Who Is Afraid of EU Enlargement? A Multilevel Comparative Analysis

Published date01 September 2017
Date01 September 2017
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-18o1QWqWcEkmwT/input 706548PRQXXX10.1177/1065912917706548Political Research QuarterlyTaydas and Kentmen-Cin
Political Research Quarterly
2017, Vol. 70(3) 604 –617
Who Is Afraid of EU Enlargement? A
© 2017 University of Utah
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Multilevel Comparative Analysis
DOI: 10.1177/1065912917706548
Zeynep Taydas1 and Cigdem Kentmen-Cin2
Despite considerable research analyzing European Union (EU) citizens’ attitudes toward enlargement, there is no
scholarly consensus on what drives opposition to the accession of a particular country. To fill this gap, this paper
adopts a comparative approach to examine the determinants of attitudes toward the membership of twelve candidate
or potential candidate countries to the EU. Using 2005 Eurobarometer survey data from the EU-25, we examine
the relative explanatory power of two leading theories—utilitarian and identity—in explaining public opposition to
EU enlargement. Our results reveal that, across models, subjective variables capturing material and identity threat
perceptions have a more consistent impact on enlargement attitudes compared with objective indicators. While fears
of higher EU budget contribution and evaluations of national economic conditions are the most consistent utilitarian
predictors of respondents’ opposition to entry of potential EU members, attachment to European identity and fears
about the loss of cultural identity are the two most powerful identity-related predictors of public opposition. Contrary
to expectations, religious attachment plays a limited role in shaping public opposition. Only Turkey elicits strong and
uniform opposition from all religious groups, including atheists, agnostics, and seculars.
European integration, public opinion, enlargement
Bowler 2006; McLaren 2007) or attitudes toward only a
subset of nonmember countries (e.g., Azrout, Van Spanje,
Beginning with six West European states, European inte-
and De Vreese 2011, 2013a, 2013b; Dixon 2010; Gerhards
gration has grown to include twenty-eight members.
and Hans 2011; McLaren 2007).1
Although some previous European Union (EU) acces-
The current study fills this gap by examining the rela-
sions, such as the United Kingdom’s, generated consider-
tive merits of two competing explanations of public opin-
able public controversy, others, such as Austria, Finland,
ion, each of which has received strong empirical support
and Sweden, have been relatively less contentious.
in the EU literature. The first of these explanations, the
Despite a substantial amount of research analyzing EU
utilitarian approach, emphasizes the importance of eco-
citizens’ attitudes toward enlargement, there is no con-
nomic cost–benefit analyses in shaping citizens’ attitudes
sensus on what drives citizens to oppose a particular
about enlargement. Regarding utilitarian calculations, we
country’s accession to the EU and which set of factors has
examine how diverse factors such as occupation, employ-
a stronger effect on attitudes toward enlargement.
ment status, fear of losing jobs, budgetary concerns, and
Although some scholars emphasize utilitarian bases of
subjective evaluations of personal and national economic
public opinion (Christin 2005; McLaren 2007), others
conditions can influence attitudes toward the possible
stress the role of identity in attitude formation (Azrout,
accession of potential members. The second explanation,
Van Spanje, and De Vreese 2013a; Hobolt et al. 2011).
the identity approach, considers how public opinion is
Unfortunately, there is rather limited empirical research
shaped by affective considerations, and is constrained by
examining the dynamics of European opinion in a cross-
country setting that allows us to generalize the results of
one particular case study to other cases. Many of the
Clemson University, SC, USA
2Izmir University of Economics, Izmir, Turkey
existing studies examine enlargement attitudes in a rela-
tively small number of EU member states (e.g., Azrout,
Corresponding Author:
Van Spanje, and De Vreese 2011, 2013a; De Vreese and
Cigdem Kentmen-Cin, Department of Political Science and
International Relations, Faculty of Business, Izmir University of
Boomgaarden 2006; De Vreese, Boomgaarden, and Economics, Balcova, Izmir, Turkey.
Semetko 2008; Jones and Van der Bijl 2004; Karp and
Email: cigdem.kentmen@ieu.edu.tr

