Saturday

23rd Nov 2019

Late poll release highlights Eurobarometer PR role

  • Commissioners often use public opinion polls to back up new initiatives (Photo: European Commission)

A spring Eurobarometer poll on energy which still awaits publication - revealing a drop in public support for EU powers in this area - highlights the European Commission's strategic use of its Eurobarometer surveys in promoting key policies.

The energy poll, conducted last spring, reveals a decline in public backing for the idea that the EU rather than national governments should take decisions on energy – representing a blow to commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso who has identified energy as one of his flagship projects.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 year's of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

The disappointing Eurobarometer survey was circulating in the commission and obtained by EUobserver in July, but is still waiting to be released, with officials now aiming to make it public before the end of this month.

The survey finds that only 39 percent of respondents say the EU level is more appropriate to take energy decisions than the national level – a drop compared to 47 percent measured in autumn 2005.

A commission energy spokesman said that the latest energy survey is not being hidden or actively delayed, saying "we have no inconvenience in having this poll published."

Another spokesman explained the delay is due to Brussels' public opinion unit being busy with organising a major Eurobarometer poll which took place last month.

But the slow proceedings contrast with the swift and pro-active communication by Brussels of the previous, more positive autumn survey on energy which was released in January.

This poll was not only published within two months after the fieldwork, it was also personally presented by energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs and highlighted by a press release stating "European citizens in favour of a European Energy policy, says Eurobarometer survey."

The latest energy poll however is set to be merely put on the Eurobarometer website, with Brussels not planning a press conference or even a press release.

Timing and communication

The contrasting PR procedures applied to the two energy polls highlight the various degrees of what commission officials call "active communication" of Eurobarometer surveys.

The time between fieldwork and publication of Eurobarometer polls vary considerably, from a few weeks - such as in the case of this month's roaming survey - to up to almost a year, like in the case of a 2003 AIDS study.

A commission communication spokesman said that decisions on whether or not to attract attention to Eurobarometer polls are not political. "[These decisions] are driven purely by our aspirations to best facilitate the work of journalists," he said.

"We make this information available for reasons of transparency...but it is our option whether or not to actively communicate," added another commission official.

Eurobarometer surveys, conducted for the commission by leading commercial polling firms such as Gallup and TNS, automatically become public after two years when stored in the commission's archives - which are publicly accessible.

Beforehand, all polls are also posted on the commission's website after the full Eurobarometer reports - drafted by the polling firms - are approved by commission services.

'Biased'

In Brussels' day-to-day communication, meanwhile, the Eurobarometer appears to be gaining significance as an instrument in promoting what the Barroso commission calls its "citizens agenda."

Several commissioners have recently been citing Eurobarometer data to back up new EU initiatives - in policy areas ranging from mobile phone roaming to obesity - as well as policy shifts such as a more careful approach towards enlargement.

Justice commissioner Franco Frattini last summer told Dutch MPs that "in the latest Eurobarometer opinion poll, Dutch citizens are in the absolute first line of European citizens in all countries asking for more Europe," calling upon The Hague to agree to give up its veto on justice matters.

For some EU-critical observers however, Brussels' active PR use of Eurobarometer data raises suspicions on the objective reliability of the instrument.

Neil O'Brien, who heads the London-based Open Europe think-tank, said the Eurobarometer is "biased" in how questions are formulated and framed.

He highlighted that in a major poll on the future of the EU published in May, people were asked what changes they would like to see in a future Europe - but they were only being offered "integrationist" options such as "a common constitution" and "a common European Army."

"All of the options they asked imply further integration - there are no anti-integrationist options," said Mr O'Brien.

He also criticised the Eurobarometer for failing to directly ask people about their stance on the EU constitution, instead vaguely quizzing opinions about "a constitution for Europe."

'Byzantine' discussions

But a commission spokesman rebuffed the "bias" accusation, pointing to the fact that the May Eurobarometer also revealed calls for less EU powers, with most UK and Nordic citizens favouring "less" EU decision-making on unemployment.

The spokesman said that "the Eurobarometer is conducted by professional polling firms, not by commission officials on a bus," adding that an upcoming poll will ask respondents directly on their view on the EU constitution text as it currently stands.

Meanwhile, pollsters present at a conference in Madrid last month told EUobserver they are under no particular pressure from the commission to produce favourable results by asking questions in a certain way.

"The discussions we have with [commission officials] on the type of questions asked are not of a political nature, but rather on technical or linguistic issues. We have these discussions with most of our clients," according to one researcher.

Some pollsters, however, called upon Brussels to interfere less in the questions asked - even if on a technical level. "Don't have these Byzantine discussions about what can be asked – then you will have bad questions" another contact said.

Pessimistic French more optimistic about EU

French people still think that the worst of the crisis is still to come but they have a better image of the EU than last year and appear ready for reforms, a new poll shows.

EPP wants to re-open accession talks with Balkans

An emergency resolution adopted at the European People's Party (EPP) congress in Zagreb calls on the EU Council and member states to take a positive decision on opening accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania as soon as possible.

Tusk pledges 'fight' for EU values as new EPP president

The outgoing president of the EU council, Donald Tusk, is set to be elected as the president of the centre-right European People's Party (EPP). Tusk will have to deal with the final decision over Hungary's ruling Fidesz.

Catalan MEP is 'elected', court advisor says

In a boost for the cause of three Catalan MEPs, the advocate general of the EU Court of Justice has recognised their mandate as elected MEPs - but it is up to the parliament if they should enjoy immunity.

News in Brief

  1. UK misses UN deadline to return Chagos Islands
  2. PM: Greece will 'shut door' to migrants without rights
  3. CDU leader offers to quit if party doesn't back her
  4. Serbian president confirms Russia spy video
  5. UK to repatriate 'Islamic State' orphans
  6. Man arrested over Maltese journalist murder free on bail
  7. Children with disabilities in Bulgaria isolated, report says
  8. WHO: 80 percent of adolescents don't exercise enough

Wilmès becomes first female PM of Belgium

On Sunday, Sophie Wilmès was appointed as the new prime minister of Belgium - becoming the first female head of government in the country's history. She replaces Charles Michel who becomes president of the European Council.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  3. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  5. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  6. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  7. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  9. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us