Thursday

8th Dec 2016

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.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

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.

Analysis

Austrian far-right: beaten, but not defeated

Far-right candidate Norbert Hofer's loss to Green-backed Alexander Van der Bellen sent relief across Europe, but his party is still in a good position to head a government in the future.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Swedish EnterprisesMEPs and Business Representatives Debated on the Future of the EU at the Winter Mingle
  2. ACCASets Out Fifty Key Factors in the Public Sector Accountants Need to Prepare for
  3. UNICEFSchool “as Vital as Food and Medicine” for Children Caught up in Conflict
  4. European Jewish CongressEJC President Breathes Sigh of Relief Over Result of Austrian Presidential Election
  5. CESICongress Re-elects Klaus Heeger & Romain Wolff as Secretary General & President
  6. European Gaming & Betting AssociationAustrian Association for Betting and Gambling Joins EGBA
  7. ACCAWomen of Europe Awards: Celebrating the Women who are Building Europe
  8. European Heart NetworkWhat About our Kids? Protect Children From Unhealthy Food and Drink Marketing
  9. ECR GroupRestoring Trust and Confidence in the European Parliament
  10. UNICEFChild Rights Agencies Call on EU to put Refugee and Migrant Children First
  11. MIRAIA New Vision on Clean Tech: Balancing Energy Efficiency, Climate Change and Costs
  12. World VisionChildren Cannot Wait! 7 Priority Actions to Protect all Refugee and Migrant Children

Latest News

  1. ECB reshapes its bond-buying scheme
  2. Digital content directive threatens app development sector
  3. EU says Greece fit to take back migrants
  4. MEPs back plan to 'revitalise' complex financial products
  5. EU offers Denmark backdoor to Europol
  6. EU nationals fighting for IS drop by half
  7. EU targets Germany and UK for not fining VW's emissions fraud
  8. Slovak minister defends EU presidency compromises

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ANCI LazioRegio-Mob Project Delivers Analysis of Transport and Mobility in Rome
  2. SDG Watch EuropeCivil Society Disappointed by the Commission's Plans for Sustainable Development Goals
  3. PLATO15 Fully-Funded PhD Positions Open – The Post-Crisis Legitimacy of the EU (PLATO)
  4. Access NowTell the EU Council: Protect our Rights to Privacy and Security
  5. ACCAThe Future of Audit Means Adaption to Today’s Global and Digital World
  6. Swedish EnterprisesNew Rules for EU Anti-dumping Measures
  7. European Jewish CongressTakes Part in Building Resilient Communities
  8. UNICEFUniversal Children’s Day: UNICEF Calls for Global Action on Child Rights Violations
  9. Counter BalanceThe EU Bank Cannot be a Key Player in Europe's Response to the Plight of Refugees
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsEvidence of Human Rights Violations and International Crimes in Crimea
  11. Dialogue PlatformThe Failed Military Coup in Turkey & The Mass Purges
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Climate Solutions at COP22 in Marrakech