Europeanisation and Euro-scepticism. Experiences from Poland and the Czech Republic

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Europeanisation and Euro-scepticism.

Experiences from Poland and the Czech Republic.
Sřren Riishřj


The first section of this article briefly highlights the concepts of “national identity” and “europeanisation”. Although seeming to have the same “core-meaning”, these concepts have been explained differently. Broadly speaking, “europeanisation” has been studied by using either rationalist “objective” or “subjective” social-constructivist type argumentation. Moving to more ordinary politics, attitudes to the EU seem to be more linked to national interests and to a smaller extent based on identities. Furthermore, like national identity “euro-scepticism” has been examined discursively underlining the impact of mutually overlapping (multiple) identities and European identity versus national identity.

Euro-scepticism may be cleavage based, i.e. connected to particular cultural, geographic and socio-economic factors like land-town, work-capital, church and society or be connected to concrete issues and the negotiations with the EU. In addition, some studies of Euro-scepticism have been party based. In those cases a distinction between “soft” and “hard” euro-scepticism may be useful.

The last section will concentrate on Poland and the Czech Republic. Also other CEECs will be mentioned. In the case of Poland, euro-scepticism mostly can be found in the conservative-traditionalist camp, in the eastern part of the country and geographically in the small towns and in the land districts, sometimes in a catholic-fundamentalist and agrarian shape. In the case of the Czech Republic, the main focus will be on the difference in the attitudes of former president Václav Havel and the current president Václav Klaus, the policy of the social democrats (ČSSD) and soft and hard scepticism expressed by the liberal Civic Democratic Party (ODS) and the communists (KSČM).
Key words:national identity, European identity, Euro-scepticism, Poland, the Czech Republic
On national and European identity
National identity was the object of studies already back in the 1950s and 1960s, e.g. by people like Karl Deutsch and Ernest Hass, to a great extent inspired by the start of European integration and German and French reconciliation. A crucial question has been (and still is), to what extent national identity constitute a barrier for further Europeanisation and integration, and to what extent crossing multiple identities can co-exist.
After some years “euro-optimism” was dampened and neo-realist and rational choice based approaches took over. Sometimes identity was used as an explanation “of the last resort” (Lapid 1996) and as “a negative residual category” (Schöpflin 2000), included when rational explanations were retreating. Europeanisation was studied in rationalist ways taking as the point of departure the transfer of the EU laws and rule (“aquis communautaire”) into national laws and administrative practice.
Later, in the 1980s and 1990s with the wars on Balkan, the end of the cold war and transition to unipolarity more emphasis was laid on national identity using social constructivist approaches (Drulák 2001: 11). As put by Benedict Anderson (Anderson 1983), a nation (and “Europe”) has to be “imagined” in order to be a reality. The CEECs’ “return to Europe” and prospects of EU membership soon became addition factors. Distinctions like “we-ness” versus “other-ness”, the “them space” versus the “we space” and “inclusion” versus “exclusion” became normal practice. In particular the interpretation of history and historic events tends to separate national identity from other types of collective identity as each nation has its own “myths” and “narratives”, folklore, geography, language and national symbols. Thus, in a social constructivist perspective, national identity may be defined as
a set of self-perception, shared memories and experiences (history), traditions, and the geographical and cultural predisposition of a nation” (Brodský 2001: 21)
and in Lesaar’s formulation as

people’s sense of being equal with each other or of belonging to a community” (in Drulák 2001)

and Kiss’

a synthesis of values, sentiments of attachments, and social representations that are associated with cognitive factors structuring the identification process” (Kiss 2001, referring to Rosa 1996).

