Tselios, Vassilis (1); Rodríguez-Pose, Andrés (2) (2017). 'Does decentralisation influence attitudes towards the European Economic Community and Unification?' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Cape Town 2017.


Although the main objectives of the EU are to promote peace, the Union’s values (i.e. the values of respect for human dignity, liberty, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights), a more balanced and harmonious development of the Member States and the wellbeing of its people through the European Economic Community and Unification and through the European actions and policies which enhance ‘europeanism’, the EU also reinforces Member States to attribute responsibilities to local authorities through decentralisation and local actions and policies which enhance ‘localism’. The European Commission reaffirms the importance of local authorities in partner countries and proposes a more strategic engagement for their empowerment (European Commission, 2013). This political recognition is likely to be accompanied by a level of political and fiscal local autonomy which differs by Member State. However, increasing the level of decentralisation and autonomy is likely to fade people’s positive views about the economic benefits of European Community and Unification, because decentralisation refers to ‘localism’ while European Community and Unification to ‘europeanism’.

This paper examines whether decentralisation weaknesses positive position and/or strengths negative position of European citizens towards European economy. In other words, this paper explores whether there is a trade-off between ‘localism’ and ‘europeanism’. More specifically, using data at individual level from the European Commission’s Eurobarometer Surveys, this paper examines whether fiscal and political decentralisation influences people’s attitudes towards the European Economic Community and the economic aspects of European Unification. The key hypothesis driving this paper is that the balance between the costs and the benefits of fiscal and political decentralisation influences people’s sociopolitical perceptions about Europe. However, it is not clear ex ante in which direction decentralisation affects perceptions.

This paper makes important contribution to the field. From a theoretical and empirical point of view, to the best of our knowledge, this is the first study which attempts to improve our understanding about whether fiscal and political transfer of power to subnational tiers of government may yield different results in the perception of European citizens about Europe. This paper examines the relationship between decentralisation and people’s perception about Europe from the microeconomic (i.e. citizens’) perspective. Prior reviews of the impact of decentralisation have tended to focus on research from the macroeconomic perspective. The microeconomic perspective is likely to shed some light on the contradictory conclusions of the macroeconomic perspective existing empirical evidence. More specifically, there has been much less interest on the potential influence of decentralisation on people’s attitudes and behavior (Bjørnskov, Drehe, & Fischer, 2008; Diaz-Serrano & Rodriguez-Pose, 2012; Rodríguez-Pose & Maslauskaite, 2012). It is generally assumed that the transfer of powers and resources to subnational tiers of government may be detrimental for national economic cohesion and beneficial for local economic cohesion, but our knowledge about the influence, if at all, of decentralisation and regional autonomy processes on social cohesion and people’s perceptions about Europe is extremely limited and patchy. Thus, from a policy point of view, this study investigates whether and to what extent the quest for higher fiscal and political decentralisation and possibly the quest for regional autonomy could be seen as an alternative for social cohesion policies.

After controlling for some compositional and contextual effects, our results show that fiscal decentralisation, proxied by the subnational share in total government revenue, has reinforced citizens’ support for European integration, while political decentralisation has dented it. Therefore, from the citizens’ point of view, fiscal decentralisation may give prominence to the economic benefits of European integration, while political decentralisation to the economic costs.

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