Fighting Together, Moving Apart? European Common Defence and Shared Security in an Age of Brexit and Trump

Research question/goal: 

The project SecEUrity examined the dynamic relationship between elites and masses in policymaking on common defence in the European multilevel system. One overarching question was at the heart of the project: How do elites and European mass publics think about greater (European) defence, security, and military integration? 

To answer this question, we collected three types of data. First, we collected online newspaper articles and social media posts from 30 European countries to analyse the public discourse on European security and defence integration. Second, we conducted 110 interviews with policymakers from the European Union (EU), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and various EU member states. Third, we collected a vast amount of survey data with embedded experiments to capture the attitudes of the mass public, including a two-wave panel survey in 25 European countries, a four-wave panel survey in France, Germany, Italy, and Great Britain, and a cross-sectional survey in ten European countries after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

Our results show, among other things, that citizens generally support further defence and security integration. However, their policy preferences are shaped by their general predispositions and the informational context. In the cases studied, predispositions proved to be quite stable in the face of Russia’s attack on Ukraine in February 2022. Considering the general influence of predispositions as constraints, elites can influence public opinion by framing policy proposals in particular ways. Moreover, elites appear to be aware of their role as opinion leaders and to reflect on the normative implications of this. With regard to the role of public opinion in shaping policymaking, we found considerable variation between the countries. In some countries, elites and citizens agree that elites, given their expertise, should prioritise autonomous political decision-making while refraining from listening to public preferences. In other countries, however, both citizens and elites believe that elites should act as delegates of public opinion but they also believe that elites actually do not pay enough attention to public opinion.

Fact sheet

Volkswagen Foundation
2018 to 2023
Data Sources: 
elite interviews, mass surveys, media content
Geographic Space: 
Europe, with a special focus on France, Germany, Italy, and Great Britain