Exposure to European Union Policies and Support for Membership in the Candidate Countries

Article excerpt

This article examines the relative merits of competing explanations of public support for European Union membership in thirteen Central and Eastern European candidate countries. While noneconomic factors-attitudes toward domestic politics and feelings of social identity-have a consistently strong effect, the impact of human capital is contingent on exposure to the distributive consequences of European integration. The results of an ordered logit analysis of Candidate Country Eurobarometer data are consistent with these predictions. These results suggest a revision of theories of EU support to account for the role of exposure to the consequences of integration in shaping utilitarian judgments.

Keywords: European integration; Central and Eastern Europe; public opinion; support for European Union membership

What explains mass support for European integration1 in the candidate countries? While scholars have begun to examine the determinants of support for European Union membership among the populations of postcommunist candidate countries (Cichowski 2000; Ehin 2001; Tucker, Pacek, and Berinsky 2002; Tverdova and Anderson 2004; Cristin 2005), our understanding has been limited by the theoretical, temporal, and geographical coverage of previous analyses. As a result, we are still uncertain whether and to what extent the same factors proposed to explain support in West Europe (e.g., Gabel 1998; Anderson 1998; McLaren 2002; Carey 2002) can help us to understand the dynamics of public opinion in Eastern Europe.

In this article, we examine the determinants of citizen support for EU membership in thirteen candidate countries in 20022 and consider the impact of three potential sources of support: personal economic benefit (human capital), domestic political attitudes, and social identity. We test hypotheses relating each of these factors to support for EU membership using data from the September-October 2002 wave of the Candidate Countries Eurobarometer (European Commission 2002).

This study's research design improves upon those of previous works on the East European candidate countries in two ways. First, the expanded geographical, temporal, and theoretical scope of our analysis allows for a more complete test. The thirteen countries in our sample extend the geographical coverage beyond that of previous studies and include Cyprus, Malta, and Turkey-states that do not share the postcommunist legacy of the other candidate countries. Doing so allows us to examine support for EU membership across populations with different political and cultural legacies. In addition, the timing of the survey data allows us to examine public support at a point when the accession negotiations were sufficiently advanced to be a salient issue within the candidate countries, improving upon previous analyses of data collected in the mid-1990s. Finally, the survey data include measures that tap into three leading theories of EU support, making it possible to assess the relative merits of each for understanding citizen attitudes in the candidate countries.

We propose a modified version of the human capital argument that better accounts for the dynamics of the accession process and the formation of citizen attitudes. In doing so, this article takes a logical step forward in the study of mass EU support. The major theories in this literature have been developed and tested on West European respondents, leaving open questions about their applicability to other populations. Previous studies (e.g., Cichowski 2000; Ehin 2001; Tucker, Pacek, and Berinsky 2002) have similarly considered the need for adapting theories developed in West Europe to the political-economic conditions in Eastern Europe. We believe that our modified version of the human capital argument provides a better theoretical account of the dynamics of citizen support for EU membership. Thus, this article builds upon both the theorizing and the research design of previous studies of Eastern Europe. …

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