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A Divided Union? Public Opinion and the EU’s Common Foreign, Security and Defence Policy


  • Dirk Peters


There are few policy areas in which European integration in the past two decades has progressed as fast as in the foreign, security and defence realm. The democratic foundation of these developments, however, has been contested. This paper examines the question of democratic legitimacy from one particular angle, by examining public opinion towards the EU’s Common Foreign, Security and Defence Policy (CFSDP) as measured in Eurobarometer surveys between 1989 and 2009. It reflects on the relation between polling results and wider questions of democracy and, on this basis, examines three aspects of public opinion vis-à-vis CFSDP: general support for a common foreign and a common defence policy; differences among support rates in EU member states; and to what use armed forces should be put from the point of view of European citizens. It turns out that general support for a common foreign policy is high. The desirability of a common defence policy, however, is much more contested among EU member states with member states being divided into a group of supporters and a group of, in part highly, sceptical countries. An EU defence policy that goes beyond strict intergovernmentalism would thus require a significant communicative effort to be justified and become accepted in several EU member states. Thirdly, European citizens do not give particular preference to the defence of international law and human rights as tasks for the armed forces. Traditional security concerns like territorial defence still figure prominently. However, European forces geared primarily at enforcing international law and contributing to UN missions stand a much greater chance of being accepted in all member states, even those in which the idea of a common European defence policy receives only little support.

Suggested Citation

  • Dirk Peters, 2011. "A Divided Union? Public Opinion and the EU’s Common Foreign, Security and Defence Policy," RECON Online Working Papers Series 19, RECON.
  • Handle: RePEc:erp:reconx:p0103

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. James Caporaso & Sidney Tarrow, 2008. "Polanyi in Brussels: European institutions and the embedding of markets in society," RECON Online Working Papers Series 1, RECON.
    2. Erik Oddvar Eriksen & John Erik Fossum, 2007. "Europe in Transformation: How to Reconstitute Democracy?," RECON Online Working Papers Series 1, RECON.
    3. Kröger, Sandra, 2008. "Nothing but consultation: The place of organised civil society in EU policy-making across policies," European Governance Papers (EUROGOV) 3, CONNEX and EUROGOV networks.
    4. Christopher Lord, 2008. "Some indicators of the democratic performance of the European Union and how they might relate to the RECON models," RECON Online Working Papers Series 11, RECON.
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    Cited by:

    1. Kiratli, Osman Sabri, 2015. "The role of identity in support for supranational integration in EU Foreign and Security Policies," European Integration online Papers (EIoP), European Community Studies Association Austria (ECSA-A), vol. 19, February.

    More about this item


    CFSP/ESDP; democracy; CFSP/ESDP; international relations; legitimacy; public opinion;

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