Scholars and journalists argue that the EU is transitioning towards a value union. If true, this value convergence is happening along the EU enlargements, warranting the research questions: To what extent have the political values of EU citizens converged across member states since the 1970s and has this trend been influenced by the enlargement rounds of the EU? Relying on longitudinal surveys and political values derived from key EU documents, a quantitative intertemporal convergence analysis on eight political values leads to four conclusions: First, no overarching convergence trend is observable as four values diverge across EU countries. However, divergences are more profound than convergences. Second, the original members of the EU constitute the most homogeneous subgroup analyzed. Third, the EU enlargement rounds do not necessarily increase value differences between EU countries. Fourth, new EU members sometimes adopt the predominant attitude of the other EU countries.
During its various integration steps, the European Union evolved to be a unique cooperation project between 27 nations. Several scholars1 argue that this process was accompanied by a shift from an economic union, promoting trade between the six founding members, towards a political union of values as an increasing amount of policy areas were incorporated in the responsibilities of the EU. However, even while advocating for the first predecessor organization of the EU, Robert Schuman2 declared peace an inherent reason for the founding of the European community. Hence, certain political values accompanied the EU to this day. Furthermore, the increasing importance of these values is exemplified by official statements,3 media discussions,4 and academic research5. Especially, scholarly contributions stress the role of common values in overcoming the internal difficulties of the EU6. In contrast, current conflicts regarding the linkage of EU budget funds to rule of law conditionalities exemplify possible value rifts inside the EU.7 The fact that the two main counterparties, Poland and Hungary, entered the EU as part of the EU’s enlargement towards the east in the early 2000s exemplifies long-lasting concerns8 over a deterioration of EU values resulting from the EU enlargement rounds.
Past empiric academic contributions have tried to identify these value convergence patterns in the EU and sought to determine the influence EU enlargement rounds have on these trends. Whereas landmark studies by Inglehart and Baker,9 Haller et al.,10 or more recently Akaliyski11, confirmed different value clusters within the EU, several studies analyzed the convergence of values over time. However, these studies are limited in the number of countries incorporated, the period covered, or the values analyzed. For instance, whereas Houwelingen et al.12 only look at 15 countries from 2002 to 2016, Akaliyski13 focuses on general cultural and behavioral values instead of political ones inherent to the EU idea and structure. Additionally, various studies solely focus on the cross-country development of select values, like the acceptance of homosexuality14 or the free movement of labor.15 Furthermore, Oshri et al.16 already focus on one key political value within the EU, democratic identity, and conclude that democratic values tend to increase over time in EU member states. In contrast, Gerhards17 maintains that each EU enlargement round increases the differences in values across the EU. However, similar to the other mentioned contributions, this study mainly focuses on cultural instead of political values. Therefore, the current literature lacks a longitudinal cross-country convergence analysis of codified political values across all EU countries. This gap in the academic discussion warrants further research into the convergence of key political values in the EU and leads to the following two research questions: To what extent have the political values of EU citizens converged across member states since the 1970s and has this trend been influenced by the enlargement rounds of the EU?
The methodology to determine, if political values converged across EU countries along the enlargement rounds, is described in detail in the second chapter. Additionally, this chapter introduces the main sources for the used value variables, namely the European Values Study (EVS), the Eurobarometer (EB), and the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP). Moreover, the chapter recapitulates the EU enlargement rounds to establish the timespans and groups of EU members that require an extensive analysis focus. Furthermore, the analyzed political values are derived in the third chapter. This process focuses on significant EU documents establishing EU political values and enabling the enlargement rounds. In the fourth chapter, the analysis of possible value convergences relies on the matching of these derived values with the mentioned value variables from the different surveys. Subsequently, the value indicators are operationalized referring to these matched value variables. The resulting analysis is structured into the general development of the political values and their development along the enlargement rounds.
Clarification of Terms and Methodology
Research in social sciences has not produced a uniform definition of values, mainly due to difficulties of directly measuring or observing values.18 However, it is commonly accepted that values describe something more elementary or basic than, for example, beliefs or opinions.19 Hence, values underlie these parts of human behavior.20 Although this definition is more functional than purely definitional, it allows the indirect analysis of values by referring to the attitudes, opinions, and behaviors of citizens as explained in chapter 2.3 and carried out in chapter 4.