In a rational institutional perspective, studies of Europeanisation have paid attention to what extent changes in each member country in the case of implementation of EU-decisions and to what extent the prevailing structures (and norms and rules) have come under pressure by developments at the European level. Changes may take place before (“anticipatory adoption”) as well as after membership of the EU. Neo-functionalists see those changes of behaviour as “inevitable” and “automatic”, reinforced by “spill-over effects” and “upgrading of common interests. When talking about europeanisation, historical institutionalists like to talk about the significance of former decisions and institutional practices and a path “dependence”. Liberal institutionalists like Andrew Moravcik emphasize the “negotiation games” and the shaping of national preferences, inspired by game theories. In that perspective Europeanisation involves mutual adoption of national and sub-national governance systems to one European centre and the common European norms and rules, as
An incremental process re-orientating the direction and shape of politics to the degree that EC political and economic dynamics become part of the organizational logic of national politics and policy making” (Laffan 2003, referring to Ladrech 1994: 69),
and when including both institutional aspects and identity as
processes of (a)construction (b)diffusion and (c) institutionalization of formal and informal rules, procedures, policy paradigms. Styles, “ways of doing things” and shared beliefs and norms which are first defined and consolidated in the making of EU decisions and then incorporated in the logic of domestic discourse, identities, political structures and public policies” (Radielli 2000).
Thus, most observers agree that “Europe” and Europeanisation make a difference, that they “do matter” and have become an integral part of domestic politics, i.e. been “domesticated” (Gwiazda 2002: 13). Today institutional and political processes, earlier discussed on national state level, e.g. political parties and local politics, are mostly studied in a European and maybe global perspective. To a still greater extent European institutions and EU rules are taken for granted more than before making an impact on national players, thereby inevitably putting question marks at the future of the national states. Nonetheless, it may be difficult to make clear, to what extent institutional and organizational changes take place due to Europeanisation or whether explanations shall be found somewhere else, just as it can be difficult precisely to measure out the exact impact from Europeanisation. Sometimes national institutions are so robust and deep-rooted in society that they survive in spite of Europeanisation and globalization. Great countries like France have even strived to shape international institutions according to their national model (Grote 2003) and sometimes successfully.
For the new EU member countries it might be difficult to separate the changes and the convergence towards market economy and democracy caused by respectively internal and external factors. As regards the external factors it may be difficult to make sure, to what extent institutional changes are due to demands from the EU, or alternately from other institutions like the IMF and the World Bank. After all, most observers share the opinion that the foundation of the EU rests more on formal institutionalization than on common attitudes and identities. Thus, Europeanisation has been signified by “overinstitutionalization” and weaknesses on the “support side”, i.e. concerning socio-cultural foundation and normative integration (Kelstrup 1992: 148). The common identity that makes institutions legitimate tends to lag behind the formal institutional crafting.
The adaptation to the EU rules and norms in the CEECs in the new EU member countries shall also be examined in the context of the previous years of triple transitions. After the break-through in 1988-89, the CEECs passed from one-party systems and planned economies to market economies and democracy, also national identities had to be changed, some like the Baltic states were “reborn” after decades under soviet rule. Moreover, besides triple transitions had to include a “fourth” transition, namely the unexpectedly complex and long-term adoption of the EU norms and rules (the aquis).
For the citizens in the CEECs, concepts like “Europe” and “return to Europe” had different meanings. The vision of the future Europe was mostly vague, as most resources were absorbed by accession negotiations. For many Europeanisation was connected with a return to the “normal order” after 40 years under communism, with high expectations of modernization and catching up with West-Europe. Experience with state socialism and high costs of transition gave rise to an almost “anti-utopian spirit” with an in-built mistrust to almost all long-term idealistic plans for the future and a preference for the “secure” and already tested (Rupnik 2004). Opinion polls show that many East-Europeans see themselves at the same time as “nationals” and “Europeans”. Less than 40 % declare themselves primarily “nationals”, e.g. being Hungarian or Pole before being European (see figure). In the liberal variant “Europe” has been connected to subjects such as individualism, liberalism, rule of law, constitutionalism, free market economy, openness and secularisation.
Figure 1. The various identities, distribution in percentages, Poland, Eurobarometer.

