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Study reveals complex picture of the European elites

Posted July 9, 2014

“We decree something, then float it and wait some time to see what happens. If no clamour occurs and no big fuss follows, because most people do not grasp what had been decided, we continue–step by step, until the point of no return is reached,” said Jean-Claude-Juncker fifteen years ago. Juncker is one of the top-officials of the European Union. However, his words symbolize growing concern about the growing gap between opinion of the European establishment and general public.

Picture: Blue Eiffel tower for the French Presidency of the Council of European Union. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Picture: Blue Eiffel tower for the French Presidency of the Council of European Union. Source: Wikimedia Commons

A collection of articles called “The Europe of Elites” and devoted to these issues was recently released by Oxford University Press. The authors of this splendid volume analyzed positions exhibited by the leaders of European countries and analyzed what are the main disagreements between European leaders and average voters. Transnational divergences were also touched.

“Our empirical analysis draws on surveys conducted in fifteen West and East Central European countries with members of national parliaments, with CEOs and other persons who belong to the national economic elite, and with voters,” Wolfgang C. Müller and his colleagues claim. On the one hand, they discovered that there are strong disagreements among political and economic elites. On the other hand, the scientists revealed divergences between high class and the general public.

According to the Italian researchers Maurizio Cotta and Federico Russo, political and economic avant-garde of European countries overwhelmingly support the European Union. People belonging to the establishment think that union is beneficial for their national interests. Importantly, similar threats make them concerned.

“Both political and economic national elites seem particularly concerned by nationalist movements emerging from within and by inequalities among member states,” the scholars note. However, disagreements between these two groups exist as well. While economic leaders would like to create the European economy which would be more competitive, political leaders are divided on this question. Some politicians back up business interests.

Others, however, value better social protection. Although, the policy makers feel attached to the European Union, they are also strongly committed to their national states. They prefer to solve problems of health care, unemployment, and taxation at their national parliaments rather than at Brussels. Only immigration and environmental issues should be solved on the European level. In addition, the survey showed that regional differences do matter. “Southern Europe have been the main proponents of further integration, while Eastern European elites have been the most cautious,” the sociologists say.

The scientists investigated how positions of upper classes and usual citizens branch out. “No consensus exists with regard to the idea of common European tax and social security systems,” Müller and his associates write. A median citizen mildly supports pan-European tax system in most of the analyzed countries. Only British, Danish and Estonian voters are opposed to this proposal. Interestingly, elites of these countries are against common taxation system as well. Moreover, the ruling classes of other countries hold the same opinion as usual voters.

“There is no country with a complete discord between the voters on the one hand and the various elites on the other,” the scholars conclude. Situation regarding European social security system is slightly different. A median voter endorse common social security system in all of the surveyed countries. However, there are notable exceptions. The study showed: “The government and parliament positions towards the goal of a common tax system are negative in Great Britain, Denmark, and Austria.” The most interesting divergences arise regarding defence policy. The respondents were asked to choose one from the following three options:

“The collective positions of six (out of fifteen) economic elites, three parliaments, and three governments is to prefer a European army as the only means of defence, but not a single electorate of all countries shares this strong view,” the researchers report. Interestingly, economic leaders are more inclined towards the European army than political ones.

However, the study showed that position on some of the questions is pretty similar. For instance, both groups strongly defend the idea that the European Union should have a single foreign policy. The only prominent exception is economic establishment of the United Kingdom. British business people oppose to the joint foreign policy. Sociologists developed the index which measures the gap between elites and voters. The largest gap was observed in the United Kingdom, Germany and Denmark. The smallest difference was observed in Portugal.

Book: Best H., Lengyel G., and Verzichelli L., 2014, The Europe of Elites: A Study into the Europeanness of Europe’s Political and Economic Elites, Oxford University Press, source link.

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