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Is European Citizenship a Two-Way Street? Attitudes towards EU Citizens’ Rights Compared

Citizenship
European Politics
European Union
Populism
Euroscepticism
Public Opinion
Sofia Vasilopoulou
University of York
Aleksandra Sojka
Universidad de Granada
Liisa Talving
University of Tartu
Sofia Vasilopoulou
University of York

Abstract

Under the freedom of movement framework, European Union (EU) citizens enjoy the right to freely work and reside in any other member state of the Union. The European citizenship status also implies equal treatment with nationals in access to employment, working conditions, and other social and tax advantages. Although this is a fundamental principle of cooperation within the EU, these rights have recently come under an increasing public scrutiny, figuring especially prominently in the political debates leading up to the Brexit vote. Against this background, our paper asks: How do citizens perceive their own rights in other EU member states? And how such attitudes compare to how they perceive EU citizens’ rights in their home country? We address this question using an innovative survey representative of the general British population in terms of age, gender, education, social grade, region, political attention, party preference and EU referendum vote conducted by YouGov in 2017 (n=1,700). The question of citizens’ rights is broken down into four subsequent components that relate to the different aspects of freedom of movement in the EU, i.e. the right to freely work, reside and do business in another EU member state, as well as receive welfare. Our paper seeks to explain individual level support of and opposition to these four different dimensions of European citizenship. We also examine consistency at the individual level, specifically addressing whether people have coherent views on each dimension with regards to their own rights abroad and that of EU mobile citizens in their home country, and the extent to which some dimensions are more polarising than others. Given the centrality of debates on European solidarity in the aftermath of the Eurocrisis, the Brexit vote, and the refugee and migration crises, the issue of public support for transnational citizenship rights and their reciprocity looms large on the horizon for European integration. While our paper focuses on these perceptions in the context of the UK specifically, our findings are relevant for the whole of the EU, expanding our understanding of European citizenship in its dimension of identity and exploring the limits of European commonality in public opinion perceptions. By focusing on the context of a topic central to the populist repertoire of the Brexit campaign, the paper fits under this section’s ‘Identity and the politics of “exit”’ theme.