MIND THE GAPS - The Political Consequences of the Great Recession in Europe

MIND THE GAPS - The Political Consequences of the Great Recession in Europe

Publication date:
05/2014
Author:
Diego Muro, Assistant Professor, and Guillem Vidal Lorda, Research Assistant, IBEI
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Notes internacionals CIDOB, núm. 90

The financial crisis that started in 2008 had an unanticipated magnitude. What at first glance appeared as a manageable frailty of the financial sector rapidly derived into a Great Recession with on-going continuity into 2014. The enlargement of a gap or, rather, three distinct gaps within Europe constitutes the resulting political consequences of this complex multi-dimensional economic crisis, namely gaps between: citizens and politicians; rich and poor countries; and citizens themselves.

Gap between citizens and European institutions

The fissure between citizens and European institutions has long been a problem for the European project. Debates about the ‘democratic deficit’ of the EU as well as the perceived lack of ‘legitimacy’ and ‘accountability’ of supranational institutions have been amply recognised.

Levels of political mistrust towards European institutions have reached unprecedented levels in the last few years. According to data from the Eurobarometer, the average mistrust towards European institutions increased significantly since the collapse of the American investment bank Lehman Brothers in September of 2008. Levels of mistrust towards the European Commission (EC) escalated from 27% to 47% in the 6-year period between 2007 and 2013. Similar increases of mistrust could be observed for the European Parliament (EP), from 28% to 48%, and the European Central Bank (ECB), from 25% to 49%. By 2013, the number of respondents who answered ‘I tend not to trust’ European institutions had almost doubled since the pre-crisis years.

The increase of abstention at European Elections is also a reflection of the lack of a strong connection between the EU and the European citizenry. As it can be observed in Figure 1, turnout in European elections has been declining since the 1990s whereas levels of political mistrust towards the EP have soared, particularly since the start of the Great Recession, indicated in the figure 1 with a vertical red dotted line. In the 2014 elections turnout remained at 43%, showing that the economic crisis did not drive more Europeans to the ballot boxes. The figure indicates that citizens have a persistent lack of interest in going to the polls every five years and that political disaffection is only but growing. Hence, to the old issue of being ignored by the citizenry, who used the European elections as mid-term opportunities to punish their national governments, the EP now has the challenge of regaining a lost confidence.

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