Taydas and Kentmen-Cin
Table 1. Utilitarian Factors.
attitudes toward enlargement, we also provide individual
analysis for each candidate country, and compare the
Individual level
National level
findings of the aggregate model with the individual
Occupation (unskilled;
GDP per capita
The question of why Europeans support entries of cer-
farmer/fishery worker)
tain countries but oppose others has both theoretical and
conditions Employment status
practical importance. Although some EU member states
ratify accession treaties by referendum, others ratify them
Personal economic
National economic
in national parliaments. In either case, politicians are usu-
ally reluctant to act against the public will, and a disap-
Fear of transfer of
proving majority can prevent a candidate’s accession
Paying more to EU
(Azrout, Van Spanje, and De Vreese 2011). This shows
the practical importance of the issue for the EU, its mem-
ber states, and the countries aspiring to join the union. On
GDP = gross domestic product; EU = European Union.
the theoretical side, this area of inquiry is of immediate
interest to all those studying various aspects of interna-
Table 2. Identity-Related Factors.
tional organizations and the dynamics of public opinion.
Individual level
National level
It may also be of interest to those addressing religion,
immigration, and social-identity formation; dynamics of
Objective identity
Religious affiliation
Proportion of
group inclusion/exclusion; and intergroup competition. It
is no secret that the EU views candidates differently, and
Subjective identity
Attachment to
Fear of loss of
there is substantial related sociological literature on why
European and
national identity
national identity
and culture
and how individuals and groups view one another differ-
ently (Blumer 1958; Dixon 2006). Therefore, in addition
to political science, our study speaks to a number of other
the way citizens identify themselves. In regard to the
literatures, including political psychology, sociology, and
shaping of EU citizens’ opinions about enlargement, we
political economy.
explore the importance of individuals’ religious affilia-
Our empirical analysis produces four major results.
tion, the percentage of immigrants in member states,
First, our findings reveal that attitude formation is a com-
attachments to national and EU identities, and cultural
plex phenomenon, with utilitarian and identity-related
threat perceptions.
considerations jointly and simultaneously shaping citi-
We do not focus exclusively on public attitudes toward
zens’ attitudes toward enlargement in general and the
the entry of any particular country; rather, our purpose is
entries of specific potential members in particular.
to make broad comparisons. We investigate the attitudes
Second, while fears of higher EU budget contributions
of EU citizens toward enlargement of the EU in general,
and the evaluation of national economic conditions are
as well as the inclusion of twelve specific candidate and
the most consistent utilitarian predictors of opposition to
potential candidate countries into the EU (as of 2005):
entry of potential members to the EU, two powerful iden-
Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro,
tity-related predictors of public opposition are respon-
Albania, Turkey, the Former Yugoslav Republic of
dents’ attachment to European identity and fears about
Macedonia (FYROM), Bosnia–Herzegovina, Norway,
the loss of cultural identity. Third, individuals’ religion
Switzerland, Iceland, and Ukraine.2 To the best of our
rarely shapes public opposition to the entry of countries.
knowledge, this analysis is one of the very few that offers
However, its impact is most pronounced in the case of
a systematic assessment of differences in EU citizens’
Turkish accession. Finally, subjective variables capturing
attitudes toward the individual members of this diverse
material and identity threat perceptions appear to have a
group of countries.
more consistent effect than objective indicators across
This study improves upon past research efforts in two
other important ways. First, in addition to the extended
geographical coverage, our theoretical scope is broader
than earlier studies (e.g., De Vreese, Boomgaarden, and
Explaining Public Attitudes toward
Semetko 2008; McLaren 2007). We examine citizens’
EU Enlargement
economic cost–benefit analyses and identity concerns
Utilitarian Approach
across multiple levels, incorporating both objective and
subjective assessments to our analysis, as shown in Tables
The utilitarian approach contends that Europeans mainly
1 and 2. Second, in addition to examining general
consider the economic costs and benefits of European


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