1. / Home
  2. / Events

Europe's trust deficit

At this event, we discussed the rise of populism in Europe and the economic, security, and identity concerns behind the movement.





Europe's Trust Deficit: Causes and Remedies

Presentation by André Sapir and Guido Tabillini

Before presenting the study, André Sapir, mentions that the original purpose of the study was to examine whether the European project is under threat after the rise of populist movements.

Populism is an ambiguous term floating around (a) the antagonism “common people vs. the elite”, (b) providing simple solutions to complicated problems, and (c) the promotion of nationalism and/or protectionism. To capture this phenomenon, the presented study analysis the reasons of lacking trust in (European) institutions and the success of populist parties. Trust is captured by attitudes of individual citizens (based on data by the European Social Survey) while populism is measured in voting shares of anti-EU parties (based on data by the European Election Database).

Guido Tabellini, pointed out that voting shares for anti-EU parties and low levels of trust in (European) institutions are highly correlated. However, the high correlation cannot reveal the direction of causality: it is not clear whether missing trust increases voting shares of anti-EU parties or vice versa.Overall, the level of trust in the European Parliament is still high throughout Europe but declining in most countries in the last years. Maria Demertzis, observes different patterns of declining trust: in some countries, the level of trust drops heavily after the great recession, while in other countries the decline is slowly but persistent.

Tabellini states that the patterns are similar for trust in national parliaments. Yet, overall the European parliament enjoys higher level of trust than most national parliaments. That is especially true for Southern European where European Institutions are an “anchor”

The study shows that voting shares for anti-EU parties are still on (comparably) low levels but have increased. Most incumbent main parties did not change their positions towards more populistic attributes - either they could not change or they did not want to. That lead to a migration of voters towards new anti-EU parties and to changes in the political systems.

(i) The study shows that trust in (European) institutions is heavily dependent on the economic performance of the region; in recent years, economic downturns were regularly preceded by declining levels in trust in national parliaments (strong effect), in the European parliament (weak effect), and in an increasing voter share of anti-EU parties (weak effect).

(ii) Cultural factors (liberal vs. authorization culture) do not seem to matter determining voting results but amplify (in case of authoritarian culture) or dampen (liberal culture) the negative impacts of economics shocks on trust.

(iii) Concerning individual characteristics, the study found that – on average – older, less educated, rurally-based persons tend to place less trust in national and European parliaments. This fact holds true for all European countries, yet the levels of this effect are varying.

André Sapir concluded that levels of trust are still high despite a negative trend. The European Institutions should strengthen its (output) legitimacy by delivering relevant policies that matter for people as its input legitimacy will remain weak (weak European identity, no European demos). This idea was supported by a European Commission official that emphasized the importance of adopting good and relevant polices instead of focusing on institutional reforms. Following Emmanuel Macron’s approach, Guido Tabellini proposed that the EU should offer protection to the citizens against external threats. He concluded by stating that average EU citizens are much more similar than usually assumed and that more cross-border coalitions are needed. Strengthening European institutions (instead of intergovernmental cooperation) could help to better reflect the wishes of the European citizens.

Event notes by Alexander Roth.