A failure among EU countries to work effectively with other nations and build coalitions restricts their influence and adds to a sense of frustration with the bloc, according to a new study.
The survey of policy makers across the EU’s 28 member states also finds that several countries are in “lop-sided relationships” where their view of another nation’s importance to them is not reciprocated.
It concludes that such difficulties must be tackled if countries are to take part effectively in policy initiatives and see the EU in a more positive light.
The findings come in a study of attitudes among influential professionals such as people working for governments, political parties and think-tanks, as well as academics and journalists. It’s part of the “Rethink: Europe project”, an initiative of the European Council for Foreign Relations (ECFR).
France and Germany set the example
The survey highlights the importance of coalition-building among the EU28 in terms of having influence within the bloc. It concludes that France and Germany lead the way, due in part to “their uniquely high levels of interaction with their EU allies”.
In contrast, the four members of the “Visegrad group” are seen as effective in their ability to veto EU policies, but not to set the EU agenda. The study says that although Poland has a “robust partnership” with Hungary, as does the Czech Republic with Slovakia, their collective impact is limited as there is no overall consensus between the four countries.
However the study paints a picture of nations who risk a degree of isolation within the EU.
Several countries – Denmark, Austria, Ireland, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Slovenia – are judged to have no close EU partners. Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy and Lithuania only have one close partner each.
The feeling's not mutual
Several bilateral partnerships are seen as unbalanced. For example, Ireland most often contacts the UK and Germany – whose main calls, however, are not made to Dublin. Danes see Swedes as rather more engaging than Swedes do Danes.
Sometimes the lack of reciprocity has a kind of chain effect: Croatia sees shared interests with Austria, which does not particularly care for Zagreb but instead looks to Berlin – whose preoccupations lie in places other than Vienna.
The study concludes by saying that countries must “address such gaps in reciprocity”. Integration into existing coalitions could help them “overcome their frustrations and lend new momentum to the European project”.
East v West
Respondents in the survey were asked which other countries they admired, as well as those which disappointed them.
The answers confirmed an east-west divide, with for example Budapest and Warsaw viewed negatively by policy makers in Berlin and Paris – and vice-versa.
Alarm in EU-establishment circles at attacks on the separation of powers and rule of law in Hungary and Poland, is matched by hostility among these countries' governments to western calls for more solidarity over migration.
Across the 28 member states, Hungary is seen as by far the “most disappointing” country in the European Union, the study says. It replaces Greece, which was bottom of the table in 2016, but which has now risen in people’s estimations.
Poland and the United Kingdom follow as equally the second most disappointing – although these trends do not apply to the Visegrad group, whose members cited France, Germany and the UK.