Mediating European Integration in the 1990s:
National Identity and Economics in France and Ireland
Seth Kincaid Jolly
Centre College
1998 KPSA Abdul Rifai Award Winner


         As the deadline for monetary union approaches and the debate on European integration intensifies, citizens and politicians throughout Europe begin to comprehend the costs and benefits associated with political and economic integration.[1]  Many, such as the British Eurosceptics, see further integration as an infringement on national identity and sovereignty.[2]  Supporters of the European Union (EU) see an "ever closer union of peoples" as the only way for Europe to remain truly competitive in a global community.[3]  The discussion on the impact of European integration on national identity demonstrates the diversity of state interests in the community.  For example, while Ireland utilizes the EU to cast off the last bonds of the British Empire, France must deal with a growing xenophobic and isolationist sentiment in its population.[4]  To investigate the effects of national identity and economics on integration, I analyze the attitudes of both France and Ireland toward European integration and discuss the import of such opinions on the future of the European Union.

         Despite France's historic attachment to the idea of European integration, ongoing unemployment problems as well as immigration issues contribute to the recent unpopularity of the European Union in the French republic.  The French public sees little to gain and much to lose from continuing down the path to federalism.  Ireland stands at the opposite end of the spectrum.  A virtual Irish miracle in economic growth has freed Ireland from its economic dependence on its neighboring island, the United Kingdom.  Thus, France and Ireland provide divergent perspectives on the European question.  First, I discuss French attempts to balance Europeanism and nationalism, emphasizing in particular the increasing influence of the National Front (FN).[5]  Second, I examine the Irish republic and its use as a model European nation with high economic growth and continued support for Europeanism as well as nationalism.  Finally, I draw lessons from these examples on how to better balance the goals of European integration while maintaining established beliefs about national identity.


         In 1992, French President Francois Mitterand introduced a national referendum to accept the Treaty on European Union (the Maastricht Treaty).  Unfortunately for the Socialist president, the referendum became an outlet for dissatisfaction with his government and fed the power of the far-right nationalist party, Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front.  Despite the support of each of the three major parties, Jacques Chirac's Rally for the Republic (RPR), the Union for French Democracy (UDF), and Mitterand's Socialist party, the Maastricht treaty passed with only 51 percent of the popular vote.[6]  Considering France's consistently supportive stance towards European integration,[7] such a close vote shocked advocates of the European Union.
        Many political commentators blame the low numbers simply on the unpopularity of Mitterand's government.  As Paul Taylor explains,
In France, for instance, President Mitterand approached the referendum with the hope that in supporting it he would be able to capitalize upon the strength of pro-Europeanism in France to garner support for his Socialist Party in the forthcoming election and for his own candidature for re-election as French President.  In the event it worked the other way round: the unpopularity of the Socialist government, and an increasing distrust of the President, led French citizens to vote against Maastricht.  Given all the reasons which may be adduced from internal political and economic circumstances for the French to vote against the government, and, as a consequence, against ratification, the small majority in favour was a measure of the astonishing strength of pro-Europeanism in France. [8]

        However, attributing all the negative vote to Mitterand's unpopularity may be somewhat unfair to the Socialists.  It is important to note that all three of the established parties supported the treaty.  Only the far-right National Front and the far-left Communist party opposed ratification.  Thus, nearly half of the French public accepted the advice of extremist leaders rather than that of leaders from established parties.[9]  Such a pattern of support illustrates the increasing polarization of the polity in France.

         By concentrating on popular fears and an economic recession, opponents of integration in France focus their attack on three key issues: national identity, sovereignty, and unemployment.  To many Frenchmen, it seems clear that the integration endorsed in the Maastricht treaty would result in further reductions of "French autonomy and distinctiveness."[10]  The expansion of the Brussels bureaucracy under the European Commission and Council reduced French autonomy by increasing regulations and European-level directives.[11]  As Jacques Delors, former President of the European Community's Commission, predicted, the Brussels bureaucrats control "80 percent of what affects [Europeans'] daily lives."[12]  Consequently, Le Pen and the National Front protested that any further strengthening of the European Union would serve to decrease French national identity.[13]  Le Pen's xenophobic stance on immigration complemented his rhetoric against the Maastricht treaty for, among other things, the EU plans to allow labor to move freely across borders.[14]  Consequently, Le Pen utilized the tangible French fears about immigration to bolster his arguments about the possible loss of French identity in a federal Europe.[15]  Fears of losing French culture play no small part in Le Pen's recent electoral success as well as the Maastricht treaty's electoral mishap, thus exacerbating polarization in the French polity.[16]

