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ECPR Futures Lab 2020

Could Euroscepticism be a Rational Answer from the French Public to Ambivalent Political Elites?

Political Psychology
Survey Research
Cyrille Thiebaut
Sciences Po Paris
Cyrille Thiebaut
Sciences Po Paris

Since Maastricht, European issues have become more salient in national politics and elections. Simultaneously, the support to European Integration has decreased, and France is no exception, while Eurosceptical parties have gained more and more votes. Against this background, criticism of the EU has become legitimate and commonplace over the last two decades, spreading even among elites and parties who are not considered Eurosceptical and who declare themselves Europhile. Anti-EU parties and leaders do not reject the EU as such anymore, demanding rather “another Europe”, while pro-EU parties and leader criticize the path the EU is taking more openly. This creates an “ambivalent discursive environment”, the consequences of which on people’s opinions have yet to be studied. This paper is a first step in doing so. I will study the evolution of criticism towards the EU among the elites (especially non-Eurosceptical ones) via their speeches, and compare it with public opinion’s support, via a French European integration “mood”. Indeed, according to the “cascade model”, the executive power takes the lead when it comes to framing European issues. My focus is, on the one hand, speeches from officials from the executive branch (especially French presidents and ministers). On the other hand, I look into elected representatives’ speeches, as a proxy for political parties’ positions on the EU. Finally, I study the speeches dedicated to European affairs in the successive presidential elections since 1995. I show that there is a banalisation of Euro-criticism over time, contributing to Euroscepticism. The overall question is: does Euroscepticism from the elite follow Euroscepticism in the public, i.e. the latter making it too risky – from an electoral point of view – to openly and unconditionally support European integration? Or does the public follow its elites, picking up on some “ordinary” Eurosceptical cues from its officials?
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