Voting vs. Moving: Exit and Voice Mechanisms in the EU Federalism

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Rosamaria Bitetti

European economic crisis has put a strain to the European Union governance model, which has been for a long time characterized by a multi-layered decision-making process, affected more by expert-technocratic knowledge than by democratic participation. This paper analyzes two forms of feedback European citizens have given to a crisis that affected asymmetrically different member states, undermining the ability for the central level to coordinate the local levels. The first response is political: European member states, as well as EU parliamentary election, have experienced in these recent years the rise of “populist” parties and a strong antagonistic reaction to an increased number of referendums in EU member states. The other feedback is migration: intra-EU migration, while being one of the four pillars of European integration, has always been a relatively small phenomenon. Internal immigration has however increased about 38% from pre-crisis levels, with 11,772.1 thousands of European citizens living and working in a member state different from the one where they were born in 2016, against 7,952.3 in 2007. Those two reactions can be easily modelled under the Hirschman dichotomy of Exit and Voice, representing “market and non-market forces, that is, economic and political mechanisms.” Just as a consumer unsatisfied with a product can either voice her discontent with the producing firm or stop buying the product, facing the complex set of institutions and political processes and outputs in nation-states, citizens can politically express their disagreement and influence the policy choice through political participation, while Exit translates into leaving one’s home jurisdiction for a jurisdiction whose set of institutions and policies is closer to your set of preferences. One important layer to be added is that those two mechanisms work with different sets of instruments, and require two different kinds of knowledge: so the final decision of the citizen is affected not only by her level of dissatisfaction, but also by the relative cost-structure of Exit and Voice as well as by the knowledge requirements underlying each option. Hall empirically analyzes the convergence in levels of Economic Freedom, showing that while countries with low levels of economic freedom improve their outcome with an average rate of 0.7%, democratic institutions contribute in a statistically less significant way to convergence than “exitability,” a variable that measures how easy it is for citizens to “vote with their feet.” This paper investigates why these two mechanisms have a different impact on the quality of institutions, trying to detail the processes behind voters’/migrants’ choices.

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