In an interview with EURACTIV, Stephen Boucher, from the think tank Notre Europe, argues that it is possible to engage citizens and explains why public opinion matters in EU policy-making.
“It is possible to engage citizens, to get them interested and better informed about the EU,” is the main conclusion drawn from this experiment, says Stephen Boucher, one of the organisers of a pan-European deliberative poll – Tomorrow’s Europe.
The poll brought together 362 randomly-chosen citizens in the first-ever EU-wide deliberative poll, discussing economic and social reform, future enlargement and the EU’s role in the world.
The poll, conducted by TNS, revealed that support for economic and social reforms, such as raising the retirement age and making it more attractive to work longer before retiring, increased from 26% to 40% and from 57% to 70% respectively after citizens had debated the issues among themselves.
“People accept the need for economic and social reforms and want both their national governments and the EU to take action. After deliberation, they are more willing to reform pension systems,” Boucher explains.
However, the results show a downward trend in opinion towards enlargement following the deliberations. The percentage of people agreeing that additional countries that meet all the political and economic conditions for membership should be admitted to the EU decreased from 65% to 60%. More specifically, support for admitting Turkey into the EU fell from 55% to 45%, and support for Ukraine went from 69% to 55%.
The organisers hope that this one-off experiment will act as a “springboard” for future deliberative polls. The main problem, according to Boucher, is that “citizens feel distant from EU institutions and policy making processes. The link between their opinion, vote and voice and everyday decisions in Brussels is not obvious to them, so they become disengaged, disinterested.”
The co-organiser of the Tomorrow’s Europe initiative thinks that polls have an important role to play in EU policy-making. “Of course, politicians’ decisions should not be guided by polls. However, politicians need incentive to take action, and deliberative polls have a recommending force, because they are truly representative and deliberative,” Boucher argues.