EPS: European Politics and Society

The deepening of European integration has been accompanied by broader societal and demographic changes, such as individualisation, increasing cultural diversity, the rise of the service economy, and population ageing. In some respects European integration has served as a stabilising force relative to these societal shifts. In other respects, however, it has intensified them. Most notably, it has spurred mobility of firms and, also, of people (e.g. workers, students).

Opportunities and cleavages

For individuals, European integration opens new opportunities but also exposes them to increased, pan-European competition. Thus, many social relations have acquired a European dimension, while also introducing new divides between those who benefit from the new opportunities and those who experience increased competition. For some countries, especially the southern and eastern member states, Europeanisation has been a vehicle of societal modernisation as well as democratic consolidation, and has helped them to reduce the gap with the most wealthy and dynamic societies. At the same time, however, Europeanisation has also contributed to new social cleavages and forms of inequality. These contrasting trends also have implications for political attitudes and behaviour.

 

Europe is contested

The old view of a ‘permissive consensus’ on part of the general public towards European integration as an elite project no longer applies. Europe has become an important topic of political contestation in national elections and referenda. Yet, the precise form of such contestation, including the rise of populist movements and parties, varies widely across member states, depending on national institutions, culture, and practices. But whatever its precise form, such politicisation creates new challenges both for European integration and for domestic policy-making. It also raises a series of open questions about how European issues enter into domestic politics, how they intersect with ongoing societal transformations and cleavages, how they are taken up by parties and public opinion, and how the ensuing politicisation plays out at the European level itself. And these in turn raise no less fundamental questions about democratic values such as: how political equality, accountability, and responsiveness can be secured within the EU multi-level polity; what role national democratic institutions like parliaments and parties can play within an integrated Europe; and how, if at all, can EU decision-making come to be accepted as legitimate in the eyes of its citizens?

Affiliated researchers