         Another issue that affected the popularity of the Maastricht treaty involved national sovereignty.  After the Single European Act of 1987, the European Union instituted a policy of majority voting.[17]  By dropping the unanimity clause, the EU introduced the utility concept into the governance structure.  With qualified majority voting, the EU can choose the best option for the greatest number of countries, rather than submit to the influence of any single country.  For France, the new voting structure could endanger the cherished agricultural price supports.[18]  The implicit weakening of national sovereignty as a result of qualified majority voting and bureaucratic expansion reinforced European political dominance just as the single monetary unit will strengthen European economic power.  As a result of these factors, questions of national sovereignty began to play an integral part in determining French opinions on integration during the 1990s.

         Finally, economic concerns may have had the greatest impact on popular sentiment against the government and the Maastricht treaty.  Unemployment became a rallying point for the National Front against immigration as well as Europeanism.  At 11.7 percent, the French unemployment figure continues to be an obstacle for integration in the French polity.[19]  Political leaders in France, such as Mitterand and current President Chirac, have their hands symbolically tied by European integration policies: "The government's commitment to European integration and monetary union sets limits on the amount the state can spend on creating new jobs, or on new social benefits, without risking inflation and a weakening of the Franc, which is tied to the German mark."[20]  Similarly, French farmers fear that France will lose its one major economic benefit from the common market: agricultural price supports.  As the United States increases pressure for trade liberalization, it becomes ever more likely that France will be out-maneuvered and overruled in the EU Council, thus losing the popular farm price supports.[21]  While established leaders are severely constrained on these two important issues, Le Pen remains free to raise the nationalist flag by endorsing politically unfeasible policies combating unemployment and supporting French farmers.  Consequently, as a result of unemployment trends as well as increased pressure for trade liberalization, support for the National Front has increased in recent years.  As David Zane Mairowitz contends:

        To many in France, a change in any number of issues, including European integration, could boost the National Front's popularity, thereby affecting France's position in the European Union.

         While national electoral support for the National Front has reached a maximum of approximately 15 percent, its impact has been more far-reaching.  According to Mark Kesselman, "The FN's propaganda has borne fruit.  For example, a poll after the 1995 presidential election indicated that one-third of all voters and fully 43 percent of pro-Chirac voters hoped 'that the ideas proposed by the National Front will be seriously considered by the newly elected president.'"[23]  Both the UDF and the RPR were forced to reevaluate their positions on the European Union due to the successful publicity campaign of the National Front.  Eventually, the UDF conceded that the original goal of a "federal European Community" seemed unrealistic while Chirac and the RPR increasingly look inward, rather than to Europe, for solutions to French problems.[24]  This change in fundamental political beliefs illustrates the extreme influence the National Front currently has on the French polity.

         Despite the National Front's best efforts, however, support for European integration is not completely diminished in France.  After all, the Maastricht treaty was ratified.  Similarly, opinion polls have never shown a lack of support in France for "Europe."  In the Eurobarometer rankings, a poll published by the European Commission to monitor European opinions, France consistently ranks high among its fellow countries in support of Europeanization.[25]  In one poll designed to determine personal loyalties, the French considered themselves the most European of all the countries except for Italy.[26]  While the rise of the National Front points to a weakened consensus on the European Union in France, all other indicators, including practical treaty ratification and opinion polls, suggest continued French support for European integration.  In France, European integration and economic recession have heightened domestic tensions, thus polarizing the polity.  Under these conditions, political leaders in France must decide if they will endorse a deepening or a postponement of integration.  Thus far, mainstream French politicians have supported deepening integration to maintain their influence in Europe relative to Germany; however, as domestic tensions rise, pressure from extremist groups threatens to overwhelm the consensus for integration.


