Friday, 3 November 2017

When opinion polls useful for the Future of Europe?

In the blog post State of the Union: public opinion I wondered at the usefulness of the latest Standard Eurobarometer 87 (fieldwork in May 2017), and the timing and value of the three reports of the special Eurobarometer 461 opinion poll purportedly dedicated to Designing Europe’s Future  (fieldwork in April 2017).

Great if people value the European Union and its policy areas more, but why do the opinion polls not ask the citizens of the EU about the kind of union they want for the future?

Do the citizens of the union want an undemocratic state-owned European Union or a democratic EU? Given (an understanding of) the external threats and internal challenges, do they want to give the European Union or Eurozone effective powers, or do they prefer to hide their heads in the sand? Which powers should belong at the European level, which should be left with member states, regions, municipalities and individuals, according to an evidence-based view of value added, proportionality and subsidiarity? Are citizens prepared to trust their directly elected European Parliament, the European Commission promoting the general interest, or the European Council and Council (of ministers), which primarily guard their own turf? What do the citizens of the union think about the reform initiatives of the European Parliament, Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and the French president Emmanuel Macron?

I decided to phrase these questions in a incisive manner, in order to show the kind of questions and answers a real debate about the future of Europe requires.

Parlemeter 2017

The fresh opinion poll commissioned by the European Parliament, Parlemeter 2017: A stronger voice: Citizens’ views of Parliament and the EU, confirms the positive general trends regarding public opinion on the European Union and confirms observations about their views on rights and priority policies.

With regard to the questions I posed, the Parlemeter 2017 (page 26) makes two additional observations. The first one is a bit mystifying; it concerns something I must have failed to see in the (“first results” of the) Eurobarometer 87, even if the footnote on the page links to the same survey:

According to the European Commission Standard Eurobarometer 87, the European Parliament is the European institution with the highest level of confidence expressed by Europeans: 45% of citizens tend to trust this institution. 41% trust the European Commission, while 37% trust the European Central Bank. Overall, 42% of respondents declare their trust in the European Union. Confidence in the EU and the European Parliament is therefore also higher than the one held for national parliaments (36%) and for national governments (37%).     

Even here we see no separate score for the European Council or the Council of the European Union.  

The second additional remark shows clearly more positive perceptions of the European Parliament during the last year:     

Even though many respondents (42%) keeps a “neutral image” of the European Parliament, the number of people who have a positive view of the institution is undoubtedly on the rise (33% compared to 25% in September 2016). This increase results in a direct decline of respondents who have a negative opinion of this institution, while the share of those who hold a neutral view remains rather stable between 41% and 46% during the past ten years.

Useful, or at least interesting fragments, but we are still left with the question: When are the European Commission and the European Parliament going to provide opinion polls useful for the debate about the future of Europe?

Or should I have looked elsewhere?  

Ralf Grahn

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