The new EU-countries had their own specific “model-countries”. Some admired certain West-European countries or systems, others the US and some did not separate Europe and the US, expressing them selves in “Euro-Atlantic” ways. To speed up all-European values and identities, Europe needs its own positive narratives and myths, which is a problematic matter. Identities are often multiple, multilayered and cross-cutting and only rarely clear-cut and mutually consistent. After the cold war and the demise of the state socialism it is no longer sufficient to have a common enemy (an “otherness”).
Many small states, and states which for decades have been under foreign rule and overlay, experience the so-called “integration dilemma”, i.e. the feeling
either to give up a great part of national sovereignty and thereby risking to be “absorbed” by the integration system, or alternately insist on maintaining national sovereignty thereby risking to be left out and isolated and abandoned(Kelstrup 1992: 154).

National and European identities may be in harmony, but several times mutually conflicting.
In spite of many barriers, in official declarations there been much talk about formation of a common European identity, not less than means for strengthening cooperation on the security and foreign policy field, which has been predominantly intergovernmental. The question is, however, whether those visions for a common European identity can be realized at all, and to what extent the greater diversity and new medieval and imperial characteristics after the enlargement will blur the differences between the EU “insiders” and “outsiders”, and eliminate all dreams and plans about establishing a common European “super state” signified by closed frontiers and high cultural homogeneity (Rupnik, 2004).
The absence of strong European institutions and a common European identity and a high resistance, or rather apathy, to the EU at the referenda in the CEECs about EU treaties has increased the interest of “euro-scepticism”, and enhanced efforts to limit the democratic deficit in the EU system by introducing a new treaty constitution and a new vision for the EU “la finalité”. However, evidence seems to suggest that common European attitudes that should back up the Europeanisation process do no exist and, if they do, then only in embryonic forms. The issue of EU accession has played a modest role in the national election campaigns and appears to have had no significant impact on party choice of the electorate. Euro-scepticism also tends to manifest itself differently in the “new” and the “old” Europe and in small and large states. According to a worst case scenario, after EU accession the new EU-members from the East become the “others” for the “old” Europe, i.e. the “EU-15”.
The first years after the “break through” in 1989 were marked by a considerable “euro-enthusiasm” or an “uninformed enthusiasm”, and the then widespread euro-optimism was not backed up by much concrete experience and knowledge about the EU system. Among the political parties the question about future EU-membership became a “valence issue”, i.e. an issue about which high consensus was predominant, at least as far as the goal (the EU-membership) was concerned. Disagreements encompassed different ways to reach the common goal. Unfortunately, Euro-enthusiasm was accompanied by a too modest debate about the EU and European affairs in the public, thus the unanimity in EU-questions tended to be signified by “consensus without discussion” (Drulák 2001: 55). Nonetheless, the debates on “la finalité” of Europe in the CEECs reflected the status of countries, which had recently re-gained their sovereignty. For that reason, before long the issue of national v. European identity, i.e. the integration dilemma became a “hot issue”.
As EU-membership came closer and became a realistic option, EU enthusiasm lowered. Inevitably the costs of future EU-membership became a more important subject for discussion. After the opening of negotiation about EU-membership, the populations and the political leaders also gained a more realistic picture of what “the EU really is about”. Thus, coming closer to “paradise” many people changed their attitudes from being “euro-naives” to becoming “euro-realists”, maybe even “euro-sceptics”.
Already before membership of the EU became a reality in May 2004, disagreement arose on some crucial questions, e.g. about the war in Iraq and the new constitution for the EU. In the horizon difficult negotiations about the future budget of the EU were lurking which might have re-activated the euro-sceptical attitudes. The war in Iraq divided the “new” and the “old” Europe, but the disagreements also comprised the question about the future shape of the European project. As Henrik Richard Lesaar put it (Lesaar, 2001: 194), it turned out to be easier to expand the Union than to overcome the old division of Europe. The lack of confidence between the “new” and “old” Europe inevitably reinforced atlanticism in the many new EU member states, especially in Poland and the Baltic countries, thereby undermining popular support for the European integration in those countries.
As argued above, “euro-scepticism” has most often been vaguely defined. In working papers and discussion papers published in connection with the cross country research project called “Opposing Europe”, started in year 2000 under Sussex University, Aleks Szczerbiak and Paul Taggart strived to better define the concept and put forward more robust classifications. Thus, we face the danger of conceptual stretching in case we include almost all EU critical proclamations and normal interest articulation under the notion “scepticism”. To take just one example: Shall Poland’s defence of the decisions taken at the 2000 Nice EU summit and Poland’s support of Britain’s and the US’ policy in Iraq be considered as “normal defence of national interests”, which is also found in the EU-15, or should the Polish intergovernmentalism and atlanticism rather be looked upon as soft or even hard Euro-scepticism, i.e. as reservations against the EU and the European project in general.
Aleks Szczerbiak and Paul Taggart argue that euro-scepticism
expresses the idea of contingent or qualified opposition, as well as incorporating outright and unqualified opposition to the process of European integration”.
The separation of “hard” from “soft” is crucial, but also difficult to put into practice empirically. Impressed by the critique of conceptual vagueness and contradictions, Szcerbiak and Taggart reached a new and, according to themselves, a more sustainable conceptualisation, arguing that hard Euro-scepticism
might be defined as a principled opposition to the project of European integration as embodied in the EU, in other words, based on ceding or transfer of powers to a supranational institution such as the EU.”
And soft euro-scepticism
Might be re-defined as when there is not a principled objection to the European integration project of transferring powers to a supranational body such as the EU, but there is opposition to the EU’s current or future trajectory based on the further extension of competencies that the EU is planning to make”.
In other words, the soft euro-scepticism is expressed in the shape of a “Yes, but…“.