As values, in general, lack a common definition, the same applies for the subset of political values. However, adhering to the functional definition introduced in the prior paragraph, political values are values that are concerned with the political sphere. Hence, this category of values can be derived from citizen’s political behavior21 and their perception of certain political events, orders, and situations.22 For instance, how a citizen might rank different government systems could reveal their value of democracy. Consequently, the indicators derived in chapter 3 seek to match these definitions to observe the political values of EU citizens.
EU enlargement rounds
The EU enlargements describe the widening of the EU integration process to countries beyond the six founding members. Furthermore, during the EU enlargement rounds, states with shared traits have gained accession to the EU at the same time.23 These shared characteristics further warrant a selective analysis as they imply shared political values. Whereas different scholars have proposed a variety of nuanced definitions and taxonomies, this research paper follows Nugent’s naming and structure proposal,24 reflected in Table 1.
Derivation of Value Indicators
The EU integration processes were accompanied by several treaties, communications, directives, and other drafted documents. While most of these documents are dealing with specialized technicalities, certain documents are referring directly to the shared political values of the EU. These references allow the derivation of political values, which will be analyzed in the fourth chapter. The Treaty of Rome in 1958, the Copenhagen Criteria published in 1993, the Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe drafted in 2004, and the Treaty on European Union after the Lisbon Treaty in 2009 are all referring to common political values of the EU. The following paragraphs highlight these value references and cluster them into the shared political values of the EU.
Treaty of Rome 1958
The Treaty of Rome, and especially the Treaty establishing the European Economic Community, created the economic union between the six founding members of the EU. However, more importantly for the purpose of this research paper, it includes one of the first references to shared political values of the EU. The preamble of the treaty states the preservation of peace and freedom as a primary target of the newly founded community.38 Additionally, the preamble also references capitalistic market conditions, which are specified throughout the treaty.39 In contrast to later documents, like the Copenhagen Criteria, the Treaty of Rome does not list specific political accession criteria but rather defers accession criteria to a later treaty between the six founding countries.40
Copenhagen Criteria 1993
The Copenhagen Criteria codified political accession criteria for potential new EU member state candidates for the first time. After the Treaty of Rome, several enlargement rounds were decided along lengthy intra-EU discussions, that did not consistently refer to codified EU law.41 Defined by the European Council in 1993, the Copenhagen Criteria, therefore, provide a second crucial definition of common EU political values, which include democracy, rule of law, human rights as well as respect for and protection of minorities. Additionally, the political-economic value of a market economy is stated by these accession criteria,42 similar to the mention in the preamble of the Treaty of Rome.
Draft for EU constitution 2004
After the European Council met in Laeken in December 2001, it adopted the Laeken Declaration, which called for the draft of an EU constitution, including shared values. While the drafted constitution got rejected by referenda in France and the Netherlands in 2005, the enthusiasm of EU officials stemming from the Laeken Declaration43 and successful ratifications in other EU countries signify the importance of the political values referred to in the constitutional draft. For instance, the draft for the EU constitution got ratified in Spain after a public referendum and in Germany, Italy, Austria, and Belgium after a vote in the respective parliament.44 Consequently, the political values referred to in the draft are part of the relevant codified political values of the EU.
First, the draft’s preamble refers to the universal values of human rights, freedom, democracy, peace, and the rule of law, while also introducing the political values of solidarity between countries and EU citizens and transparency.45 Furthermore, these values are reaffirmed in various sections of the draft.46 Additionally, Art I-2 refers to the protection of minorities, specified as non-discrimination, tolerance, and justice, similar to the EU documents analyzed in the prior sections. Moreover, free market and economic competition are referred to again in Art. I-3, which adds sustainable development and environmental protection as shared political values. Finally, like the Copenhagen Criteria, Art. I-58 sec. 1 grants access to the EU for European countries respecting the values stated in Art I-2.
