EU Funding and Euroskeptic Vote Choice

Date01 June 2021
Published date01 June 2021
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
2021, Vol. 74(2) 348 –363
© 2020 University of Utah
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1065912920904996
After the end of state socialism, the countries of Central
and Eastern Europe (CEE) marched—albeit at different
paces—toward the same goals: first, the North Atlantic
Treaty Organization and, second, the European Union
(EU).1 At the time, both CEE political elites and publics
considered EU accession a heralded return to Europe.
Thus, elites undertook the necessary reforms; obstruc-
tionist governments (like that of Vladimír Mečiar in
Slovakia) were (eventually) voted out of office; and “per-
missive consensus” reigned supreme (Hooghe and Marks
2008). However, consensus did not last. Euroskepticism
in CEE is on the rise. In recent elections, new Euroskeptic
parties, such as SPD in the Czech Republic or EKRE in
Estonia, have achieved electoral representation for the
first time. Mainstream parties, like Fidesz in Hungary and
PiS in Poland, have likewise tempered their support for
European integration. The challenge these parties pose to
the European project is significant in its own right; more-
over, their electoral success threatens minority rights and
portends possible democratic backsliding (Börzel and
Schimmelfennig 2017). At the same time, the EU has
transferred billions of euros to CEE through EU Regional
Policy. In this study, I focus on the relationship between
EU funding and Euroskeptic voting—what is the effect of
EU funding on Euroskeptic vote choice?
Scholars employ three approaches to explain Euro-
skepticism: economic cost–benefit, national identity, and
cueing (see Hobolt and De Vries 2016). Likewise, a new
literature on public support for Eurozone bailouts has
emerged (e.g., Bechtel, Hainmueller, and Margalit 2014;
Kleider and Stoeckel 2019; Kuhn, Solaz, and van Elsas
2018). I draw on these literatures to suggest that a politi-
cized EU policy contributes to the rise of Euroskepticism
in CEE. Specifically, I contend that EU funding for the
advancement of minority groups—allocated through EU
Regional Policy—drives CEE electorates to vote for
Euroskeptic electoral options. I argue that ethnonationalist
political parties politicize these funds, thus creating
Euroskeptic grievances among the electorate.
While EU funding serves an important economic pur-
pose—supporting agriculture and infrastructure—it also
promotes minority integration and multicultural pro-
gramming. Recent work suggests that non-cosmopolitan
individuals in economically disadvantaged or corrupt EU
member states opposed the Eurozone bailouts—an eco-
nomic transfer between EU members (e.g., Bauhr and
Charron 2018; Bechtel, Hainmueller, and Margalit 2014;
Kleider and Stoeckel 2019). However, little work has
addressed how EU Regional Policy affects behavior
within EU members. Bustikova (2014) finds that minor-
ity advancement mobilizes far-right voters. Similarly, I
904996PRQXXX10.1177/1065912920904996Political Research QuarterlyHlatky
1The University of Texas at Austin, USA
Corresponding Author:
Roman Hlatky, Department of Government, The University of Texas
at Austin, 116 Inner Campus Drive, Campus Mail Code: A1800
Austin, TX 78712-1139, USA.
EU Funding and Euroskeptic
Vote Choice
Roman Hlatky1
Why do voters in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) vote for Euroskeptic political parties? Existing explanations
of Euroskepticism suggest that those benefiting economically due to the European Union (EU) are less likely to
be Euroskeptic. These approaches fail to take into account the social purpose of EU economic transfers. I argue
that the minority advancement realized through EU funding drives voters toward Euroskeptic electoral options. I
provide evidence of this relationship through two methods: a large-N statistical analysis and a survey experiment. The
large-N analysis employs time-series, regional data from ten CEE member states. The survey experiment tests the
hypothesis with a nationally representative sample of the Slovak population. Results from both methods corroborate
the hypothesized relationship. Importantly, results suggest that reactionary voters may undermine the long-term
institutional goals of the EU due to the short-term consequences of EU policies.
euroskepticism, political parties, voting, European Union, nationalism, survey experiment
Hlatky 349
suggest voters choose Euroskeptic electoral options when
they possess sufficient grievances with minority groups.
These grievances are more likely to manifest in regions
where minorities are politically or economically accom-
modated. EU Regional Policy provides this accommoda-
tion. Domestic actors play an important role—citizens
must be “cued” to consider minority advancement.
