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

P.S. Comments relevant to the topic discussed in each Grahnlaw blog post are most welcome. However, the number of spam comments has skyrocketed. This is the sad reason for comment moderation, so it may take a while before your valued comment appears.

It is easier to understand a language than to use it correctly. As Eurobloggers we could and should promote interaction among Europeans across borders and between linguistic communities. Grahnlaw has adopted a multilingual comment policy:

I do my best to read comments in Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish or Swedish, even if the Grahnlaw blog and my possible replies are in English.


  1. It is precisely because of its (absence of) track record that the european commission should not try to increase its powers supposedly to fight crisis.

    Sinking support shown by the last eurobarometer is just a proof that people all across europe are not convinced by past actions of the european institutions and do not want more of this.

    You could deem my opinions as cavalier. The very fact that the European commission is claiming reinforced powers although the Lisbon treaty went on illegitimately - and some distinguished lawyers in France argued illegally - is much more cavalier.
    In fact you do not argue against crime. You just fight it.

    Edgar, Paris

  2. Edgar,

    Whether you like it or not, the Lisbon Treaty is in force since 1 December 2009; legally, having been agreed by 27 member state governments and ratified by elected parliaments in all the members according to their constitutional rules and procedures (after the positive referendum in Ireland).

    You are, of course, free to continue grumbling, but the world has moved on.

    If you wanted to move into current affairs, you could, of course, look at the overwhelming support for solutions at EU level and the relatively strong position of the European Union in people's minds when it comes to finding someone to tackle the economic and employment challenges Europeans clearly experience.

    Effective solutions are much more than a question of the Commission. As you must know, they require decisive measures by the EU member states, represented in the European Council and the Council of the European Union.

    If you reject EU level solutions safeguarding the common currency, economic stability, better supervision of financial institutions and reforms to modernise European economies and create new and better jobs, I would be most interested to see your detailed and convincing alternative proposals.

    Please, make an effort.

  3. "The world has to move on" is an argument of the hegelian kind. You probably are aware of the true meaning of history and know what is best for the world.
    I am quite fond of Karl Popper political writings and am much more humble.
    What I know is that in France the Lisbon treaty has been passed illegitimately and some say illegally.
    What should be done for France instead of praying the Commission to come with a good idea is this :
    - opting out of the euro and adopt a 30% lower value against a basket of most common currencies (USD, JPY, CNY and euro, of course).
    - adopting publicly a policy of adjusting parity exchange at pruchasing power parity. taxing products from country that deliberately underevaluate their currencies.

    Many other things must be done but for those just two economic priorities we would have to opt out the european union. So be it. We would stay members of the European council, which is fine.


  4. Edgar,

    Not content with missing the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty nine months ago, you reveal that you hanker back to the May 2005 French referendum, the 1992 Maastricht Treaty and still backwards beyond the 1957 Treaties of Rome, leaving the EU and the euro currency.

    You would still temper your secessionist urges by remaining in the Council of Europe, together with Russia and what it sees as its 'near abroad'.

    When I read your blog post, I thought that your ideas were just eructations of a grumpy old man, but you have me astounded.

    Attaboy, are you a radical!

  5. I must admit I do really think out of the box (I tend to find funny now the nth guy coming with "you know what, I've got this brand new idea, we should have more europe instead of less". ahah !).

    Your comment does not express anything other than surprise (and in fact I am younger than you are).

    I am more interested by reasoning.

    Regards anyway,

  6. Edgar,

    I have tried to use reasoning in this series of blog posts on the Eurobarometer poll (as well as other subjects dealt with on this blog).

    Because you tell me you are more interested in reasoning (than something else), I just repeat the request I made you (concerning you blog, where you have room):

    Please, make an effort.

  7. I'll do as usual, the cavalier way. And I won't occupy the apparently limited room of your weblog.


  8. Edgar,

    I have no wish to limit your expression on this blog, but as a blogger I thought that you might feel more space and get more credit for your 'out of the box thinking' on La lettre volée, so the choice is up to you.

    Either way, I am looking forwards to your contributions to the debate on Europe.

  9. I would still be very careful in saying that there's overwhelming support for a European solution; I think that there's an openness for European measures, but that people will only accept good ones (what's "good" will undoubtedly differ from person to person).

    However, using the trust percentages of the EU institutions to argue that they shouldn't act at all is a very strange argument. You could easily counter that based solely on the trust levels national government shouldn't try introducing new measures - and, indeed, that the EU is a more legitimate decision-maker. But ignoring the context like that just leads to a surreal and ultimately pointless argument.

    Who would seriously suggest inaction by - or even the abolition of - the national governments based on their comparitively bad polling performance?

  10. Eurocentric,

    I referred to the 75 per cent for better economic policy coordination, so the numbers are overwhelming.

    However, you have a point, because people just don't know what has been proposed by the Commission, agreed in outline by the Van Rompuy task force, partly decided concerning financial supervision etc. Nor have these been explained in a manner comprehensible for normal citizens.

    Concrete proposals tend to get shot down fairly easily if they are more than cosmetic.

    I'll have to interpret questions, context and replies as best I can, when I move forward; as openly as possible to facilitate different reasoning.

    In principle, I have one basic political assumption for my experiment: the general European interest (as I see it).


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