Reluctant consenters: Exploring the effects of online citizen education on Croatian youths’ perception of the EU and EC’s legitimacy
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This is a professional master thesis written in collaboration with the University of Masaryk, Brno, the University of Utrecht, Utrecht, and for the Croatian NGO Gong, Zagreb. The starting point of this thesis is identifying the perceived legitimacy deficit in the EU. As shown by the thesis’ literature review, a lack of legitimacy leads to destabilization, lacking regime compliance, potentially political and institutional collapse. Therefore, it is in the interest of both polities and citizens to understand by what means they can influence the perceived legitimacy of the current regime. Citizens grant legitimacy to a polity through consent. However, only empowered citizens can grant consent. Since NGOs cannot directly transform institutions and create new channels of participation, NGOs should explore how they might empower citizens through bottom up action without reliance on the polity and its institutions. NGOs often implement non-formal education programs aimed at increasing the civic and political competence of citizens, leading ostensibly to their empowerment as citizens in the political sense. Since citizen needs to be adequately informed so that consent can be granted, this thesis decided to focus on CE a form of empowerment, as only informed individuals can consent. In order to measure the effectiveness of CE on the perception of legitimacy among the focus group, the legitimacy of the EU and EC were conceptualized so that it could be empirically measured as trust. The student then conducted an experiment: the student created an online survey that consisted of three modules. The first module was a standardized series of questions measuring the general level of trust among the respondents. The second module was an online CE session meant to instruct the participants on the ordinary legislative process of the EU and EC. Finally, the third module was a second standardized trust survey. The thesis compared the quantitative change in the respondents’ trust ratings of the various modalities of legitimacy procurement utilize by the EU and the EC, and thematic analysis of the qualitative data gathered from the open-ended survey questions. The results showed that general trust increased in both the EU, the EC, and the EU’s ability to listen to the respondents’ concerns, the online CE module also led to decreasing trust in the EU and EC’s adherence to the rule of law, their protection of the respondents’ values, and support for the EU’s policies. The thematic analysis revealed that the permissive consensus that legitimizes the EC is dubious at best. All positive remarks were contrasted by several themes that significantly enhance the constrained dissensus among the respondents about the EC’s legitimacy. The EU and EC are viewed as necessary but deeply flawed by the respondents.