Youth and European Union: perceptions of the consequences of integration

Ilišin, Vlasta and Mendeš, Ivona (2007) Youth and European Union: perceptions of the consequences of integration. In: Croatian youth and European integration. Edition Science and society (22). Institut za društvena istraživanja, Zagreb, pp. 209-269. ISBN 978-953-6218-31-8

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The citizens' relationship toward the European integration process and the European Union is a dynamic category, varying from country to country and from time to time. The changes in attitudes are affected by occurrences at the EU level, as well as processes taking place in each individual country. However, in spite of the differences and changes, there are tendencies of a more permanent character, which explain the relationship of citizens toward the processes and institutions of the united Europe. Therefore the data collected on the sample of youth and adults in Croatia at the beginning of 2004 give an insight, not only into the attitudes of that moment, which are more or less susceptible to changes, but into trends that enable us to gain scientific insights about the subject of our research. In this analysis the relationship of the participants towards European integration and the EU was investigated through numerous indicators, with emphasis on the perception of the consequences of Croatia's accession to the European Union. However, other aspects of the relationship toward Europe and the EU, which represent a wider context for the understanding of the perception of consequences of entering Europe, were also investigated. The results obtained demonstrate that most young and adult participants in Croatia actually had a neutral perception of the EU – even though there are more of those with a positive than a negative image – and it is logical to assume that this neutrality might be relatively easily changed under the influence of different factors. Nine out of ten participants even supported Croatia's integration into the European Union at the beginning of 2004. Among them, most were Euro-skeptics, that is, those who believe that too much is expected from accession. At the same time, the Euro-enthusiasts (expecting comprehensive benefits from accession) and Euro-realists (believing that integration is inevitable for the survival of small countries) were considerably less numerous. The domination of Euro-skeptics again warns of the instability of the relationship towards the EU, which can be influenced by different events both in the EU and in Croatia. However, in spite of the expressed skepticism, two thirds of participants expected that Croatia will be an equal member of the Union by 2010 at the latest. The experiences of other transitional countries also demonstrated that there are numerous obstacles on the road to a united Europe. Our participants ascribed these obstacles equally to Croatia and the EU, however, the number of young participants emphasizing the EU's responsibility increased from 1999 to 2004, while the number of those stressing Croatia's responsibility decreased. Also, to determine the relationship towards European integration and Croatia's accession to the Union, the findings about the expected positive and negative consequences, once Croatia is integrated into the EU, are most important. Again, both the young and the adults expect more advantages than undesirable consequences. However, there was a mild decrease in the expectance of positive, and an increase in the expectance of negative consequences in the five year period between the two pieces of research. In spite of all these tendencies, the expectations of youth are more positive than those of the adults. The greatest positive expectations were registered on an individual and socio-cultural level, while socio-economic enthusiasm waned. Indeed, it is because of the socio-economic unpreparedness of Croatia for joining a developed European environment, that most negative consequences are expected. An insight into the perception of the social and political consequences of Croatia’ s integration into the European Union was gained with the aid of a number of indicators. Thus, research into the expected development of the EU in the coming ten years demonstrated that only the opportunity for easier travel, work, study and life in Europe is something most participants expect, where this opinion is accepted by two out of three young participants. However, they are quite afraid of the costs of integration for Croatia and the worsening of the farmers' position. The adult participants expect more social problems than the young, including a higher level of unemployment. The negative consequences for their own countries are also less perceived by the young in Croatia than was the case with their counterparts in the Union. Related to the fears from the building of a united Europe and European Union, we determined that the young in Croatia are most afraid of the abolition of the Croatian currency and an increase in crime, and least afraid of the potential loss of social privileges. The adult participants, on the other hand, are consistent in demonstrating a higher level of fear in all the examined elements. The fears of the participants from the enlarged EU are somewhat different – the greatest fear is that of employment transferring to other countries, as well as an increase in crime and the drug trade, difficulties for farmers and the price their country will have to pay due to the construction of the EU. Both the young and the adult participants