Working paper

What would Europeans want a European defence union to look like?

This working paper explores public support for European defence union, revealing preferred policy features and the impact of political feasibility.

Publishing date
29 June 2023
Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell

While the Russian invasion of Ukraine has created a new momentum for EU defence integration, the political feasibility of such integration remains disputed, as it may entail both additional financial costs and a loss of sovereignty. Furthermore, design of defence integration is inherently multidimensional, differing in terms of scope and level, governance and sources of financing, among other dimensions. To determine the extent of public support for European security cooperation, we conducted the first conjoint experiment ever fielded on public support for alternative defence union designs. We carried out a pre-registered, randomised conjoint experiment on a highly representative sample of the French, German, Italian, Dutch and Spanish populations in November 2022. This multidimensional conjoint experiment allows us to determine the causal link between policy features of potential defence pacts, and public support or opposition to such policy. Our results show that policy packages receiving the most support require joint EU-level governance, joint purchases of military equipment through joint procurement, and repurposing of existing national expenditure as the preferred form of financing. All in all, our results show not only that there is considerable cross-border support for defence integration in Western Europe, but also that citizens in different Western European countries have generally aligned preferences regarding the actual design of such policy, indicating that a compromise policy is feasible and publicly supported. Furthermore, our results support ongoing research on the nature of European solidarity at times of crisis, suggesting that European citizens are willing to support the creation of joint institutions and policies to face issues of common concern, and therefore indicating that major crises open important windows of opportunity to re-shape EU-level policies and institutions.


About the authors

  • Francesco Nicoli

    Francesco Nicoli is assistant professor of political science at the Politecnico Institute of Turin. He also serves as professor of political economy at Gent University and he is affiliate fellow at the department of economics of the University of Amsterdam as well as visiting fellow at Bruegel.

    He holds a PhD in political economy, and his research focuses on the role of long-term, fundamental socioeconomic challenges (such as technological change and globalization) in shaping processes of integration at European and international level. His work has appeared on leading scientific outlets such as the Journal of European Public Policy (JEPP), the Journal of Common Market Studies (JCMS), Economic Policy, European Union Politics, the European Journal of Political Economy, Policy and Society, the European Journal of Public Health, Comparative European Politics, and others. He specializes in experimental survey research, econometric analysis, counter-factual methods, as well as a range of theory-based approaches. 

  • Brian Burgoon

    Brian Burgoon is Professor of International and Comparative Political Economy in the Department of Political Science at the University of Amsterdam (UvA). He received his PhD from MIT in 1998, and between 1998 to 2000 was Assistant Professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).  He joined the UvA faculty as an Assistant Professor in 2000, was appointed Professor in 2012, and served as Academic Director of the UvA's Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR)  from 2014 till December 2020.  

    Burgoon's research focuses on global economic integration; social policy and welfare state development; and democratic political representation. The key goal of that research is to understand how the politics of these realms relate to each other, and in particular whether and how global connectedness, social protection, and democracy can be rendered compatible or even mutually reinforcing.  

    Burgoon's teaching focuses on general political science, political economy, international relations, and quantitative and qualitative research methods. The key goal of that teaching is to help students want and know how to use the theoretical and empirical tools of social science to explore political life, and to do so in the service of human purposes. 

  • David Van der Duin

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