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Sunday, 8 July 2012

Lower educated people don’t love the EU and the Euro so much as high educated people. Why? The Dutch Social-Cultural Planning Bureau makes a brave analysis, but misses the most obvious point.

On Friday, June 29, the Dutch bureau for Social and Cultural Planning SCP ( presented a quarterly investigation, called Burgerperspectieven (i.e. Citizen’s perspectives). One of the themes that was described in the research is the phenomena that well-educated peoply love and trust the European Union to a much larger scale than poorly / moderately educated people.

This is a very familiar phenomena: lower educated people look often at politicians in general and especially the ones from the European Union in Brussels and Strasbourg as ‘a bunch of lying and cheating robbers and crooks that is deciding everything for the people without listening to them, while spending their hard-earnt money with all kinds of bureaucratic nonsense…’, or something like that.  

There is generally much distrust and hardly any trust among the moderately educated citizens. To quote a few of the often heard statements:
  • The European Union stands very far away from the people and is virtually untouchable;
  • It spends tax-money without seemingly giving any disclosure on the reason for spending it;
  • All the money from The Netherlands goes directly to ‘the lazy and corrupted’ countries in the South of Europe, like it is sucked in a giant black hole without any chance of getting it back;
  • The immigration of Polish people, Rumanians and Bulgarians caused the disappearance of many moderately paid jobs and besides that, it caused an increase in petty criminality.
[Please remember, these quotes don’t reflect my opinion, but can be heard commonly while walking on the street]

The strong populist movement in The Netherlands is very keen on making usage of these more and more openly expressed feelings of anger, resentment and victimship. The populists promise to leave the European Union, to stop development aid for the third world countries and to stop immigration for economic reasons (from the countries in the former Eastern-Block) and reasons of family-reunification (especially from Africa and the Middle-East). Together with an economic policy that can be best described as ‘happily back to the fifties’, this forms a very attractive, nostalgic mix for the lower educated citizens. While most people are aware that almost all promises of the populists are either empty or impossible to achieve, the attraction of the populism remains very big, just like the antipathy for the European Union.

Sensible parties try to explain why the European Union is so important for The Netherlands and how much The Netherlands yielded from it, but their message mostly falls on deaf ears with the lower educated class, in contrary to ‘the elites’ that understand the importance of Europe and don't feel threatened by it.

The main question remains:”why do moderately educated people dislike the European Union so much’. This was the reason that I was curious about the investigation and the opinion of the Social Cultural Planning Bureau in this matter.

Here are the main conclusions of their research, translated to English by me: 
  • Differences in education get partially processed into economic characteristics and outlooks, (self)confidence and attitude against the government and the multicultural society, but, apart from these points, there is more what distinguishes the attitude against European Integration
  • Just because Europe is so far away for many people, the feelings about it are strongly set in the attitude to life, with self-confidence and optimism as stimulants for a positive mindset. We see that not only a feeling of misunderstanding by the government and politics, but also a negative attitude towards immigration suppresses support for Europe.
  • According to many of these people, the Dutch government transfered too much power to ‘Brussels’
  • Lower educated people are more often negative about Europe and talk about what they notice from it and what makes them angry:
    • Price increases as a consequence of the Euro; 
    • Workers from Eastern Europe; 
    • Money that goes to Greece, instead of to people and problem zones in The Netherlands
  • Higher educated people seem to have more grip on their lives and feel more confident and less vulnerable in a globalizing world and multicultural environment.
  • Moderately educated people often have a feeling that politicians don’t know anymore what really happens in society and what are the worries of the common people in the lower classes of society.
  • The complexity of the European matters, the dependence on what happens outside The Netherlands, beyond the grasp of Dutch politics and the vast amounts of money involved, make that Europe puts a lot of extra stress on the relation between common people and politicians. 
This SCP investigation is not bad at all and it tries to do a good job in explaining the psychological reasons for the aversion of lower educated people against the European Union.

However, where the investigation totally misses the point, in my humble opinion, is that it doesn’t investigate the effect that the European Union and the Euro had on the chances of the common people at the labor market and in the general economy.

Now, it seems that the lower educated people in this investigation are put in the corner of distrust, economic backwardedness and victimship: just people that missed the boat, perhaps didn’t fight hard enough for their chances and blame Europe and politics in general for it.

