Over the past 30 years Eurobarometer has become a point of reference on EU-wide public opinion. It was launched in 1974 to make the EU’s information and communication strategy more efficient and to serve as a tool to help shape a real ‘European’ public opinion. The new information and communication strategy, due for adoption in June 2005, will propose an increase in the variety of Eurobarometer surveys.

The first Eurobarometer survey was released in spring 1974, following the the first enlargement in 1973, when the six founding members admitted Denmark, Ireland and the UK to join their ranks. Its objective was to find out more about European public opinion to make its information policy more targeted. Eurobarometer has also aimed to bring Europeans closer together by informing them about their fellow Europeans' thoughts on the same issues.

Public opinion surveys were already being organised in the 1960s. The idea that European public opinion should be measured regularly was a matter for discussion in the early 1970s. Dutch MEP Wilhelmus Schuijt wrote in a parliamentary report in February 1972 that opinion polls should be conducted in a regular and systematic manner and that their results should be regularly submitted to the relevant committee of the European Parliament. Schuijt was an active supporter of creating a real 'European' public opinion using information and communication policy as a tool.

Initially, Eurobarometer was designed to measure trends over time, ie the changes in attitudes towards the EU and pro- or anti-European attitudes. There were also questions asked to assess changes in terms of an emerging European identity. Occasionally specific questions were formulated on a variety of subjects with the objective of steering information policy. Over time, the directorates general also began to use this research tool by requesting that certain questions, for instance, on agriculture or science, be included in Eurobarometer surveys.

The word 'Euro' derives from Europe and 'barometer' refers to the device which measures atmospheric pressure.

Supporters of Eurobarometer say it is an important instrument for European governance, a tool which is helping to shape a truly European public opinion. Eurobarometer surveys take place simultaneously, using the same questions, in the 25 member states and countries applying to join the EU. The results of the surveys are published on a dedicated internet site. Eurobarometer is accessible both for specialists and lay people. 

Journalists and politicians welcome this tool as a good source of quantitative data. References, such as "according to Eurobarometer" have become gradually more frequent in the national press, proving the point that Eurobarometer has become a point of reference. 

Its continuity is often cited as another great advantage in that it allows for a better understanding of trends over time. 

Types of Eurobarometer surveys:

  • 'Standard' - conducted twice a year, objective: to establish long-term trends and tendencies
  • Special Eurobarometer - ad-hoc, face-to-face survey
  • Flash - ad hoc survey conducted by phone plus brief calls only to follow-up on new developments. Often they focus on certain target groups such as companies, doctors, young people.

Commissioner for Institutional Relations and Communication Strategy Margot Wallström told EURACTIV in a recent interview that having more targeted Eurobarometer surveys is one of the objectives of the new communications strategy which will be adopted in June 2005. 

"We have started to do it with Eurobarometers on the Constitution being targeted for each member state at member state level. So we will do more of that. I totally agree. The whole way of working with Eurobarometer is something that we have to look at again. So this is one of the elements of the new communications strategy," said Wallström. 

In an interview conducted on 21 October 2003 and posted on the Europa portal's dedicated public opinion website, Jacques-René Rabier, the first EU director general of information policy and founder of Eurobarometer, spoke about the origins of this EU-wide survey. 

While many questions have remained the same over the years, he regretted that nowadays people are no longer asked about their level of trust towards other nations. He argued that in the early days these questions revealed very interesting relations, for instance, strong mutual confidence between the Germans and the French and a weaker level of mutual confidence between the English and the French.

Mr Rabier said he would have liked to see the illustrations on euro notes tested on Europeans. In his view, the illustrations currently used are "not very inspiring". If he had the opportunity to carry out a survey today, he would choose Turkey as a theme. 

Mr Rabier says that Europe does not stir passions in terms of public opinion. Younger generations think that Europe is a done deal, that it is going on its own while his generation had to and still has to fight for Europe, that it has to have solid institutions.

According to Rabier, European public opinion is still "under construction" although Europeans tend to think similarly about a number of issues, for instance on democracy, human rights and the status of women. Young people and the more educated are closer to one another in the different countries than other categories of the population. 

A former Director of Communication at the Commission Press and Communication DG, Niels Jørgen Thogersen said that in comparison with 30 years ago, nowadays there is a real interest in getting to know the views of citizens and in promoting a dialogue. The internet is a particularly helpful intermediary which is used to provide public access to the outcome of the surveys.

  • The Commission will launch a new information and communication strategy in June 2005.
  • EURACTIV is considering a separate dossier specifically on 'EU public opinion'. We would welcome your input
  • Gallup Europe, Friends of Europe, EURACTIV report:Can EU Hear Me?(Oktober 2004)

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