Specifically, I investigate the cues of parties that privilege
the rights of titular majorities over the rights of ethnic
minorities and support exclusive conceptions of the
“nation.” I term these parties ethnonationalist. To bolster
their own electoral fortunes, ethnonationalist parties
politicize minority transfers. By doing so, ethnonational-
ists create grievances that drive Euroskeptic vote choice.
Thus, regions characterized by high amounts of EU fund-
ing and strong ethnonationalist cues are more likely to
vote Euroskeptic. In addition to testing the impact of EU
transfers on the general Euroskeptic vote, I also test for
differential effects across Euroskeptic party type. Results
suggest that EU funding drives Euroskeptic vote choice
generally, and that ethnonationalist Euroskeptics benefit
most. I also show that the effect of EU transfers is moder-
ated by the salience of ethnonationalist cues in a given
country. EU funding has a larger impact when the ethnic
cue in a given region is stronger.
I make three contributions to the Euroskepticism lit-
erature. First, I modify utilitarian explanations of Euro-
skepticism. If individuals voted solely according to the
economic benefits conferred by the EU, Euroskepticism
could not be marketable in CEE. Instead, I combine eco-
nomic, identity, and cueing explanations to show that the
social purpose of EU transfers creates reactionary
Euroskepticism. Second, I support my theory through
time-series, cross-national data from ten CEE states and
through a survey experiment in Slovakia. Combining
large-N and experimental methods allows for generaliz-
ability, suggests causal effects, and addresses endogene-
ity. Finally, I build on the EU economic redistribution
literature by addressing the political consequences of a
different redistributive transfer, EU Regional Policy.
The article proceeds as follows. First, I discuss extant
explanations for Euroskepticism. While this work sheds
substantial light on the determinants of Euroskeptic pub-
lic opinion, cross-national comparative studies of
Euroskeptic vote choice are far less prevalent. I suggest
that economic explanations treat all economic transfers
equally, ignoring the backlash minority funding can cre-
ate. I also suggest that while cueing is important for
explaining Euroskepticism, it works best when parties/
elites have tangible “material” with which to prime elec-
torates. Next, I present my theory. I provide a brief back-
ground on EU funding prior to discussing how projects
realized through Regional Policy accommodate minori-
ties. I then discuss how ethnonationalist parties use this
accommodation to cue electorates. The combination of
minority transfers and elite cues generates the grievances
driving Euroskeptic vote choice. Subsequently, I intro-
duce my research design and enumerate results. I employ
two empirical tests: a time-series, cross-sectional model
and a survey experiment. The last section concludes.
Existing Explanations of
Economic cost–benefit explanations suggest that indi-
viduals who accrue material benefits from the EU are
unlikely to be Euroskeptics. This includes individuals
that benefit from increased trade or those with higher lev-
els of income and education (Gabel 1998; Tucker, Pacek,
and Berinsky 2002). These explanations suggest that eco-
nomic considerations, whether sociotropic or egocentric,
explain Euroskepticism. This approach is relevant for
explaining Euroskepticism during accession. At the time,
joining the EU had normative significance, and it also
promised economic integration and concomitant growth
(Schimmelfennig and Sedelmeier 2004, 665). Due to the
normative and economic importance of the EU, few polit-
ical parties held salient Euroskeptic positions. However,
the 2010 Eurozone crisis shifted opinion about the pur-
ported economic benefits of EU membership (Usherwood
and Startin 2013, 2). These doubts continued post crisis.
The durability of Euroskepticism in CEE indicates that
economic explanations alone cannot account for
Euroskepticism in the region. According to the distribu-
tional approach, CEE publics should be pro-EU; they
benefit immensely from economic transfers. I argue that
not all economic transfers are seen positively by CEE
Euroskepticism may also be a response to the real (or
perceived) EU threat to national identity (Hooghe and
Marks 2005; McLaren 2006). National sovereignty is
threatened through integration, a process that transfers
national competencies to the European level. The reforms
introduced after the Eurozone crisis were a turning point
for deepening European integration (Buti and Carnot
2012). These reforms introduced EU-level supervision of
national financial sectors and strict regulations concern-
ing fiscal policy. Individuals with stronger national iden-
tity attachments, or those hostile to other cultures, are
more likely to oppose this transfer and thus are more
likely to be Euroskeptic (e.g., De Vreese and Boomgaarden
2005; McLaren 2006).
It is important to consider the tangible manifestations
of a policy—as well as where it originates—before deter-
mining its impact. Ethnonationalists politicize the out-
comes of projects realized through EU funding,
motivating Euroskeptic vote choice. Euroskeptic vote
choice in CEE is not a response to EU funding decisions

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