Interview: EU public opinion polls ‘lack spice’

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Media organisations or parliamentarians should be allowed to write some of the questions posed to EU citizens in Eurobarometer polls, suggests Jacques-René Rabier, the Commission official who introduced the surveys thirty years ago in an interview with EURACTIV.

Rabier was speaking on the sidelines of the Congress of Europe, which took place in the The Hague on 23-24 May (EURACTIV 27/05/08).

With one year to go before the European elections, the man who introduced the EU-wide Eurobarometer public opinion polls in the 1970s says more can be done to make the questions more interesting and better reflect the state of public opinion.

“The individuals currently in charge of the Eurobarometer do not like these kinds of ‘spicy’ questions, for example the one which has not been asked since 1997 on trust between peoples,” says Rabier, asking whether this is evidence of “a lack of courage”.

During the seventies, when asked whom they trust the most, the French and the Germans invariably showed great mutual loyalty. However, the same could not be said of Franco-British relations, according to Eurobarometer polls. The question was later withdrawn because it was seen as too controversial.

Rabier, the founder of the Commission’s communication directorate and a former aide to Jean Monnet, suggests reintroducing such spicy questions by allowing the media or MEPs to draft some of them.

“It seems to me that the media could ask the European Commission to pose, at their own cost and under their editorial responsibility, European questions that are slightly ‘spiced up’ but it seems to me that it would rather be the European Parliament to take such an initiative, maybe in liaison with interested university researchers.”

When it comes to the European elections, Rabier is relatively pessimistic about the continued decline in voter turnout. “It seems to me that the main difficulty lies in the fact that we are calling for a vote on a European Parliament based on themes that are mainly – if not exclusively – national.”

The debate should be open to European solutions to national or regional issues, he says. “Debates on an internet platform between parliamentarians of several countries and the same political tendency could be useful,” he says.

Another suggestion, Rabier said, is to allow citizens to vote for candidates in other European countries. “In countries where European elections are done based on lists, we could suggest to parties […] to introduce […] a number of candidates of other nationalities,” Rabier says.

Whether they will have “the courage” to do so is another matter, he suggests.

To read the full interview (in French only), please click here.

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