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The Economy and EU Support: The Utilitarian Explanation in Ordinary and Extraordinary Times

Comparative Perspective
Liisa Talving
University of Tartu
Liisa Talving
University of Tartu
Sofia Vasilopoulou
University of York

It is well established that public attitudes towards the European Union (EU) are determined by cost-benefit calculations. However, less is known about whether the importance of utilitarianism has changed over time. The Eurozone crisis increased the salience of economic issues and raised public awareness of the EU’s role in national policy, suggesting a strong link between the economy and EU attitudes. But the crisis has also strengthened feelings of national identity, posing limitations to the economic explanation (Polyakova and Fligstein 2016). Research on economic effects during the crisis remains conflicting with some scholars finding that the utilitarian explanation is limited compared to other perspectives (Serricchio et al. 2013) and others linking Euroscepticism with the economy (Braun and Tausendpfund 2014; Gomez 2015). This leads us to ask: how does the relationship between the economy and EU attitudes vary across time and space? Using multilevel analysis of European Election Study (2004–2014) data, we compare EU attitudes during ordinary and crisis times. Our findings demonstrate that the relationship between economic conditions and EU opinion fluctuates over time. As an immediate reaction to the financial collapse, economic effects weakened: EU attitudes remained optimistic and were rather conditioned by cultural considerations. However, as time went by and many countries were dragged into prolonged economic struggle, citizens became more focused on the economy. Thus, parts of the rise in Eurosceptic sentiment are rooted in anxiety over economic performance. In the next stage of the analysis, we will examine contextual differences between countries. We expect the levels of Euroscepticism and the magnitude of economic effects to vary, having primarily increased in the Eurozone debtor countries. In these member states, economic and European issues seem to be merging as a consequence of the steep crisis and of European interference in their domestic policy (Otjes and Katsanidou 2016).
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