Treaty on European Union
As one of the two core EU treaties, the Treaty on European Union has been constantly amended during the EU integration process, leading to the final inclusion of political values after the Lisbon Treaty in 2009. This inclusion followed the failed ratification of the draft for an EU constitution, which resulted in similar political values being referenced in the treaty. Hence, human rights, freedom, democracy, rule of law, sustainable development, and solidarity are mentioned as guiding principles of the EU.47 These core political values were already mentioned in the Treaty of Amsterdam 1997,48 further signifying their importance. Moreover, these values are again emphasized as common political values in Art. 2, which also names the protection of minorities. While Art. 3 refers to the historical political value of peace, it restates the comparably new political value of sustainable development, which has only been previously introduced by the draft for an EU constitution. Like the Copenhagen Criteria and Art. I-58 of the constitutional draft, Art. 49 of the Treaty on European Union states the respect for the values mentioned in Art. 2 as accession criteria for potential new member states.
Synthesis of the values
The prior sections provided an overview of the political values codified and introduced by EU documents. Accordingly, the political values of the EU can be divided into a group of historical values, one of repeating accession criteria, and one of comparably new political values.
The first group entails peace, freedom, and a market economy, which were mentioned throughout EU documents from the beginning of the EU, signifying their historical significance. The second group entails democracy, rule of law, human rights, and respect for minorities as well as their protection, which are all referred to in the Copenhagen Criteria or the various treaty articles linking to accession criteria. Finally, sustainable development and solidarity are part of the last group, entailing political values repeatedly mentioned in the most recent EU documents. As the political value transparency is only once mentioned as a common political value and otherwise referred to as a norm for the EU institutions, it is not included in the following analysis. The result of the value synthesis of the analyzed EU documents is displayed in Table 3.
Results: Convergence of Political Values across EU Countries
The results of the data analysis are represented in table 4, which shows the coefficients of variation for the different political value indicators for the EU countries which were part of the EU at the time the different longitudinal surveys were conducted. To identify the effect of enlargement rounds, EU countries are categorized into groups reflecting the memberships of the EU after each enlargement round following the taxonomy introduced in table 1. The only enlargement round omitted from this categorization is the first phase of the Mediterranean enlargement in 1981 as it only includes one country, Greece, which was also not part of the first two versions of the EVS. Therefore, each analyzed group includes the countries that joined the EU during the respective enlargement round and all EU members up to this point. As the table cannot functionally display the coefficients of variation for these different subgroups of EU countries, inferences from these data points are described qualitatively in the following paragraphs. Otherwise, these coefficients of variation are available in the data appendix.
Trends of individual political values
The political value of peace has diverged consistently across EU countries from 1990 to 2008. While this divergence is observed for all individual groups of EU countries as well, the EU enlargements since 1981/1986 have amplified this trend. In fact, in 2008, the coefficient of variation increases with every enlargement round since the Mediterranean enlargements and is larger than the one determined for the group of original member countries and for the nine EU members in 1973. However, it is crucial to note, that, for the whole EU, the mean of the indicator ranges from approximately 0,0085 in 1990 to 0,016 in 2008. As such low means indicate engagements in peace movements of around 9 to 16 respondents per 1000 survey participants, relatively small divergences in the composition of the country-specific sample could lead to large changes in the result. Consequently, the coefficients of variation reach values above 1, indicating a standard deviation larger than the mean. Nonetheless, the similar divergences across the different EU country groups still suggest an EU value divergence driven by all member states, but especially by the ones entering the EU during the first phase of the 10+2 enlargement. In fact, in the 2008 version of the EVS, engagements in peace organizations for all countries entering the EU during the 2004 enlargement are significantly lower than the mean.
The political value of freedom has converged consistently across EU countries from 1981 to 2008. While from 1981 to 1990, this convergence is mostly a result of an initial convergence within the original EU members and within the EU countries after the first EU enlargement in 1973, the inclusion of the 1995 and 2004 enlargement rounds continues the convergence trend from 1990 to 2008. The later continuation is taking place despite a simultaneous divergence between the original EU members and a simultaneous divergence between the EU countries of 1986. Furthermore, in 2008, the countries of the 2004 enlargement contributed to a decrease in the coefficient of variation of 15 % in comparison to the EU countries of 1995. Hence, new EU members were generally more in line with the average values of the prior EU member countries.
