Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Eurobarometer: Separating the wheat from the chaff

Since the spring 2009 Eurobarometer, EU citizens see unemployment and the economic situation as the main worries facing their country. In May 2010 rising prices (inflation) are still the principal concern at a personal level (although with great differences between countries), followed by the economic situation and unemployment.

About four out of five respondents feel that the national, the EU and the world economy are in a bad shape, and more than a third experience the domestic employment situation as “very bad”.

It’s the economy, stupid

Now put yourself in the position of the European Commission, treaty bound to promote the general interest of the European Union.

Confronted with the First Results of the Spring 2010 Standard Eurobarometer 73, could you realistically contemplate ignoring or even downplaying the massive evidence of public opinion, what Europeans are worried about?

Writing your press release, could you disregard that these citizens expect more from the European Union than from their national governments or international financial institutions? (We are going to return to the expectations in a future blog post.)

It’s the economy, stupid, said a curious Yankee in Europe’s court: US and EU citizens share common priorities about economic woes.

Could you refuse to take notice, in good faith?


Back to square one

Discussion can improve our understanding, if we are willing to look at the evidence and test various claims in order to arrive at reasonable interpretations and conclusions.

Big ifs, it seems.

The hyperactive Swedish libertarian blogger Henrik Alexandersson works for the Pirate Party (Green Group) MEP Christian Engström in the European Parliament, and he produces a mass of blog entries on important issues, such as data retention, privacy, netizens’ rights and intellectual property rights.

To keep his libertarian juices flowing, he regularly takes swipes at the European Union. In a blog post yesterday he accused the Commission of cheating in a press release: EU fifflar med opinionen.

Henriksson does not mention the Eurobarometer poll. He does not even specify the ‘dishonest’press release or link to it.

He disregards the whole Eurobarometer controversy and the later discussion, uncritically using Open Europe’s blog post as his only source and link.

No hearing the other side - Audiatur et altera pars - for Henriksson.

Almost a week from the EU Commission’s press release (26 August 2010, IP/10/1071; available in 22 languages) and Open Europe’s vehement attack, Henriksson brings the discussion back to square one, having learnt nothing in the meantime.

Henriksson may have indulged his readers by feeding their prejudices, but he did nothing to make the discussion move forward.

The attitude of the French blog La lettre volée is as cavalier, dismissing the Commission’s interpretation as Orwellian, without caring to look at the facts and arguments.

Pretty useless, in fact.

Commission press release

I already opined that it would have been unbelievable if the European Commission had disregarded the massive worries of Europeans - economic ones - and ignored citizens’ expectations concerning EU level action, but the press release did actually mention sinking support for EU membership, even if discreetly and in context:

When asked about the benefits of EU membership, 49% of Europeans said in May that EU membership of their country was a “good thing” (-4 compared to autumn 2009). Public support for EU membership was still higher than in 2001, when following the downturn after the burst of the "Internet bubble", public support for EU membership stood at 48%.

The survey also found that in May 2010 trust in the EU institutions remained higher compared to national governments or national parliaments (42% vs. 29% and 31%, respectively), even though confidence in the EU fell at the height of the crisis (to 42% from 48% in autumn 2009). Trust was most pronounced in Estonia (68%), Slovakia (65%), Bulgaria and Denmark (61%), whilst it was lowest in the United Kingdom (20%).

In addition, confidence in the EU and national governments/parliaments from spring 2001 to spring 2010 was depicted in one of the few selected charts in the press release, which also contained a link to the first full results and country factsheets.

Having sorted out the chaff, let us move on to the wheat.

Ralf Grahn

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