ARENA Tuesday Seminar: Virginie Van Ingelgom
Virginie Van Ingelgom from Université catholique de Louvain presented the paper 'Assessing the depoliticization of European citizens in a more politicized Union: Integrating indifference' at the ARENA Tuesday Seminar on 12 May 2015.
Have European citizens become increasingly Eurosceptic over the last two decades, turning their backs on European integration? Though many journalists, politicians and academics argue that they have, this paper suggests that reactions to European integration cannot be reduced uniquely to a rise in Euroscepticism, but that indifference and ambivalence need also to be brought into the picture when studying EU legitimacy and its politicization. As the enhanced politicization of the European integration has marked the EU post-Maastricht development, this text aims at understanding how this politicization has impacted on the acceptance and the appropriation of the political order by lay citizens. This paper challenges the idea that a growing politicization leads necessarily to a polarization of citizens’ attitudes towards the EU. I propose an alternative interpretation, which argues that the acceptance of a European political order stems from at least two rationales. On one hand, amongst the elites (understood in a broad sense as political or economic or even simply citizens interested in the political sphere) one observes indeed a polarization of opinion characterized by a decline in support and a reinforcement of opposition to the processes of European integration. This tendency is emphasized and explained by the model of “constraining dissensus”. On the other hand, one observes the reinforcement of indifference and indecision amongst ordinary citizens not expert in political matters, faced with this same process. In the latter case, the politicization of the EU leads ordinary citizens at the same time to develop more ambivalent attitudes towards the integration process and to consider the EU as “normal politics”. Through these two mechanisms, the enhanced politicization of the EU leads to indifference, in one case by ambivalence and in the other by defection. Drawing on evidence from survey data, and from 24 focus groups conducted in francophone Belgium, France and Great Britain in 2006, this paper explores the various faces of citizens’ indifference, from fatalism, to detachment, via sheer indecision. It adopts a mixed-methods approach to analyzing the middle-of-the-road attitudes of ordinary citizens who consider themselves neither Europhiles nor Eurosceptics. Complementing existing quantitative and qualitative literature in the field, it opens up new perspectives on attitudes towards European integration.
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Please note that this paper is work in progress and thus has limited distribution, please contact us if you would like access. Do not cite without permission from the author.