The value market economy only converges from 2008 to 2017, after the coefficient of variation of the indicator MARKET ECONOMY remained relatively constant from 1990 to 2008. While the original EU countries, the EU countries of 1973, and the EU countries of 1986 are converging to each other from 1990 to 1999, they are all diverging again after 2008. Furthermore, the latter two country groups already diverged from 1999 to 2008, while the original EU members continued their convergence trend in this period. A distinct convergence on the EU level from 1990 to 1999 was prevented by the 1995 enlargement as especially Austrians held more favorable attitudes towards privatization and market competition than other EU countries at the time. The countries of the 2004, 2007, and 2013 enlargement rounds contribute to the observed convergence from 2008 to 2017. In contrast, the countries of the first, the Mediterranean, and the EFTA enlargement rounds contribute to a divergence, which is only offset by the proportionally large enlargement round of 2004. Furthermore, the original EU countries remain the most homogeneous group regarding the political value market economy, followed by the EU countries of 2013, 2007, and 2004.
Attitudes towards democracy diverged almost constantly in the EU as shown by the indicators DEMOCRACY-PROTEST and DEMOCRACY-VALUE. As the indicator DEMOCRACY-PROTEST only relies on a sample size of three countries for the ISSP versions of 1985 and 1990, these results are omitted from the analysis. Furthermore, the group of original EU countries consisted only of Germany in 1990, further rendering these initial survey versions unsuitable for analysis. However, after 1996 both indicators display similar divergence trends with relatively stable coefficients of variation for the EU countries of 1973, 1986, and 1995 till 2006 and 2008 respectively. Additionally, both indicators signify convergence within the group of EU founding members. Despite these trends, the general attitudes towards democracy in the EU diverged significantly from 1996 to 2006, and from 1999 to 2008. This is mostly due to the 2004 enlargement, proven by the 2006 and 2008 survey versions. In 2006, 77,2 % of respondents from countries of this enlargement round thought that public protests against the government should probably or definitely be allowed. In contrast, this attitude was voiced by 90,4 % of respondents in countries, that were part of the EU before.
After 1996, the attitudes of EU citizens towards the rule of law have converged across EU countries. Furthermore, all subgroups of EU countries have become more homogeneous regarding this political value from 1996 to 2006 and from 2006 to 2016. Before 1996, the variable consulted is only available for a sample size of three, with Ireland substituting for Italy in 1990. Hence, it is not possible to derive viable conclusions for this period. In contrast to most other political values and their indicators, the group of original EU members is not consistently the most homogeneous subgroup. However, by 2016, the founding members of the EU represent the most homogeneous group again.
From 1981 to 2008, EU countries have become more heterogeneous in terms of the political value of human rights. However, from 1990 to 1999 a period of convergence occurs, mostly driven by the accession of Austria, Finland, and Sweden in 1995. This convergence is happening despite the group of original EU members and the group of EU countries in 1973 continuing their global divergence trend during this period as well. Finally, from 1999 to 2008, the enlargement rounds of 2004 and 2007 are increasing the divergence, exemplified by the 25,8 % increase in the coefficient of variation in 2008 if the countries of the 2004 enlargement round are included in the calculation. This increase is mostly due to the low engagement in human rights organizations in countries joining the EU after 1995. Whereas, in 2008, the average value of the indicator HUMAN RIGHTS-TAKING PART is 6,4 % for the EU countries up until the 1995 enlargement, this indicator is only 0,5 % for the countries of the 2004 enlargement round. Finally, the original EU country members are again one of the most homogeneous groups, this time joined by the group of EU countries of 1973.
