Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology

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Volume 29 Issue 1 (January 2019), Pages 1-77

Leave or remain? European identification, legitimacy of European integration, and political attitudes towards the EU (pages 32-42)

Abstract In this paper, we look at the relationship between European identification and political support for (or opposition to) EU membership. First, we argue that conceptualizing political attitudes towards the EU as a direct product of European identification (a) neglects the distinction between the social reality of Europe and the political reality of the EU and (b) leads to psychological reductionism. We propose that the relationship should instead be conceptualized as mediated by legitimacy perceptions and as moderated by social‐level variables. Second, we look at three spheres of European integration and propose that their perceived legitimacy is appraised through the following principles: (a) normative solidarity for wealth sharing, (b) political authority for sharing political decisions, and (c) collective self‐realization for the sharing of practices. We illustrate the key mediating role of those principles by drawing on data from a survey ran across five European countries. Third, we argue that these meditational relationships are in turn moderated by social, political, and ideological realities and illustrate this point by looking at the case of United Kingdom in the context of the EU membership referendum. We point to an ideological assumption in the U.K. political landscape about the illegitimacy of EU supranational decision making and argue that this contributed to shape both the debate of the referendum campaign and its result.

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