In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Public Opinion and the European Union

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Datasets

International Relations Public Opinion and the European Union
Çiğdem Kentmen Çin
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 May 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0176


The European Union (EU) is a sui generis international organization. It started as a common market of six Western European countries intended to bring stability and peace to Europe after the World War II. Today, the EU is a supranational organization of 28 member states with a tremendous impact not only on the economic but also on the political and social lives of Europeans. Not all European citizens, however, appreciate the policies of the EU; some claim that the EU is challenging the traditional roles and authority of nation-states. There are those who view the EU’s multilingual and multinational structure as a threat to their national integrity. Some citizens also believe that their country’s membership in the EU has been costly. A large literature is dedicated to understanding the dynamics and nature of European public opinion, since a disapproving public can influence governmental policies in the international arena and forestall the deepening of integration through referendums, as in the example of the Irish 2008 referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon. Consequently, there is a much greater focus on how the EU public views the European integration in general, their country’s membership to the EU, enlargement to other countries, certain policy areas such as the Common Foreign and Security Policy, and the euro. There is also a growing literature on public opinion on joining the EU in candidate countries. The literature on the EU provides perhaps the most compelling and detailed analysis of public opinion toward an international organization. Furthermore, this large literature sheds light on the relative contributions of economic cost-benefit calculations and soft (identity-related) factors to the explanation of public support for integration efforts between sovereign states.

General Overviews

There is a wide literature on public attitudes toward the EU. Hewstone 2010 and Scheuer 2005 are good introductions for understanding the meaning of European unity, the importance of public opinion for the European integration, early theoretical analyses of support for the EU, and alternative measurements of European attitudes. In-depth comparisons of different conceptualizations of EU attitudes are provided by Boomgaarden, et al. 2011 and Stoeckel 2012. For a comprehensive overview of the strengths and weaknesses of the main theories of EU public opinion, McLaren 2006 and Gabel 1998 are good sources. The European Commission’s Public Opinion Analysis web page reports trends in public attitudes toward European integration, while Lubbers and Scheepers 2010 provides an analysis of how attitudes toward the EU have changed over time and discusses reasons for variation among member states, regions, and individuals.

  • Boomgaarden, Hajo G., Andreas R. T. Schuck, Matthijs Elenbaas, and Claes H. de Vreese. “Mapping EU Attitudes: Conceptual and Empirical Dimensions of Euroscepticism and EU Support.” European Union Politics 12.2 (2011): 241–266.

    DOI: 10.1177/1465116510395411

    Shows that there are five dimensions of EU attitudes, related to the performance of EU institutions, community identity, negative affection toward the EU, utilitarianism, and strengthening of the EU.

  • European Commission Public Opinion Analysis.

    On this website, the European Commission publishes reports of the results of Eurobarometer Survey Series dating back to 1974. Eurobarometer surveys are conducted in all member states and candidate countries to monitor public opinion regarding the EU.

  • Gabel, Matthew. “Public Support for European Integration: An Empirical Test of Five Theories.” The Journal of Politics 60.2 (1998): 333–354.

    DOI: 10.2307/2647912

    Using 1978–1992 Eurobarometer survey data, this study compares the impact of cognitive mobilization, political values, utilitarian calculations, class partisanship, and support for government on attitudes toward integration.

  • Hewstone, Miles. Understanding Attitudes to the European Community: A Social-Psychological Study in Four Member States. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

    Using data from a survey of college students at eight universities in West Germany, Italy, France, and the United Kingdom, this study examines attitudes toward the European Community and its policies.

  • Lubbers, Marcel, and Scheepers, Peer. “Divergent Trends of Euroscepticism in Countries and Regions of the European Union.” European Journal of Political Research 49.6 (2010): 787–817.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-6765.2010.01915.x

    This study shows that there is more variance in Euroskepticism at the individual level than at the national or regional levels.

  • McLaren, Lauren. Identity, Interests and Attitudes to European Integration. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave, 2006.

    Using Eurobarometer data, this study compares how utilitarian considerations, attitudes toward “others,” and national attachments affect attitudes toward European integration.

  • Scheuer, Angelika. How Europeans See Europe: Structure and Dynamics of European Legitimacy Beliefs. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2005.

    DOI: 10.5117/9789056294083

    This study discusses the elements of the European belief system and compares legitimacy dynamics across member states.

  • Stoeckel, Florian. “Ambivalent or Indifferent? Reconsidering the Structure of EU Public Opinion.” European Union Politics 14.1 (2012): 23–45.

    DOI: 10.1177/1465116512460736

    Unlike previous studies that treated public attitudes toward the EU as one-dimensional, meaning that they can only take positive or negative values, this study claims that attitudes are multidimensional. The study presents an analysis of ambivalent and indifferent feelings.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.