1. The EU Cohesion Monitor
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*Member states can strengthen individual cohesion through initiatives, communication, and education
- The EU Cohesion Monitor evaluates data from all 28 member states to measure levels of cohesion within Europe. Contrary to expectations, it found that the EU’s overall cohesion increased between 2007 and 2017.
- The monitor analyses two kinds of cohesion: structural cohesion, which measures ties between member states such as trade flows, participation in common policies, and geographical proximity to other EU states; and individual cohesion, which measures citizens’ engagement and experiences with, and views of, the EU.
- The data indicate that there has been substantial growth in structural cohesion in eastern central EU states, while individual cohesion has risen in most northern EU states. However, some countries – including France, Italy, and Spain – have experienced a decline in individual and structural cohesion.
- The financial crisis and the refugee crisis have affected Engagement (which measures voter behaviour) more than any of the other nine indicators. Along with a decline in the Resilience indicator, this trend reflects the political divide between east and west that continues to shape EU policy.
- Due to diverging trends in cohesion across the EU, cohesion-building strategies should be increasingly tailored to individual countries. Policymakers, institutions, and civil society organisations should make a particular effort to strengthen individual cohesion by encouraging citizens to interact with people from other EU countries.
The findings of this study indicate that policymakers, institutions, and civil society organisations should:
▪ Tailor cohesion-building strategies to individual member states. Given the increasing differences between EU countries’ cohesion-building factors during 2007-2017, these strategies will need to become more diverse. A “one size fits all” approach developed in Brussels cannot adequately address the challenge.
▪ Pay special attention to countries experiencing problematic trends, such as Hungary and the Czech Republic – which both have huge asymmetry between high structural cohesion and low individual cohesion. Although Ireland’s significant imbalance between low structural cohesion and high individual cohesion seems of less concern, the country’s lack of structural cohesion could become a burden if it is forced to choose between pursuing deeper EU integration and maintaining its traditional relationship with the UK.
Italy should also receive special attention, because it experienced a significant loss of both kinds of cohesion between 2007 and 2017. With its ties to the rest of the EU weakening, the country could abandon its commitment to European integration, potentially causing enormous disruption.
▪ Prepare for potentially declining levels of structural cohesion in eastern central member states. In these countries, EU funding could play a smaller role in the next decade than it did in 2007-2017, due their increasing prosperity, changes to EU policy that reduce spending, or a shift in citizens’ attitudes towards taking this funding for granted.
▪ Focus on individual cohesion, as it has greater potential for short-term growth than structural cohesion. Despite the diverging trends in cohesion across the EU between 2007 and 2017, there was an overall rise in individual cohesion during this period – against a background of economic and political crises, as well as divisive public debates about the future of Europe.
Although some indicators of individual cohesion (especially Engagement) seem to be highly volatile, others appear to be relatively stable. Citizens’ experiences and interactions with the rest of the EU, along with their improved understanding of the long-term effects of European integration, have offset much of the loss in individual cohesion reflected in growing support for populist and nationalist parties, as well as increasingly negative views of the EU generally. Member states can strengthen individual cohesion through initiatives, communication, and education that address these factors.
* The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at: ecfr.eu
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