Classifications of euro-scepticism
Different classifications have been put forward:

  • Identity-based” euro-scepticism, closely linked to the above mentioned integration dilemma involving a contradiction between national identity and European identity and including a fear of being “absorbed” by the supranational institution like the EU thereby loosing national sovereignty.

  • Cleavage-based”, linked to main dividing lines in society, e.g. town-country, work-capital, religion-secularism etc. People living in the country tend to be more euro-sceptical. The socio-economic cleavages include the distinction between transformation “winners” versus “transformation” losers.

  • Policy-based” or “functional euro-realism”, i.e. some resistance against concrete policies and single issues, e.g. the CAP, the common currency, the euro and/or demands from the EU for transition-periods for the movement of labour. In some cases we are dealing with “single issue scepticism”, i.e. sceptical attitudes to the EU on one main issue, e.g. agriculture, the buying of land, environment, moral questions, etc.

  • Institutionally” based, i.e. based on the legitimacy of national versus EU institutions. Low confidence in national institutions may increase the support to EU institutions and to the EU as a whole.

  • National interest-based”, including a contradiction between common European goals and national goals, e.g. in the case of negotiations about the EU “la finalité”. In case of national interest based euro-scepticism, the main goal is to defend vital national interests in spite of a weakening of the common European project.

  • Experiencebased”, i.e. the feeling that the negotiations about membership of the EU have been unfair and asymmetric and the final result of the negotiations for that reason imposed.

  • Party-based”, formed top-down from political parties and charismatic political leaders using either neoliberal (“thatcheristic”), anti-modern traditionalist or left-populist argumentation.

  • Atlantic-based”, the feeling of a contradiction or dilemma between pro-Americanism and pro-Europeanism, e.g. in case of the establishment of a common European foreign and security policy.

  • And finally, what I call a “practice-based” Euro-scepticism. Here we find no principal resistance to the EU and Europeanisation, but Europeanism is defined in a “national” way and different from that of Brussels and demanded by the EU according to the “mainstream” interpretation of the Copenhagen criteria. This type of euro-scepticism was followed by Slovakia under Mečiar.

Source: My own classification inspired by the classification made by Aleks Szczerbiak and Paul Taggart.

