The EU: Costly bureaucracy or a small price for peace?

Daisy BlacklockYouGovLabs writer
March 19, 2012, 4:03 PM GMT+0

Last week, our academic arm, YouGov-Cambridge, hosted a day of in-depth debate at the British Academy in London regarding the state of affairs in Europe, and the future of the European Union.

For PoliticsLab this week, we thought we’d coincide with this and allow our participants the chance to contribute their voice to the fast-paced discussions taking place between several key politicians, civil servants, journalists and academics.

We wanted to get participants’ perspective on the concept of Europe vs. the European Union

A significant proportion of PoliticsLab participants said there was a very big difference between Europe and the EU in their minds. The range of responses from these indicate that they tend to define Europe as distinct from the EU, characterized by geography and a colourful history and culture, as opposed to political arrangement.

How different are Europe and the EU in your mind? How do you, as someone who is engaged in the debate over the EU, define Europe? And lastly, what are some words and phrases you most associate with the EU, and why? Tell us your view!

What is the European Union to you? Is there a clear distinction between Europe and the EU? Join the discussion via Disqus below

Q1 - How big a difference in your mind is there between Europe and the EU?

Here’s what our poll participants had to say...

A – “There’s a very big difference between Europe and the EU”

“I think of it as a geographical area. Because that is all it is. A selection of various land masses defined by geographical location and artificial borders” Malcolm P, Somerset

“Europe is one of the six continents of the world comprising of many different countries. It is a geographical entity” Mike S, Grimsby

“Europe is a mainly geographical construct, but also part of a wider 'Western' cultural identity” Anon

“Europe is both a geographical area and a shared culture and history. It has hundreds of different meanings depending on the context” Anon

“Europe is a collection of different countries with their own culture, language and history; The EU is just a gravy train of pen pushers who keep trying to spend all our money and getting us all to do what they want without any consideration for national and sovereign differences” Anon

“Culture, history, liberty and the best civilisations to ever grace the world” This Old Bean, British Isles

“Europe to me is the ‘Old World’. An area where some of the greatest moments in history have taken place, and a set of countries that have shaped the world today. Europe also has the most beautiful landscapes in the world with huge variation” Anon

Words and phrases that best describe what the EU means to you personally?

Below we look at the words and phrases – the top three positive and negative – that PoliticsLab participants most commonly associated with the European Union from a list of options.


Freedom to move, travel, study

“It allows us the freedom to move, work, life, study wherever we like. We can travel through Europe without visas or border control. I enjoy these freedoms” Dave, Nottingham

“This is one of the many liberating benefits that is generally ignored, undermined or forgotten, particularly by the British media” Malcolm P, Somerset

“The introduction of the Single Market in 1993 removed the cross border barriers for EU citizens. This gives us tremendous scope to work and live where we want, and certainly aids inter EU travel” Bert, Cardiff

“Without the EU this would not be possible” Anon

“I have taken advantage of the EU to live and work in foreign countries. I feel that all of Europe is my home and now I have the freedom to take advantage of this” Anon

“It is just wonderful to know that I could, if I wish, pack my bags and head off to any EU country if I got a job, or fell in love there; study too if I wished. Wonderful. We now have a flow of people coming to Britain and leaving for European countries which enriches us all. Go back in history and we see that this is how it used to be, our isolation is a relatively recent thing, a product of Empire. Now instead of automatically heading off to the English-speaking former colonies, our young people are just as happy to head off to Italy or France to study or develop their careers” David T, London

Peace and security

“Since the EU formed there have no wars between major powers in Europe. Before the EU in one century there were two world wars. There could be other factors for this of course. But peace has been promoted” Anon

“By being a member of the EU, countries in the European region (and farther afield) can defend, protect and pre-emptively strike offensive foes. Additionally, it connect countries within the EU; and will make wars between these historically violent nations practically impossible” Alastair, Scotland

“Union partners are less likely to resort to war in a dispute, and there is security in numbers against outside states” Anon

“Hopefully meeting and talking on a government and personal level will increase understanding of different points of view. Will reveal that there is more than one acceptable solution to problems. By listening and finding common ground, we can prevent misunderstanding and maintain peace, security and stability” Anon

“Europe was the most war-prone continent for centuries. We have now had one of the longest periods of inter-European peace since the Roman empire, and I think the involvement of the main belligerents in the EU has been instrumental in this” Chris, St Leonards

