The conference celebrating the 35th anniversary of Eurobarometer and brought together representatives of significant influence and expert knowledge from EU institutions, EU member states, politicians, academics, students, market researchers and journalists and was attended by 220 participants.
I. European public sphere
- European public sphere already exists, however, it should be further developed by involving, amongst others, pan-European media and European political party groupings with European programmes.
- The European public sphere involves many actors, such as teachers, journalists, intellectuals (including think tanks), students, civil society etc. All of them contribute to the emergence of the European public sphere.
- How to stimulate its development?
Notably, by encouraging the development of pan-European media, European political groupings with European programmes (and not national related programmes)
II. European elections
- Turnout: European citizens do not perceive the impact (weight) of their vote (contrarily to a referendum) on policy, and thus often abstain (unless voting is compulsory). There are many reasons for the low turnout: citizens do not understand the EU's perceived complexity, do not feel "European citizens" and do not know their MEPS. Moreover the national media do not cover this type of election comprehensively.
- However, European citizens support the European Union and the European Parliament in particular (which they trust as it is shown in EB surveys). Moreover the legitimacy of the European Parliament is not called into question: EP is still popular and the citizens do not complain about having MEPs. This relationship was named by one of the speakers as a kind of "platonic love-story".
- At the national level, the citizens vote more often (they perceive the impact of their vote and they understand better the system). There is a competition between the national and the European levels. In that context, the European public sphere should be encouraged, with more debates on European issues. The impact of abstention (in the case of EP elections) should and could be explained to the citizens (e.g. risk of encouraging anti-European political parties).
III. Eurobarometer (EB)
- The EB tool is not well-known among citizens and does not appear to be mentioned often by the media.
- EB has different functions: exploring public opinion, monitoring policies, explaining social phenomena and predicting behaviours of voters. The three last functions could be improved.
- Changes in use of the data and in technology mean that new sampling approaches will need to be considered for Flash EB. The expert group proposed to advise on sampling methodology and ways to improve data utility for users.
- Some new questions suggested for the EB Standard: questions on Europe and European values in comparison with other key players on the international scene (e.g. EU versus USA, China); questions on vote ("why do you vote" and not the contrary, as it is often the case).
- Need of more qualitative studies to improve questions and support interpretation.
- Need for a long-term communication strategy (and campaigns) so that European citizens could feel that the EU is constantly present in their life (that takes time!).
- National politicians must speak on European issues and stop the "blame game" "C'est la faute à Bruxelles".
- Communication, yes, but only if there is something significant to communicate on. A European political content must accompany any communication action.
- Communication budgets should be increased.
- Need of different communication strategies in relation to the level of knowledge (e.g. knowledge and interest in EP elections are lower in the new MS).
Please find here the detailed workshops' conclusions as a PDF-download.