Conventional wisdom in European studies has long held that social policy is not an area in which the European Union can make a large difference. Solidarity, it is said, can only develop in societies where clear boundaries exist between individuals. Such is not the case in the EU, where a citizen’s primary allegiance is to his own country. Redistribution being a zero-sum game, the majority method of decision-making is required, which may only be viable if the legitimacy of central institutions is clearly established. The legitimacy of the EU institutions, however, is said to be weak. In addition, a number of different traditions of welfare protection co-exist within the EU, as has been stressed by Gà¶sta Esping-Andersen. Citizens are strongly attached to their national brand of protection: in several countries, this is even regarded as a key element of national identity. The history of European integration has done little to belie these views. Social policy has experienced relatively modest progress, and the difficulties inherent in the adoption of European financial perspectives, undermined by the evils of “juste retour” have shown that redistribution and unanimity are indeed at odds.
This contribution purports to examine the problem from a uniquely different perspective. It does not start by taking an ontological view of Europe, in which the EU’s activities are determined by reference to what Europe is. Nor does it rest on any normative views. Instead, it presents evidence demonstrating that European citizens are becoming increasingly aware of their standards of living and worried about their children’s future, and that these sentiments nurture a political protest that is a potential source of instability for the EU unless met by an adequate political response. My argument is structured in the following manner. Section 1 argues that citizens’ attitudes towards the EU are at least partially linked to the extent to which they feel that they derive benefits from EU membership. Section 2 demonstrates the existence of a clear link between an individual’s social position and his feeling of (in)security. Section 3 reviews recent evidence suggesting that Europe is increasingly perceived as a factor of insecurity. This may help to explain the clear correlation between socio-economic factors and the lack of enthusiasm, even outright hostility, to European integration that has been displayed in recent electoral contests. Hence the conclusion: unless these feelings of insecurity are duly addressed, governments are likely to find themselves exposed to growing turmoil, which may increase their reluctance to integrate further, and could even lead to the challenging of certain elements of the “acquis communautaire”.