Interests, Identity and Political Allegiance in the European Union


We take up a longstanding question within the field of European Union (EU) studies: What explains the variation in public support for European integration? There are two dominant explanations: the utilitarian self-interest and the national identity perspectives. The former viewpoint stresses that citizens are more likely to support European integration, if it results in a net benefit to their economy or pocketbook, while the latter perspective argues that identity considerations predominantly influence EU support. Drawing on the concept of double allegiance, we argue that these perspectives should be combined into one single explanatory framework rather than framed as alternatives. Using a multilevel model, we empirically substantiate the claim that interest- and identity-based explanations capture different sides of the same coin, as the more citizens perceive integration to threaten their (economic and social–psychological) security and well-being, the less likely they will support the EU.

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  1. 1.

    It is important to note, however, that recent studies examining the relationship between macroeconomic performance and EU support suggest that the explanatory power of macroeconomic considerations has declined after the Treaty of Maastricht. Eichenberg and Dalton (this issue) show that whereas macroeconomic performance largely explains EU support prior to the Maastricht treaty, this relationship no longer holds.

  2. 2.

    Note that for instance some EU citizens with an exclusive national identity may very well be ‘intergovernmentalists’ in their worldview and understand the EU in a Milwardian sense: a form of policy coordination and cooperation between nation-states that is capable of rescueing the nation-state and therefore the object and source of national identification (Milward, 1992, 3).

  3. 3.

    We performed a principal component analysis using the four EU support indicators. The results demonstrate that one component was extracted (factor loadings from 0.72 to 0.86), which explains 65.8% of the variance.

  4. 4.

    Appendix B provides an overview of the Eurosceptic rightwing extremist parties included in the analysis.

  5. 5.

    We employed a pooled OLS regression analysis. The model included dummy variables for those countries that are known to have an extraordinary high level of EU support, in this sample Portugal and Ireland, and those countries that are known to have an above average scepticism towards the EU, in this sample Sweden and the United Kingdom. When we add these dummies to the regression equations (simulating the contextual effect), we find that the effect of economic anxiety increases, whereas the impact of exclusive identity remains stable or decreases slightly. This result demonstrates that causal heterogeneity is a serious fact to reckon with. Hence, we employ a multilevel analysis to account for these contextual effects.

  6. 6.

    As contextual measures are constant for individual cases residing within a given country, using standard modelling techniques such as (logistic) regression violates the assumption of independent observations. The result is that estimates of standard errors are reduced that increases the probability of rejecting the null hypothesis when accepting the null is more appropriate. The HLM avoids this by estimating distinct models at each level and by estimating unique level-1 models for each level-2 unit (Bryk and Raudenbush, 1992).

  7. 7.

    All estimates included in this paper were obtained using MLwiN V2.1.


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Appendix A

Description of variables

Table A1

Table 4 Table a1

Appendix B

Eurosceptic Rightwing Extremist Parties

Table B1

Table 5 Table a2

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de Vries, C., van Kersbergen, K. Interests, Identity and Political Allegiance in the European Union. Acta Polit 42, 307–328 (2007).

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  • Euroscepticism
  • political allegiance
  • identity
  • interests
  • hierarchical models