The million dollar question is, however: are the lower-educated people not slightly right in blaming Europe and globalization for their current position? I think they are:
  • The advantages that the EU brought for higher and lower-educated workers are not at all balanced out. While most higher educated workers are among the winners of the EU, many low educated workers seem to be among the losers;
  • Highly educated and skilled workers can easily work all over Europe: financial experts, ict-wizards, engineers and managers;
  • Lower educated workers might just see their jobs disappear to other European countries and abroad, partially as a consequence of united Europe:
    • A lot of production facilities where many lower and moderately educated workers worked, were transfered to Eastern-Europe or the Far East: to the low wage countries;
    • Many jobs in the manufacturing industry, building & construction  and transport & distribution are currently given to workers from the East-European low wage countries: people that are willing to work for much lower wages and under much harder labor circumstances;
    • Although the unions try to do a good job in leveling the playing field for Western and Eastern European workers, there are still many, (semi-)legal ways to recruit workers for a wage well below the legal minimum-wages: f.i. through payrolling or freelance contracts, it is still possible to avoid the Dutch labor laws;
  • Politicians in The Netherlands have often acted cowardly and unfair in case of Europe and its current financial/economic problems:
    • European achievements were adopted as their achievements 
    • Problems for which Dutch politicians were partially/largely responsible have been blamed on Europe;
    • Unfair, biased and unbalanced information has been spread on the causes for the European credit crisis, often totally downplaying the role of The Netherlands in the South-European misery: 
      • the involvement of the Dutch banks in handing out irresponsible credit to the PIIGS-countries; 
      • the policy of flooding the South-European markets with cheap exports (for instance of vegetables, meat and fruit), while in the process harming the local industries; 
Due to this SCP investigation, I wanted to look at the effects of the European Union and the Euro on unemployment and immigration, just to see if there is a cause for disliking the EU. I collected some data from the Central Bureau of Statistics and made some charts of it:

Unemployment percentage per educational class 2001-2012
Data courtesy of
Click to enlarge
What immediately draws the attention is the enormous peak in unemployment among the people with the lowest education (red and especially black line), right after the introduction of the Euro.

I don’t know whether this unemployment is caused by the dotcom crisis or the introduction of the Euro. However, it is a fact that even the current credit crisis didn’t spur the unemployment among lower educated people as much as the introduction of the Euro seemed to do.

One reason for this enormous unemployment among people with the lowest education can be that well-educated people, who became unemployed as a consequence of the dotcom crisis, took jobs below their level to stay at work. The chart seems to point this out: the dotcom-crisis was a crisis that probably involved people with the highest education, but the real unemployment was suffered among people with the lowest education. Companies that have jobs that - by itself - need little education, still choose better educated people when they have the opportunity of choice.

I don’t think that the sudden unemployment has been caused by the influx of Polish people, as Poland became only a member of the EU in 2004. At that time the unemployment was already at the highest level.

Although the unemployment among the lowest educated people disappeared as quickly in 2006, as it appeared in 2002, it might have given these people a negative mindset against the Euro and the EU.

Immigration per country of origin 2001-2010
Data courtesy of
Click to enlarge
As the SCP already pointed out, the immigration of workers from the East-European countries can also be a reason for resentment against the European Union. This immigration is not very big in sheer numbers; even the immigration of Polish workers never exceed 15,000 people annually and the immigration of Rumanian and Bulgarian workers is at about the same level as immigration from China and India.

The difference between the immigrants from the Far East and Eastern-Europe is that the former are almost always knowledge workers, who apply for jobs  that require higher education, while the latter are mostly interested in the lower paid jobs, normally the domain of the lower-educated Dutch workers.

It is logical that the Dutch workers feel threatened by it. And it is logical that they blame the EU for it.

This brings me to the conclusion that the resentment about the EU among lower educated workers, is not merely a question of psychology. 

Although there is not rockhard evidence that the introduction of the Euro and the increased immigration caused the massive increase in unemployment among the lower educated workers in 2002, there seems to be a connection between these events.  It could be this correlation and the fact that nobody asked them about their desire for the Euro, that causes irritation and resentment against the European Union and the Euro. That is the most obvious point, but it seems that the SCP missed it slightly.

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