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Tales from a crisis: diverging narratives of the euro area by Henrik Müller, Giuseppe Porcaro and Gerret Von Nordheim
This event was moderated by Bruegel’s Head of communications and events, Giuseppe Porcaro, and discussion was centered around two studies that analyzed the national narratives surrounding the Eurocrisis and European integration. The first study analyzed how certain newspapers from different EU countries (Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung, France’s Le Monde, Italy’s La Stampa, and Spain’s El País) discussed the crisis. The second focused on the opinions of national politicians on European integration.
To kick off the discussion, Mr. Porcaro went into detail on the methods and results of the first study. The data for the study came from analyzing newspapers over a ten-year (2007-2017) time period and using a detailed algorithm and data coding system to determine where the papers placed blame for the Eurocrisis. The research determined that German papers primarily blamed the ECB and Greece. France blamed basically everyone (including themselves) yet placed very little blame on the EU and the EU institutions. Italy initially blamed the ECB, but this blame dropped once the bank pursued policies that helped Italy. The country later placed most of the blame on German austerity measures and portrayed itself as the victim of unfortunate circumstances. Lastly, Spain blamed themselves, focusing on economic misconduct and overspending in the country in the years preceding the crisis.
After explaining the results, Mr. Porcaro then took the time to note that the national opinions on this common problem were incredibly divergent. He also took a poll of the room to determine the countries and/or institutions that those attending the event blamed. Banks and Greece were the highest on the list, and he noted that this is what is to be expected of a Brussels crowd since we are within the “EU bubble.”
Next, Pierre Boyer, Professor at École Polytechnique–CREST, presented the second study. The survey involved asking members of national parliaments from France, Italy, and Germany what they thought about different aspects of European Integration. The survey was open from September 2018-January 2019, and it included three distinct parts. The first part asked PMs to choose the issues where they think more EU competency is necessary. They were given options to choose between Energy Policy, Immigration Policy, Defense Policy, Wage Policy, and Labor Market Integration. The survey results demonstrated that more coordination is most needed in Immigration and Defense Policy. In fact, there is overwhelming support for more coordination in these areas. Those present also agreed that these are the areas where more EU competency is most necessary via a survey taken of the audience.
The second part of the study asked the respondents to decide whether or not they supported reforms in 5 different areas: (1) the creation of European unemployment insurance and Eurobonds, (2) higher national investments and labor market flexibility, (3) softening the stability and growth pact, (4) new EMU institutions, and (5) complete banking union. The survey results varied across country lines. The only reform that all three countries agreed upon was higher national investment. Other important findings were that Italy and France supported the creation of Eurobonds while Germany did not. Indeed, for all other reforms, France and Italy were in support while Germany was not. This is primarily the case because Germany has such a strong economy that a switch from German bonds to Eurobonds, for instance, would lessen their competitiveness relative to other EU economies.
The third part of the study asked respondents questions related to EU tax and fiscal policy. These included questions about the use of Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) for tax policy and the creation of a European Parliament (EP) initiative. All countries supported the creation of the EP initiative while only France and Italy supported QMV.
After the results of these studies were presented, Laura Shields, Founder and Managing director of Red Thread, and Juha Pekka Nurvala, Political adviser, European People's Party, engaged in a discussion of the results and what they mean for Europe. There was much talk about how the inability to agree on why the crisis occurred made it even more difficult to agree on how to solve it and how to reform the EU in the future. The panelists noted that when it comes to making political decisions, narratives are far more influential than facts, and the narratives on this topic are quite divergent. Thus, to solve future problems, EU countries must take the time to listen to one another and understand each other’s frustrations in order to foster mutual understanding on the root issues of policy problems.
In the Q&A session, the audience asked why the newspaper survey in particular did not use comparable data from social media sites, to which the authors responded by explaining that Facebook makes such data difficult to access. Discussion also centered around the need for trust among EU countries. Indeed, one reason that populism has been on the rise is because of the distrust that the Eurocrisis helped to create.
Notes by Davis Cousar