A united Europe is closer than you think

(*) Published on 19/5/2015 in Politico.

There is a strong consensus on the eurozone crisis among economists and political analysts both in Europe and the United States: for the eurozone to endure, it would need to develop into a fiscal union and, consequently, a political one. In the same breath, however, influential commentators argue that this is politically unfeasible in the current context of a heightened North-South divide within Europe. And there seems to be a strong consensus among pundits that political union in Europe is a pipe dream.

The problem is that this oft-repeated assertion –usually invoked as if it were irrefutable– is thrown at audiences without a shred of evidence to back it. The naysayers simply point to the latest European parliamentary elections as clear evidence of a rising tide of Euroskepticism. In doing so, they err, for they equate Eurocritics with Euroskeptics. The French National Front and UKIP are against the very concept of the EU; but they should not be confused with Spain’s Podemos, Syriza in Greece, and the Italian Five Star Movement, who are against this EU in particular. There is a big difference. If you give Alexis Tsipras, Pablo Iglesias or Beppe Grillo the chance of having a federal and democratic union, with a Commission president directly elected by the peoples of Europe, they would very likely sign up to it. Give it to Nigel Farage or Marine Le Pen, however, and they would laugh in your face. That is the difference between Eurocritics and Euroskeptics.

Even among the Euroskeptics, the anti-EU rhetoric has a voting ceiling. Europe’s main political divide is not between those for or against the EU, but between those who are more cosmopolitan –and largely in favor of further integration under the principle of subsidiarity–  and those who would like to withdraw behind their national borders. That is why the National Front, UKIP and Alternative for Germany have switched from anti-EU rhetoric to anti-immigration discourse. They realize that their potential voters are not anti-European, but rather those who have lost out from globalization. Euroskeptics comprise no more than 15-20 percent of the electorate of any European country. In Germany, the EU’s largest member state, the figure is even lower.

That Euroskeptics are no more than 20 percent does not necessarily mean that the remaining 80 percent are keen to create a United States of Europe; far from it. However, the figure does call into question the widespread assertion that political union in Europe is impossible. There is little conclusive evidence on the subject. However, data from the Eurobarometer –the closest we have to a gauge for measuring public opinion in Europe– suggest that Europeans want more, not less, integration. The difference is whether they live or not in the eurozone. While 67 percent of those within the zone are in favor of the euro, only 35 percent outside it are. In the UK the figure is 20 percent, but in Germany it rises to 74 percent. The same can be said about having a European identity. Up to 62 percent of those in the eurozone feel that they are European as well as their own nationality, but outside the eurozone the figure is 53 percent. Not surprisingly, only 39 percent of Britons feel European (compared with 64 percent of the French).

(Click here to read the full version at Politico).

Miguel Otero-Iglesias is Senior Analyst at the Elcano Royal Institute | @miotei