Political parties and Euro-scepticism
Studies of Euro-scepticism have often focused on the attitudes and strategies of political parties. Politics just after 1989 was characterised by weak parties and “non party systems”. Many new politicians tended to be “moral politicians” and politics was marked by identity politics. Most political parties were established almost overnight and without any close links to the most important groups in society. Antipolitics and the fight against the old system were still striking. The numerous broad anti-communist movement parties, e.g. the popular fronts in the Baltic countries, Solidarity in Poland and the Civic Forum in the Czech Republic all referred to patriotism, national values and anticommunism.

Figure 2: The three party-based dimensions of euro-scepticism.

Under these circumstances “future directed” policies played a minor role. The slogan “Back to Europe” became an integrated part of the new anticommunist discourse. Thus, in most countries the first free elections were won by using primarily anticommunist symbolic slogans, as the first free elections mostly were referenda for or against the old systems and not election between parties. Later national elections became more retrospective and politics in general more “ordinary” and interest-based.
After some time, the voters to a greater extent emphasized good governance and the ability to communicate when making their party choices at the elections. As said, concurrently with the transition to more “ordinary” politics, elections became more retrospective and less symbolic and abstract. Most “euro-enthusiastic” seemed to be the reformed communists. Gradually euro-realism, euro-apathy and even euro-scepticism became more striking. Thus, throughout Europe, and especially in Eastern Europe, the elections to the European Parliament in June 2004 failed to arouse any enthusiasm or passion.
Roughly speaking, three types of party based euro-scepticism emerged, a neo-liberal, a traditionalistic conservative and a left populist. As shall be seen in the following, ODS in the Czech Republic has expressed soft euro-scepticism and even euro-realism, The League of Polish Families (LPR) conservative traditionalism, and the Czech Communist Party (KSČM) has been euro-sceptic in the more left popular variant. To a large extent the upcoming party-based euro-scepticism was policy- and experience-based and, moving closer to EU accession, also became more national interest-based.
In other words, the attitudes to the EU gradually became more practice- and policy-related and less symbolic and abstract. Under the negotiations about the EU’s new treaty constitution, the small EU-countries emphasized keeping their own EU-commissioner and securing the Commission more power at the expense of the Council of Ministers, which by the small countries is seen as the large countries’ “battlefield”. In the accession countries themselves, policy questions related to the EU never became the decisive ones at national elections. Thus, social frustrations mostly made an impact on national elections and domestic politics and thus rarely were reflected in the popular attitudes to the EU as such.
Also in the EU-15 countries, EU questions played no crucial role at national elections, mostly in case of Great Britain and the Scandinavian countries. As noted above, in the new member countries EU questions became “valence issues”, in which case all relevant parties agree on the common goal, i.e. the EU membership. In most cases, discussions and disagreements concerned the extent to which the governments had done their “home-work”, e.g. sufficiently defended national interests in negotiations with the EU. Only few parties declared themselves hard euro-sceptics, i.e. against the membership of the EU as such. More problematic was the lack of interest and apathy concerning the EU. Thus, at the referenda about membership, the political elite more feared the non-voters than the no-votes.
Szczerbiak and Taggart take as their point of departure some working hypotheses, which they want to test without knowing the final conclusions, as there have been no scientifically verified answers.

To the most important belongs:

  • Party’s position on the left-right scale is not decisive when determining whether a party shall be considered as euro-sceptic or not.

  • The place in the party system plays a crucial role. Normally outsider parties express hard or soft euro-scepticism.

  • Euro-scepticism on party level does not necessarily follow the extent of euro-scepticism in the population; in other words, euro-scepticism can be expressed differently on the elite and the popular level.

  • Euro-scepticism tends to be strongest in states, which are within close reach of EU membership.

  • Hard euro-scepticism is less widespread than soft.

  • Resistance to the EU among parties is strongest in states that are new nation states.

  • Variations on the form and strength of euro-scepticism work differently from country to country.