         Unlike France, the Republic of Ireland has actually seen a surge in support for the European Union in recent years.  This support can be explained by taking into account a few key factors such as a long period of economic growth and a strong sense of national identity despite, or, in Ireland's case, with the assistance of, European integration.[27]  Ireland has been a fully independent country since 1948,[28] but for the last 50 years, the young republic has been attempting to remove the remaining economic influence of the United Kingdom.  While in France integration threatens national identity and independence, support for the European Union in Ireland may be justified largely as a tool for gaining economic independence while retaining its own national identity.
        Clearly, most factors involved in international trade, for example, geography, language, and political and economic structure, indicate a close relationship between the United Kingdom and Ireland.  This relationship has in many ways maintained the colonial appearance of the Irish economy in the second half of the 20th century.[29]  However, this dependence on the English economy diminished in the 1980s and 1990s as a consequence of trade liberalization and austerity measures imposed by the constraints of the Maastricht treaty.[30]  While the United Kingdom remains Ireland's largest supplier and consumer, membership in the European Union has significantly decreased these terms of trade.[31]  For example, between 1979 and 1996, exports to Great Britain fell from 47 percent to 27 percent while imports from the U.K. declined from 49 percent to 36 percent.[32]  Clearly, such a dramatic decrease in Irish dependency on the British economy enhanced the economic independence of the Republic of Ireland.

        Another benefit of European integration for Ireland is a broadening of the economy.  Since joining the European Economic Community in 1973, Ireland's economy has liberalized, thereby attracting new foreign capital.[33]  As a result of this new investment, Ireland has experienced rapid industrialization, with increased employment in both industry (from 24 percent in 1961 to 28 percent in 1986) and services (40 percent to 56 percent in the same years) while employment in agriculture declined from 36 percent in 1961 to 16 percent in 1986.[34]  This broadening of the Irish economy due to diversified trade and increased industrialization serves to strengthen Ireland in foreign affairs as well as in its domestic economy.
        In addition to decreasing its terms of trade with England, membership in the EU has created a unique economic expansion in Ireland.  As the Taoiseach, or Prime Minister, John Bruton explained recently: "'I would like to make the point that we in this country have the lowest interest rates in 30 or 40 years, the lowest mortgage rates. . . . [Without the Maastricht criteria,] there would be a greater tendency to currency instability, . . . higher interest rates, more expensive houses, and fewer jobs.'"[35] Additionally, as the Irish Times foreign editor Paul Gillespie notes, growth rates in Ireland are the highest in the EU.[36]  In 1995, the Irish GDP grew at a real rate of 7 percent.[37]  As Jacques Santer, President of the European Commission, states, Ireland is one of the "'success stories of the EU,'" with mostly positive effects from membership in the EU.[38]  With such strong economic growth due to membership, Irish support for the EU seems only logical.
        As a result of the strong economic impact of the EU, the Irish public has maintained strong support for the EU since Ireland joined the European Community in 1973.  Nearly 70 percent of the Irish people supported both the Single European Act of 1987 and the Maastricht treaty, which had so much difficulty in the French referendum and elsewhere. [39]  According to Paul Taylor, this strong support "turned out to be support for a system which provided 6 percent of GNP through subventions and grants from the EU--the highest rate of per capita financial support in all the member states."[40]  However, not all support may be attributed solely to economic growth and expansion as Irish nationalism continues to affect every issue concerning Ireland.
        Unlike most countries, Ireland believes its national identity has actually been bolstered by the European Union.  As Paul Gillespie contends,

 Again, increased interaction with other European states has decreased the dependence on England.  To nationalists throughout Ireland, such trends are considered a definite advantage of membership in the EU.  Ireland's extremely popular former President Mary Robinson agrees that the EU has expanded, not hindered, the development of Irish national identity: "Far from submerging or clouding our identity, it can be enhanced and enriched on the European stage, a stage which facilitates the renewal of that identity."[42]  Thus, the Irish do not feel threatened by Europeanization because the EU has played such a large role in the development of its own national identity.