Both indicators for the values of minority protection and respect for these groups diverged from 1981 to 2017. Additionally, both indicators are characterized by a temporary period of convergence before the coefficient of variation reaches a higher than initial level. However, whereas the indicator for the justifiability of homosexuality displays continuous convergence for all country groups up until the inclusion of the EFTA enlargement, the second indicator reflects continuous divergence for almost all subgroups of EU countries after 1990. Hence, the net divergence of the indicator MINORITY-HOMOSEX is a result of the 2004 and 2007 enlargement rounds, leading to a peak coefficient of variation in 2008. This global maximum is a result of the low acceptance of homosexuality in the countries that joined the EU in 2004. Whereas the indicator for these member states averages 3,24 on the 1-10 scale, the average indicator of the other EU countries is 5,88 in 2008. However, while being part of the EU, the countries of the 2004 enlargement round converged towards the attitude of the other EU countries as the indicator of the countries joining the EU in 2004 reached 4,46 in 2017. Furthermore, while the indicator MINORITY-NEIGHBOR is diverging across all subgroups of EU countries since 1990, the accession of new EU members in 2004 is amplifying this trend. In fact, in 29,3?%?(2008) and 35,9 % (2017) of cases, citizens in these countries said they would not like to have a specific minority group as neighbors. In contrast, this indicator is only 16,1 % (2008) and 13,3 % (2017) for citizens of the EU countries prior to the 2004 enlargement round.
The indicators SUSDEV-GIVE and SUSDEV-TAX display a net divergence among the EU countries from 1990 to 2017, and from 1999 to 2008 respectively. However, the indicators are showing opposite trends from 1999 to 2008 despite the two indicators both displaying the propensity of citizens to incur a financial loss to protect the environment. This is mostly due to convergence among the original EU members and among the EU members of 1973 for the indicator SUSDEV-GIVE. In contrast, the second indicator for these subgroups is diverging during this period, exemplified by Germany deviating from the mean of the original EU members by about 1 % in 1999 and more than 41 % in 2008. Furthermore, all subgroups of EU countries are diverging in the indicator SUSDEV-TAX from 1999 to 2008. Moreover, the enlargement rounds of 2004 and 2007 are amplifying this general divergence trend. Similar to this effect of these more recent EU members, they are contributing to a divergence in the indicator SUSDEV-GIVE from 2008 to 2017. However, in this case, these EU members are negating the continued convergence among original EU members, EU members of 1973, of 1986, and EU members after the EFTA enlargement round. This continued trend among these subgroups of EU countries began in 1999 after these groups diverged initially from 1990 onwards. Finally, both indicators display a greater homogeneity among the countries with a longer EU membership than the ones that joined the EU during the enlargement rounds in the 21st century.
Furthermore, whereas the indicator SUSDEV-APPROVAL is converging between 1982 and 1994, the indicator SUSDEV-TAKING PART is diverging from 1981 to 2008. However, for the indicator SUSDEV-APPROVAL, the sample size of EU members aside from the founding countries is too small in 1984, 1989, and 1994. Hence, derivations for the whole EU are mostly influenced by the original EU members. Nonetheless, in 1982 and 1986, when more data points for other EU countries are available, these other EU members are amplifying the homogeneity among EU countries. Till 1999, all subgroups of EU countries are displaying divergence in the indicator SUSDEV-TAKING PART. Afterward, the introduction of the EU countries of the 2004 and 2007 enlargement rounds is contributing to the continued divergence among EU countries despite the convergence processes within the original EU members and the EU countries of 1973. This is mostly due to the countries of the 2004 and 2007 enlargement rounds reporting an average indicator about 71?% smaller than the average indicator of the countries with a longer EU membership. Finally, the original EU countries and the EU countries as of 1973 are the most homogeneous groups regarding the indicator SUSDEV-TAKING PART in 2008.
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- European Values Study 2018, p. vii-x.
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- Ibid., pt. III, title I, chapter I
- Ibid., Art. 237.
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- EU Publications Office. n. d. "Accesion Criteria (Copenhagen Criteria)", Glossary, EUR-LEX, Available at: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/summary/glossary/accession_criteria_copenhague.html, (Accessed on: 3 January 2021).
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- See Preamble: European Union (2004). "Draft Treaty Establishing a Constitution for Europe", C 310, Official Journal of the European Union, Luxembourg: European Union.
- Ibid., Art. I-2 & Art. I-3.
- See Preamble: European Union (2012). Consolidated Version of the Treaty on European Union, Document 12012M/TXT, Available at: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=celex%3A12012M%2FTXT, (Accessed on: 3 January 2021).
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- Gerhards, J. (2007). Cultural Overstretch?: Differences between Old and New Member States of the EU and Turkey, 1st ed, New York: Routledge.