Visualizing values mismatch in the European Union

In my July 1 post, Brexit as Destructive Creation, I argued that one significant cause for the European dysfunction was the choice made by the European elites to expand the union too fast too far. Why do I think this was a mistake?

As I have said on numerous occasions (in this blog and in my other writings), it is hard to get people to cooperate, especially in large social groups. Successful cooperation requires that people share values and institutions. Values tell us why we want to cooperate: what is the public good that we collectively want to produce? Norms and institutions tell us how we are going to organize cooperation. Mismatched values and institutions may doom a cooperative effort even before it has a chance to get going.

In my opinion, the expansion from the original six nations (Benelux, France, Germany, and Italy – I will refer to them as the “core” EU nations) to the current 28 was a big, big mistake. We can use the data collected by the World Values Survey (WVS) to visualize just how bad this mistake was.

WVS has been collecting data on people’s beliefs in many countries since 1981. One interesting result of analyzing these data was that much of variation between populations of different countries can be mapped to just two dimensions: (1) Traditional values versus Secular-rational values and (2) Survival values versus Self-expression values. When average values for each country in the sample are plotted in a two-dimensional space defined by these two axes, we have what is known as the Inglehart–Welzel Cultural Map. Here it is for the latest (sixth) survey:

Inglehart-Wetzel group culturally similar countries into “Catholic Europe”, “Protestant Europe”, “English Speaking”, and so on.

But I am interested to look at this mapping from a different point of view. Accordingly, I color-coded all countries into the following categories:

  • Core (red): the original six countries that formed the European Economic Community
  • EU (brown): the other 22 members of the European Union
  • Europe (green): two Western European countries that are not in the EU
  • Candidate (yellow): current candidates for the EU
  • World (grey): the rest of the world (I omitted country names that would clutter the infographic too much).

Note: the reason Italy* has an asterix is because, for some reason, it was not included in the sixth wave, so I used its values from the fifth wave data.

And here’s what it looks like:


The pattern is so striking it almost doesn’t require commentary, but let’s spell it out anyway. The original six (“Core Europe”) group together very closely. There are only two other countries that are part of the same cluster, Austria and Switzerland. Remarkably, the modern territories of both of these countries were encompassed by the boundaries of the Carolingian empire (see Is this the Beginning of the End for the European Union?). It looks like the “ghost” of the Charlemagne’s empire has more influence on today’s cultural values than such later distinctions as Catholicism versus Protestantism.

The current 28 members of the European Union, on the other hand, don’t cluster at all. On the contrary, they span three-quarters of world variation in values. Only African-Islamic countries and central America end up outside the ellipse that encompasses all 28 EU members.

Given such normative mismatch, is it so surprising that the European Union in its current composition is a dysfunctional organization?

This post was originally published in Cliodynamica 



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