European citizens. This debate can play an important role in garnering the support that the EU needs from its citizens. 

What do the citizens of Europe want?

The fact that EU citizens are critical does not mean that they have a clear idea about what they want. In fact, research at the Institute of Public Administration shows that European citizens want very different things. The people of the Netherlands, for example, have very diverse ‘discourses’ on Europe. While some advocate a stronger European presence, others are firmly against it. One critical discourse indicates that Europe has to become more democratic while another states that Europe has become predominantly a financial drain in a region where it is increasingly difficult to find work.  
A striking element in both discourses is that people reject a closer alliance with Turkey. This puts the recent agreement with Turkey about the reception of refugees in a different light. While European leaders have agreed to the abolition of the need for a visa and reopening of the negotiations on membership, some groups of citizens are firmly opposed to these developments. The whole issue needs further explanation, including from Prime Minister Rutte. It also calls for further political debate to make sure the gulf between Europe and citizens, between politics and society, does not become even greater.

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