Published: working paper on citizens’ attitudes to the future of European social citizenship


Working paper Citizens’ attitudes, preferences, and demands with regard to the future of European social citizenship

EuSocialCit researchers – Marius Busemeyer from the University of Konstanz, and Gianna Eick and Brian Burgoon from the University of Amsterdam – published a working paper that provides a fine-grained and comprehensive perspective on citizens’ attitudes on Social Europe.

The future of European social citizenship is a contested issue, and expert observers disagree to some extent whether the project of Social Europe is making progress or not. On the one hand, the necessity of strengthening the social dimension of the European integration process has long been recognized by policy-makers. But on the other hand, to critics, these initiatives amount to window-dressing rather than genuine progress towards the establishment of Social Europe. In general, much of the debate about the future of European social citizenship takes place at the level of political elites, both at the EU and at the national level. But what are citizens’ views on these issues? Do they see progress or decline in the development of Social Europe? Would they want the EU to play a stronger role in the provision and financing of social policy in the first place? And if yes, which types of social policies do they associate with the EU, which with the national welfare state?

In this paper, we first review a still very recent, but growing literature on the study of public opinion on Social Europe, which has started to produce important insights into these important issues. However, given that research in this field works with quantitative survey data, it has inherent limitations that are partly related to the quality of the available data as well as the (necessarily) selective approach of how attitudes towards Social Europe are measured in surveys. This chapter provides a complementary perspective by enriching quantitative data with qualitative data from focus groups, which were conducted in four European countries (Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain) in the spring of 2022. The qualitative data adds perspective and depth to the findings from quantitative studies, because they give researchers a more fine-grained and comprehensive perspective on citizens’ attitudes on Social Europe.

To shortly preview our main findings: Firstly, on the one hand, the focus group data mirrors previous findings from quantitative surveys that document wide-spread support for the concept of Social Europe throughout the European Union. On the other hand, however, digging a little deeper also reveals a significant degree of skepticism regarding the future of Social Europe. This skepticism is partly related to the EU’s struggles in dealing with a series of mega crises (the economic and fiscal crisis, Brexit, Covid-19 and the Ukraine war), but also to lingering concerns about distributive justice and solidarity in the EU and the continued large divergence of welfare states. Secondly, the qualitative data also show that citizens tend to associate social investment policies with the EU and more traditional, transfer-heavy social policies with national welfare states. This broad division of labor is also congruent with the actual policy trajectories of social citizenship policy outputs (see chapter by Burgoon et al. in this volume). Thirdly, our findings also show that many citizens are often ill-informed about the state of social rights in the EU. Addressing the information deficit – both on the current state of social citizenship rights and the EU’s role in securing these rights – could help to boost support for the EU as well as improve socio-economic outcomes.