Financial investment by the European Union into certain geographic areas does not endear local citizens to the EU unless it is coupled with new employment opportunities, a new study from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) has revealed.
In the report, published this month, the researchers explored what the EU could do to build electoral support. They found money alone does not influence voters’ support for Europe. Instead, for the first time, they showed that it is the ability of EU policies to offer new economic opportunities and make a tangible difference to the labour market that matters to voters.
Using detailed BBC data on the results of the EU referendum, the researchers explored whether areas classified as ‘in high need’ of socio-economic support by the EU - and thus in receipt of the highest form of EU funding - were influenced by this extra support to vote remain.
The results suggest that, all else equal, wards in receipt of the highest proportion on EU funds did not vote differently to less subsidised areas.
However, voters were more prone to support EU membership if the funding was coupled with tangible improvements in the labour market. A significant decrease in unemployment was found to be robustly linked with fewer Eurosceptic votes in areas highly-funded by the European Union.
Further tests also suggest that positive changes to the labour market are more likely to lower Eurosceptic votes if citizens are more aware of the EU’s role in this improvement and can directly link positive change with EU intervention.
This is the first study to show a causal link between EU expenditure and remain votes in the Brexit referendum. The authors argue it has important policy implications for the EU, with support for European integration highly dependent on the capacity of EU policies to deliver concrete benefits at a local level.
Commenting on the findings, report co-author Professor Riccardo Crescenzi from the Department of Geography and Environment at LSE said: “The exploration of Brexit referendum voting patterns offers new and somewhat unexpected lessons for UK and EU politics and public policies. For voters to support any form of political union – including the EU – they must see concrete improvements in their economic opportunities. Economic and political integration is not about monetary transfers but more fundamentally about the generation of economic opportunities in favour of disadvantaged individuals where they live.”
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