The media and financial markets are abuzz over the decision of the Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou’s decision to hold a referendum on whether to approve the current EU bail out plan for Greece and its many conditions for reform and austerity in Greece (see for example here, here, and here). While most attention is being focused on the short term effects of the decision on the markets and internal Greek politics, as well as the long term consequences of the referendum for Greece’s membership in the Euro and wider European (and global) financial stability, I want to address the referendum itself.
In a series of publications with a number of different co-authors,* I have examined the causes of attitudes towards EU membership in post-communist countries considering membership in the EU (see here and here) and then again in the actual referendum on EU membership in Poland (here). In all three articles, the overwhelming empirical lesson is clear: economic winners are more likely to support EU membership, while economic losers are more likely to oppose EU membership.
Now, these pieces were all written from the perspective of a “post-communist” theory of attitudes towards EU membership, and indeed were inspired partially as a response to other work that had merely tested the empirical support for theories developed in the West European context in post-communist countries. That being said, to the extent that we think there might be any similarities between contemporary attitude formation in Greece and the formation of attitudes towards the EU in post-communist countries in the 1990s and early 2000s, it certainly is worth mentioning that there appear to be an awful lot of “economic losers” in Greece today. Holding what is essentially an unnecessary referendum on (potentially the future of) Greek Euro membership in a climate of extreme economic duress may not turn out to be a recipe for an awful lot of yes votes.