EU intervention vs. national autonomy: do citizens really care? Articles uri icon

publication date

  • December 2020

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 2374-5126


  • Conventional wisdom about the European sovereign debt crisis and its handling defends that fiscal austerity is unpopular and that external conditionality and/or imposition on national democracies generates backlash. However, not enough research has addressed this question: How willing are citizens to accept unpopular policies imposed on their national governments by European institutions? Would they object to unpopular policies less if these were coming from their national representatives? In this article, we propose a survey experiment, complemented by four focus groups, to test whether citizens' willingness to accept economic policies varies depending on whether the decision originates in the national parliament or in EU institutions. The experiment was conducted in Spain in 2017. Our results show that agreement with a particular policy does not depend on the policy-making actor but on the policy's content. The bitter pill of austerity is no less bitter because elected politicians decide it at home. Similarly, EU 'diktat' does not make a popular policy less popular. Our conclusion is that Spanish citizens during the Euro crisis objected to the policy of austerity due in large part to its content and not to the EU intervention in favour of implementing it.