The research project MAXCAP: Maximizing the integration capacity of the European Union: Lessons and prospects for enlargement and beyond starts with a critical analysis of the effects of the 2004-2007 enlargement on stability, democracy and prosperity of candidate countries, on the one hand, and the EU’s institutions, on the other. The research question is: How can the EU maximize its integration capacity for current and future enlargements.
- Antoaneta Dimitrova
Freie Universität Berlin (FUB)London School of Economics and Political ScienceEidgenössische Hochschule Zürich (ETH)Sabanci University (SU)European University Institute (EUI)Balkan Civil Society Development Network (BCSDN)Central European University (CEU)Sofia University (SU-BG)
The ‘big bang enlargement’ of the European Union (EU) has nurtured vivid debates among both academics and practitioners about the consequences of ‘an ever larger Union’ for the EU’s integration capacity. The research project MAXCAP starts with a critical analysis of the effects of the 2004-2007 enlargement on stability, democracy and prosperity of candidate countries, on the one hand, and the EU’s institutions, on the other. We then investigate how the EU can maximize its integration capacity for current and future enlargements.
MAXCAP’s work has been divided into eight Work Packages (WPs). Five substantive WPs address our various research themes (WP1-5).
Leiden’s team is one of the institutions jointly coordinating the whole consortium and leads research under Work Package 3:
Citizens’ perception of, attitudes towards and discourse on enlargement (WP3)
Research under this theme aims to:
Establish how enlargement has affected citizens’ perceptions across the EU and what the main negative aspects of enlargement are for public opinion, based on analyzing existing public opinion data surveys.
Our review of public opinion literature and two different analyses of current public opinion trends found that there is no stable EU public opinion on enlargement across the EU and that public attitudes vary tremendously per country. Furthermore, opinions are rather sensitive to survey wording and the specific potential candidate mentioned in the question. Nevertheless, comparative data collected by Eurobarometer suggests that the public in practically all EU member states has turned more hostile towards future expansion of the Union.
To understand country level diversity of public opinion towards enlargement, we proceed to put citizens’ attitudes in the context of the domestic political discourses and perceptions of diversity that influence them. Extensive data collection on citizens’ perceptions of enlargement has been done in 6 countries: Poland, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Germany, Serbia and FYROM. The method used – Q methodology – is a bottom up one that compensates for the sensitivity of answers to survey formulations, by drawing statements from focus groups held in a variety of locations and with socially diverse groups of respondents. Analysis of this data is ongoing, with further objectives to compare and contrast discourses on enlargement by comparing them across older and newer member states and candidate countries. Results should help put public opinion trends in context, as well as show the prospects and limits of social acceptance of enlargement. The results will also allow us to find out whether bridging discourses exist that facilitate communication of the positive side of enlargement between citizens, member states governments, and EU institutions.
Adopting an inter-disciplinary and mixed methods approach that combines desk research, in-depth interviews and Q-methodology, MAXCAP aims to:
- explain the effects of the EU’s integration modes and strategies on democracy and socio-economic development in the new members, candidates and neighbourhood countries;
- inquire into the relationship between the widening and deepening of the EU by establishing conditions for effective decision-making and implementation in an enlarged EU;
- identify the social limits to the EU’s integration capacity related to citizens’ perceptions of the last and future enlargements;
- study the EU’s current and past negotiation strategies in the context of enlargement and investigate to what extent they need to be adjusted to changing conditions in the EU and the candidate countries;
- examine how the EU employs different modes of integrating countries with highly diverse economic powers, democratic qualities of governance, and institutional capacities, and
- assess whether alternative models, such as the European Neighbourhood Policy, can be successful in bringing countries closer to the EU.