        Many lessons can be gleaned from these two diverse examples. There is much to be shared in a European Union, such as common defense policy and economic structures.  Nonetheless, each sovereign nation must retain influence over those issues that most directly affect its citizens for, despite a common trend toward integration, no two countries have identical domestic situations.  As Ernst Haas observed nearly forty years ago, "the only real unifying factor among these proponents of a United Europe is the devotion to the symbol of Europe.  Heterogeneity characterises every other aspect of their thinking."[43]  From the above discussion on French and Irish attitudes towards integration and its possible impacts, it is clear that Haas' position retains validity.  Both the French and the Irish support the concept of Europe; however, while France suffers under economic constraints and threats to national identity, Ireland flourishes as a result of trade liberalization and new confidence in their own national identity.  These differences ensure that consensus may be an idealistic goal for Europeans.

        Yet, as Haas maintains later in The Uniting of Europe, it is this "conflict and consensus, unity in diversity" that distinguishes the European polity.[44]  Despite the common goal of integration, European countries lack a complete harmony of interests.  The European Union must acknowledge these differences in order to satisfy all of its constituents.  Conflict characterizes the French example.  Because the French economy remains weak, the National Front has an attentive audience for its nationalist ideas.  Therefore, France must emphasize unemployment to satisfy the public.  As a result of the slow economy and the perceived threats to national identity, support for European integration remains limited in France.  The political elites, and not the public, maintain France's commitment to a united Europe.

        Ireland provides a direct contrast to the French example.  A consensus in Ireland can be directly attributed to a strong economy and strengthened national identity.  These factors in Ireland in the 1990s ensure broad-based support for the European Union.  Nonetheless, improvements in Ireland's terms of trade must expand upon the economic success of the last two decades for both the public and the elites in Ireland to continue supporting further integration.

        For both countries, questions of national identity continue to be an essential part of the integration process.  While countries remain unified in their support for the concept for Europe, a diversity of domestic concerns precludes complete consensus between states.  In France, for example, the National Front illustrates how European integration threatens and challenges French distinctiveness.  Irish leaders emphasize how the European Union has promoted its national identity by weakening the relationship between England and the republic.  As long as the European Union realizes no universal solution exists, all member states can be satisfied to some degree.  Significantly, the consociational model depends on this heterogeneity of interests: a major characteristic of the model is that a country must be focused more on its domestic concerns than those problems that it shares with neighboring countries.[45]  Subsidiarity plays a vital role in calming fears in this aspect of integration.  Subsidiarity, or the policy of keeping government action as close to people as possible while retaining efficiency,[46] became the guiding principle of future integration with the Maastricht Treaty.  If the European Union can successfully stabilize the European economy while allowing governments to address domestic problems, then opponents of integration may find themselves unable to argue against a united Europe.

        This analysis indicates that European elites must deal with a two-level game by addressing both the elites in other countries and domestic constituents.[47]  As Mitterand discovered in the Maastricht Treaty referendum, diplomacy will not resolve domestic problems.  Therefore, political elites must be cognizant of domestic tensions before supporting further deepening of integration.  Also, European-level elites must realize the enormous burdens integration places on some politicians and provide some relief to them.

        The above discussion confirms that support for integration is a function of domestic concerns such as the economy and national identity.  These factors determine whether countries will be conflictual or consensual towards a deepening of the European Union.  This relationship can be illustrated in a simple matrix:


For Ireland, the blend of economic expansion and strengthened national identity indicates a consensual attitude towards European integration.  Germany, which seems to continually experience high unemployment while affirming a strong sense of national identity within the European Union, maintains broad support for, or at least less resistance to, further integration.  At the opposite end, many observers in the United Kingdom, which has a fairly strong economy, fear a united Europe as a threat to English national identity.  Finally, France, with its struggling economy, must also address perceived threats to national identity from the European Union.  From this model, it seems clear that national identity is a determinant factor for whether constituents in the various countries see integration as an economic opportunity or a threat to domestic economic strength.
        Already a significant factor, national identity will become even more important as the monetary union removes each country's currency, a symbol of national sovereignty.  While Europeans do support the concept of Europe, "[they] are against a Europe which threatens national identity and cultural diversity. . . .  They are, however, in favour of a United Europe where national and regional identities and cultural diversity are respected, protected and defended . . ."[48]  As demonstrated in the Irish and French cases, national identity and Europeanization are not mutually exclusive; they are interactive phenomena, mediated by economic conditions.


