A new survey published last week (27 February) indicates that EU citizens trust their local and regional authorities above all other bodies, believing that they have a role to play in increasing understanding and trust in the Union.
The special Eurobarometer poll, carried out in late 2008, found that a considerably higher proportion of total respondents (50%) trust their local authority above their government (34%) or the EU (47%). The figure is as high as 70% in Austria, Denmark, Finland and Sweden.
More importantly for the EU, 59% of Europeans would like their regional and local authorities to have a greater say in the Union’s decision-making process.
In a speech to the Committee of the Regions (CoR), Commission Vice-President Margot Wallström emphasised this point, arguing that regional and local bodies “are well placed to do the job. You address them through familiar regional and local channels and you can explain in simple language the way EU policies affect daily life in the regional and local community”.
Regions to help improve turnout at elections?
Wallström, who in her role as communications commissioner has spoken on numerous occasions of the importance of informing citizens about how the EU affects their lives (EURACTIV 08/11/07), also asked the CoR for help in boosting turnout at this year’s European elections.
CoR President Luc Van den Brande similarly argued that in this time of economic uncertainty, a “good voter turnout can give Europe not only a stronger democratic basis but also an important economic momentum”.
Van den Brande said the survey proved that for the EU to succeed in its goal of improving citizens’ understanding of European issues, and consequently boosting voter turnout in 2009, “there is no other way than to involve these representatives and their institution, the Committee of the Regions, more in EU decision-making”.
However, one policy analyst who did not wish to be named told EURACTIV that “this is more empty rhetoric from the Commission and the CoR. The elections are only three months away, and if Wallström and Van den Brande think regional authorities will provide a magical solution to the recurring problem of disastrous turnout at successive European elections, they are deluding themselves”.
The European elections will take place on 4-7 June 2009.