Whose Values Support European Institutions? Inter- and Intra Country Value Polarization in Europe

Robbert Maseland (University of Groningen)
Sjoerd Beugelsdijk (University of Groningen)
Hester van Herk (Free University Amsterdam)

Abstract: According to the Lisbon Treaty, the European Union has been founded on a set of shared liberal, cosmopolitan values. This image of European societies has been increasingly challenged by those that see a Christian tradition as the cornerstone of European identity, or those that deny that European nations have much in common at all. In this paper, we ask to what extent the European population supports the image of Europe that is portrayed in the Lisbon Treaty. Using WVS data from 26 European nations, we analyse the beliefs people hold on a selection of defining topics and first find that all people can be described based on three archetypes, each representing an ideal-typical configuration of values, attitudes and beliefs with which people more or less identify. While one of these archetypes (which we label ‘the post-modern liberal’) reflects the liberal, cosmopolitan set of values espoused in the Lisbon Treaty, the other two archetypes (religious conservative and leftist conservative) conjure up images of Europe that are decidedly less liberal. Each individual is a combination of these extremes, with most people tending towards the conservative types forming the majority of the European population. Secondly, we find that the fault lines between people run across member states rather than between them. People resembling each archetype can be observed in each and every member state individually, although they differ in their degree of prominence in different countries. We conclude that the vision of society underpinning the European project is not widely shared among the European population. What is more, the contestation of European identity takes place within rather than between member states, and occurs along similar lines in each of them. Inter-country differences are actually relatively small compared to intra-country heterogeneity. European societies are united in sharing the same diversity.

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