Some of the classifications and working hypotheses mentioned above will be included in the following sections.
Outsider” parties have been defined differently and among these parties resistance against the EU has not been decisive, as outsider parties do not necessarily constitute “protest parties”. In the case of “protest parties”, like “Smer” in Slovakia, “Respublica” in Estonia, and “New Era” in Latvia, we are dealing with protest parties, mostly criticising the bad governance of the parties in government, but these parties are relevant parties as they feel able to take over government responsibilities, maybe constituting national interest-based EU-realists, but nonetheless supporting future EU-membership. The Hungarian extreme right wing party MIÉP, on the contrary has followed a clearly “hard” euro-sceptic line, but its strong euro-scepticism has only been one of several sides of the xenophobia that has characterized the policy of the party. More important for MIÉP than the EU have been questions connected to the Hungarian minorities in the neighbouring states, in particular Slovakia and Romania.
The Slovak party, “The Movement for a Democratic Slovakia” (HZDS), belongs to the parties that in their official statements speak about Europeanisation, but in their behaviour express “anti-Europeanism” due to internal political reasons, e.g. in questions about the rights of minorities. Thus, the euro-scepticism of HZDS tends to be “practice related”. In the programme declarations and election manifestos of the party there has been much talk about a unified Europe, which guarantees freedom, peace and security, promotes economic growth and social justice and, at the same time, guarantees the invulnerability of existing frontiers and territorial status quo. Thus, the picture of Europe is “coloured” in national values and national interest. HZDS can hardly be placed on left-right scales such as in most West-European countries, in spite of the fact that also here the right-left divide has become blurred.
As regards Slovakia, EU-scepticism has not increased the closer the membership of the EU came. The main problem has been a general lack of public debate and widespread apathy as regards EU. Not even in the case of protest parties like “Smer” have EU questions played a crucial role. The polarization of the political scene has mostly been caused by the many conflicts and a general lack of loyalty and coherence among the political elites and by the use of social and economic issues for mainly political purposes. In other words, the hypothesis that right-left does not have any real impact as regards the policy choices and strategies of political parties can be confirmed in the case of Slovakia.
Also in the case of the Hungarian party, FIDESZ, has it been no easy task to separate “euro-realism” from “soft” euro-scepticism. FIDESZ was the ruling party between 1998 and 2002 and constitutes the strongest opposition party in the Hungarian parliament today. Before the 2002 election, and later when working in opposition to the socialist-liberal government after the 2002 election, FIDESZ’ leader Viktor Orbán has several times expressed views, which have been considered “euro-sceptical”.
Before the Hungarian referendum about the EU membership, he declared that Hungary in principle could have remained outside the EU. That declaration was strongly criticized by both socialists and liberals. After the 2002 election, Orbán repeatedly became a spokesman of a Europe of nation states, defending inter-governmentalism and raising the question of whether the EU needed a new treaty. He also raised the questions of the Beneš decrees and, when in government, proposed the controversial “status laws” involving special rights in Hungary for the Hungarian diaspora. As in the case of HZDS in Slovakia, also in FIDESZ we can observe practice related euro-scepticism determined by the domestic political agenda thereby neglecting or even contradicting “Europe-ness”. When speaking in West-European countries, Viktor Orbán behaved more like a standard “good European”.
The more refined delimitation of the concept “Europeanisation” decides to what extent acts and declarations should be interpreted as interest-based euro-scepticism, or only as a normal defence of national interests and as a part of the “political game” without any great impact. The limit is unclear, but not impossible to draw. Real reservations against the EU as a project have not been striking in the case of FIDESZ. Rather soft euro-sceptical declarations have been part of an electoral game. In the case of FIDESZ we are in reality rather dealing with a normal defence of national interests. In Hungary EU questions have in general been valence issues, for, if we disregard MIÉP, the questions have not been related to EU membership as such, only the handling of EU-questions by the government, i.e. its ability to negotiate successfully with the EU and to defend national interests. The soft euro-scepticism that has been seen has mainly been emanating from right wing parties (MIÉP and FIDESZ). Thus, contrary to Slovakia, euro-scepticism can be said to follow the right-left divide.

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