1. Paul Taylor, The European Union in the 1990s (New York: Oxford UP, 1996) 7.

2. "Mad John Bull Disease," The Economist 23 Nov 1996: 60.

3. Taylor 140.

4. Reuters, "Study: French 'Hatred of Foreigners' On Rise, " Chicago Tribune 23 Mar 1997: 11; Roger Cohen, "For France, Sagging Self-Image and Esprit," The New York Times 11 Feb 1997: A8.

5. Cohen A8; Mark Kesselman et al., European Politics in Transition, 3rd ed. (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1997) 215.

6. Alan Riding, "French Approve Unity Treaty, But Slim Margin Leaves Doubts," The New York Times 21 Sept 1992: A8.

7. "France: L'Etat C'est L'Europe," The Economist 23 Nov 1991: S17.

8. Taylor 145.

9. Riding A8; Kesselman 229.

10. "France Self-Destructs," The New York Review of Books 28 May 1992: 29.

11. "France Self-Destructs" 29.

12. Stanley Hoffman, "Goodbye to a United Europe?"  The New York Review of Books 27 May 1993: 30.

13. Kesselman 229.

14. Taylor 64.

15. "France Self-Destructs" 28.

16. "Elections in France." Netscape:, 13 Oct 1997.

17. "France Self-Destructs" 28.

18. "France Self-Destructs" 29.

19. United States, Central Intelligence Agency, "France," The World Factbook, 1996, Netscape:, 12 Oct. 1997.

20. "France Self-Destructs" 26-7.

21. "France Self-Destructs" 29.

22. David Zane Mairowitz, "Fascism a la mode," Harper's Oct 1997: 66-7.

23.  Kesselman 215.

24. "France: L'Etat C'est L'Europe" S6.

25. "France: L'Etat C'est L'Europe" S17.

26 Taylor 163.

27. "Europe enhances national identity - President,"  The Irish Times 6 July 1996. Netscape:, 21 Nov 1997.

28. John Clements,   Clement's Encyclopedia of World Governments.  Vol. 12  (Dallas: Political  Research, Inc., 1996-97) 185.

29. Geoffrey Wheatcroft,  "The Disenchantment of Ireland,"  The Atlantic Monthly (July  1993): 84.

30. Patrick Smyth,  "Bruton keen to convey EU aims in simple terms," The Irish Times 3 July 1996.  Netscape:, 21 Nov 1997.

31. Howard R. Penniman, ed.,  Ireland at the Polls: The Dail Elections of 1977,  (Washington,  D.C.: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, 1978) 7.

32. Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, OECD Economic Surveys: Ireland,   (Paris: Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 1979) inside cover; United States,  Central Intelligence Agency,  "Ireland,"  The World Factbook, 1996,   Netscape:, 12 Oct 1997.

33. Brian Girvin,  "Social change and political culture in the Republic of Ireland,"  Parliamentary  Affairs 46.3 (July 1993): 384.

34. Girvin 384.

35. Smyth "Bruton."

36. Paul Gillespie,  "The vision of a common European identity," The Irish Times 2 July 1996, Netscape:, 21 Nov 1997.

37. United States "Ireland."

38. Smyth "Bruton."

39. "Ireland," Europa World Yearbook,  vol. 1  (London: Europa Publications, Ltd., 1997) 1703-4.

40. Taylor 145.

41. Gillespie.

42. "Europe enhances national identity - President."

43. Ernst B. Haas,  The Uniting of Europe  (Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1958) 22.

44. Haas 6.

45. Taylor 79.

46. Patrick Smyth, "Eurospeak: A guide to the arcane language and key concepts,"  The Irish Times 2 July 1996.  Netscape:, 21 Nov 1997.

47. See, for example, Robert D. Putnam's "Diplomacy and Domestic Politics: The Logic of Two-level games,"  International Organization 42 (Summer 1988): 427-60

48. Taylor 158..

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