in Croatia are less worried about losing their national identity, language and social privileges than the Europeans. One of the most important components of the construction of Europe and the EU is the enlargement process, although the current crisis that the European integration process is going through, may result in an intermission in its tempo and scope. All our participants emphasize the multifaceted benefits from EU enlargement, followed by the positive influence of that enlargement on Croatia, while the efforts the Croatian authorities are putting into joining the Union were evaluated quite poorly. The adults accept all these attitudes more than the young, as well as valuing Croatia qualities more. Almost two thirds of the participants from the EU candidate countries, on the other hand, gave high marks in 2002 to all the potentially positive consequences of EU enlargement, but one quarter also demonstrated a fear of the possible increase in unemployment in their countries. The potential accession of Croatia to the European Union will also signify a change in the way decisions are made, in the sense that some will be made at the national level, and some along with the EU. Our participants have in this regard turned out to be very prepared for integration, for most of them believe that four fifths of all the observed areas should be the subject of joint decision-making by Croatia and the EU. The only areas in which, according to the opinion of the young participants, Croatia should decide autonomously, are the acceptance of refugees, the judiciary, culture, agriculture and fisheries and the police. The European share a different opinion on this issue, and believe two thirds of the stated areas should be decided upon by their country along with the EU, while it should be autonomous in the fields of preventing juvenile crime, urban violence, then education, basic rules regarding the media, health and social care, as well as unemployment. The perception of the potential winners and losers of Croatia's membership in the EU is especially indicative. Different social groups were, based on the perception of the young participants, structured into the potential losers from integration (e.g. farmers, retired persons, manual workers, the unemployed), potential winners of integration (such as the inhabitants of the capital and some regions, youth and all Croatian citizens), and sure winners of integration, who are also best prepared for Croatia's accession to the EU (experts, those who speak foreign languages, the political elite, managers and large companies). Indeed, it was demonstrated that the young believe the greatest winners from EU integration are those that are today in a relatively better position in Croatian terms, and those whose existing position is not invidious and who most need a better future, were seen as potentially the weakest winners. It is encouraging that the young put themselves in the group of potential winners, meaning they believe that the existing capabilities and potentials of their generation only need optimal circumstances to be fully expressed. Since people that speak foreign languages are perceived as certain winners of joining the Union, we have particularly examined this aspect of readiness for accession. The data about the knowledge of foreign languages is less than thrilling, especially compared to the knowledge of foreign languages of the young in the EU. The first position, of course, belongs to the English language. However, unlike the European results, where the knowledge of French is next in line, in Croatia the second most common foreign language is German. The young speak both these languages more than the adult participants, while they are in a worse position regarding other foreign languages researched (Italian, French, and Russian). In this research, we also determined that approximately three quarters of our participants are proud of the fact that they are Croatian citizens, while somewhat more than half of the young and slightly fewer adults are proud to be European. The young are those with a slightly more critical attitude towards their national identity and are especially avid in the positive validation of their Europeism. However, the most interesting finding is that all the Croatian participants feel less national pride than the population of the European Union, while it is understandable that the EU participants emphasize their pride in being European more often. The answers of the participants regarding the content of the “ citizen of the European Union” indicate that neither the young nor the adults have a coherent conception of citizenship in the EU. Still, the right to work, live and study in any EU member country is the key element of understanding this citizenship, with the young in Croatia, as well as youth in the Union itself. Also, both the young and the adult participants in Croatia chose as the least important the general active suffrage, regardless of elections being held for the European Parliament, the national or the local representative bodies. Only one out of four participants from Croatia believes they will have some personal benefits from Croatia's membership in the EU, while almost half of the young and a third of the adult participants have no defined opinion on this issue. This feeling is clearly very much linked to the issue of the personal meaning the European Union has for the participants, where neither the young nor the adults have a homogenous perception. Only one answer occurs in the majority of cases – the EU