Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

The Unlikely Eurosceptics: The Undercurrent Anti-European Attitudes among the Young Poles and the Role of the Domestic Context

Academic journal article Polish Sociological Review

The Unlikely Eurosceptics: The Undercurrent Anti-European Attitudes among the Young Poles and the Role of the Domestic Context

Article excerpt

Euroscepticism, Youth, Poland, Domestic Context, Politicisation

The first generation of Poles whose political horizons have been limited by their country's membership in the EU by a popular assumption should also be the most pro-European section of the society (European Commission 2014). After all, this is the generation that has had a chance to fully enjoy the benefits of the EU integration and does not know any other political reality. However, this is also the age group that has disproportionately voted for Eurosceptic candidates not only in the European Parliament elections but also in the recent national parliamentary and presidential elections. This conundrum has prompted us to take a closer look at the young adult generation's attitudes towards the EU, with particular attention to motivations behind their Eurosceptic stance. The underlying assumption is that even if Euroscepticism was not the main driving force behind their voting patterns, voting for openly Eurosceptical parties implies a certain degree of acceptance of their anti-European stance. The article presents the empirical evidence that young people's perceptions of the EU are characterised by undercurrent euroscepticism, despite the broad support for Poland's membership that we see on the surface. This undercurrent Euroscepticism is less about a pragmatic assessment of benefits and losses, but more about concerns about emotive- symbolic issues, such as authority, self-determination, sovereignty, national identity and values. While the benefits of the EU membership are often taken for granted, the con cerns about sovereignty understood in an old-fashioned way are brought to the fore in young people's perceptions of the EU.

The article claims that the attitudes and perceptions of young people have been considerably shaped by the domestic political context: the politicisation of the EU integration resulting from the riftbetween the main pro-European party, incumbent during the coming of age period of this generation, and the anti-establishment parties supported by other political entrepreneurs, notably the Catholic Church, who have been propagating anti-European messages. This criticism of the EU, unleashed after the EU accession, has been falling on fertile ground due to the "shallow consensus" on European. Furthermore, the real and perceived generation gap is also believed to have contributed to the distancing of young people from the pro-European governing elites, translating into greater receptiveness towards Eurosceptic arguments. The paper calls for comprehensive education about European integration and critical thinking and media consumption literacy in order to diminish the susceptibility of young people to anti-European cues by political entrepreneurs.

The paper mainly relies on empirical qualitative research results, complemented by opinion polls data. It is organised in the following way: the brief presentation of the theoretical framework and the context of the research is followed by explication of methodology. Then I present empirical research results and discuss possible explanations for youth's Eurosceptic attitudes, notably the role of the domestic political context at the time of their coming of age and the role of knowledge and information. At the end the paper offers conclusions and some recommendations.

Theoretical Framework

Euroscepticism has been at the centre of scholarly attention ever since the end of "permissive consensus"-when general public paid little attention to the "deals cut by insulated elites" (Hooghe and Marks 2009: 5)-associated with the Maastricht Treaty. The initial take on Euroscepticism was limited to political parties' stances towards the EU integration. One of the most-quoted definitions of euroscepticism belongs to Taggart, who suggested that it is "the idea of contingent or qualified opposition, as well as incorporating outright and unqualified opposition to the process of European integration" (1998: 366). …

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