A stronger say in the world

“The UK is a second rate power at best. Without being part of the EU we'd be ignored. Particularly since we just echo the US on so many things. We're seen as an extension of American foreign policy when we speak on our own. It is only when we join in the EU voice that we are taken seriously” Anon

“The UK used to be a global power, with a population of 60 million it no longer is. The EU with a population of 400 million has a much louder voice than UK on its own” Anon

“Europe as an economic area has more clout than any one individual nation. Therefore its currency should be as strong as the dollar. However, it will probably never have a single foreign policy, and I would think that could be dangerous anyway. Not dangerous now, but who knows what could happen in a hundred years if you have three or four major economic and political entities” Anthony G, Derry

“Compared to a disparate rabble of small countries, the Union has a larger voice” John H, Europe

“Britain is a tiny, tiny country. If we want to be able to have a serious say on the world stage then we need to be part of something bigger Melissa D, Crewe

And the NEGATIVE...

A lot of bureaucracy

“It takes the EU a lot of time to do anything; all nations must agree everything of courseDavid, Nottingham

“Vastly overstaffed with pen pushers, too many rules, laws interfering in people’s livesAnon

“There appear to be a lot of political compromises which make the EU inefficient. For example, basing the European Parliament in Brussels some of the time, but Strasbourg at other times. Imagine the UK Parliament shifting all of its functions between London and Bristol every six months – people would say it was mad! But it happens in the EU” Pete B, Bristol

“People in remote offices deciding on the best interests of people who are very different. Not understanding the traditions of different peoples and wasting time on ‘standardizing’ things like sausages and pints of beer!! Human rights crazy – no rights for victims and the UK seems to toe the line to even the most ridiculous diktats whilst other countries agree then go their own way. Brussels interferes with too much of the day-to-day stuff and should step back” Anon

“Everything you hear about the EU is about meetings, summits, agreements, talks etc. I feel it has not been explained to the British public exactly why being in the EU is an advantage to individuals” Marie, Wickersley

“By definition it is awash with unelected officials duplicating the work of national authorities and introducing regulations aimed more at justifying their own existence than advancing the common good” Dave, UK

A waste of money

“We pay more into the EU than we get out of it” Jack S, UK

“The main recipients of the EU budget are infrastructure projects in the poorer states. This would be worthwhile if one were trying to progress toward a single European state, but I profoundly disagree with this ridiculous attempt at regaining lost pride. Secondly, it's for the huge pretend parliament and its attendant court in Brussels and Strasbourg. There is no accountability. It needs to be stopped right now” Brett T, Dulwitch

“Too much centralisation causes taxpayers' money to be wasted through bureaucracy and white elephant projects” Anon

“The expenses, and subsidies are running wild, with little or no accountability” Rob G, Corby

“The original concept of a free trade market is good, but the EU has developed into a political mammoth which in turn has created many non-jobs and expenses. The UK could trade with other European countries without all this” Mike B, Cumbria

“I feel that the UK could be allocating the taxpayer's money that funds the EU on issues such as reducing the tax on fuel (petrol & diesel) – I feel that this is a situation that is getting out of control. It seems that the EU creates more hassle that it's worth” Tom, Aberdeen

A loss of national sovereignty

“We are told what to do e.g. votes for prisoners. We need to be in charge of our own policies. We are a fair country and do not need to be dictated to. Why even vote for our own government when they make the rules?” Barbie, Dunstable

“The EU is capable via several mechanisms (e.g. judgements of the ECHR, EU legislation, withholding financial aid from countries suffering from the Eurozone Crisis) of overriding the elected governments of individual nations (or replacing governments with appointed individuals, as in Italy) without being appropriately accountable to or acting with the authority of the peoples of those nations” Andrew, Cambridge

“Am I the only one who has actually read the EU's chapter on reform?” Anon

“Having to abide by rulings in European courts, even though those involved are a threat to our society, such as the Abu Qatada case, and numerous others” QA, London

“I live in Britain. I am a British Citizen and proud to be one. I do not wish to be a citizen of a European State” Anon

“Very simply, complete fiscal, monetary and budget control union ends a nation’s ability to decide its own destiny. But since Maastricht, the various politicians have slowly assigned our rights to the EU constitution, surrendering our powers and therefore our sovereignty at the same time. Why is it that we don’t have a vote?” Another Feeble Briton, Hampshire

What word or phrase do you most associate the European Union? Is there a clear distinction, in your mind, between Europe and the EU? Join the discussion via Disqus below