is a way of creating a better future for the young, while little support was given to the claim that the EU signifies a “ European Government” , superior to the national states who are the Union's members. Unlike the youth in Croatia, those from the Union countries mostly emphasize the freedom of movement, while in time the concept of the “ European Government” grew more pronounced in their attitudes. Like the Croatian youth, the young in the EU have an equal fear of Euro-bureaucracy, the loss of cultural diversity and the Utopianism of the European idea. Intrigued by the often publicly expressed concern about the emigration of young, especially highly educated people, to other country, we deemed it necessary to explore the readiness of our participants to spend a certain period of time or their whole life abroad. According to our data, two fifths of young people would like to spend a long period of time (working and studying) abroad, while a quarter of Croatian youth would leave forever. The desire of youth to gain certain knowledge, material wealth and experience in other countries is not in question, especially if it is taken into consideration that the young are also the most mobile and flexible segment of society. However, the information that a quarter of youth wishes to abandon this country forever (while not all of them will do so), is worrisome, seen from the point of view of human capital, which is extremely important for the survival and optimal development of a small country such as Croatia. Also, it is important to mention that the percentage of youth that would go abroad forever, with or without an adequate opportunity, increased over the five year period, which is an indicator of the unfavorable trends in the social development of Croatia. The adult participants, on the other hand, demonstrate a more conservative attitude toward the possible emigration of their children to one of the Union countries, but are still prepared to accept their studying and training in the EU, and only 14% of them would like their children to reside permanently or during their working life in one of the European Union member countries. The analysis of the differentiation of youth regarding European integration and the EU indicated the limited influence of the social attributes used. In other words, the young are relatively homogenous in their perception of a unified Europe as well as expectations from Croatia's accession to the European Union. However, there are certain differences, and they are mostly caused by party identification, socio-professional status, regional status and religiousness. The conclusion is that the most influence is exerted on the attitudes toward the European integration process by ideological-political orientations and existing social status as well as the specifics of the wider environment. It was, hence, shown that the supporters of the left of center parties, the pupils and students, the inhabitants of more developed regions and the non-religious participants are more inclined to the EU and the integration process, and emphasize the positive consequences and potential gains from Croatia's accession to the Union more than they express their fears from the negative consequences. This also applies, although to a lesser degree, to young men, the academically educated youth, with an urban background and/or domicile, while the age related differences within the young population are inconsistent. Therefore, we can say in short that the higher social competence of youth is reflected in the formation of a stable and consistent pro-European orientation. Since this group still consists of a minority of youth, it is obvious that a great effort on the part of the advocates of integration is necessary, especially the political protagonists, to attract the majority of youth that are vacillating and, thus, susceptible to influences often opposite in nature. Finally, two most important tendencies may be stressed, which are the result of the research data about the relationship of youth towards the European integration process. The first indicates that the young generation in Croatia is recognized – both by themselves and by the adults – as one of the potentially greatest winners of the European integration process and, in that context, of Croatia's accession to the European Union. The second trend demonstrates that the young, in relation to the adults, consistently demonstrate a more definite pro-European orientation. Both these tendencies suggest that the potentials of youth are a resource to be taken into serious consideration on Croatia's path to the EU, and then in its adequate development in the new circumstances that will arise. Hence, along with all the other damage, which would occur by stopping the EU enlargement process, one of the undesirable consequences would also be the weakening of the motivation and Euro-optimism of youth in Croatia. This would, therefore, additionally aggravate the negative consequences, because they might be used as one of the more important motors for the development of this country, which does not seem to be going in the right direction, in more favorable circumstances – which the assured accession of Croatia to the EU would contribute to.

Item Type: Book Section
Additional Information: Language: English.
Uncontrolled Keywords: Youth, Croatia, European Union
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
Depositing User: Karolina
Date Deposited: 30 Dec 2015 12:01
Last Modified: 30 Dec 2015 12:01

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