The Role of Eurobarometer Surveys in the Communication Policy of the European Union

AuthorRoberta Bogni

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Roberta Bogni

The Role of Eurobarometer Surveys in the Communication Policy of the European Union

Summary: 1. Introduction. – 2. Eurobarometer and its potential for the European Union. – 3.

Juridical aspects of Eurobarometer surveys. – 4. The linguistic profile of Eurobarometer. – 5. Eurobarometer and opinion poll relevance in the EU caselaw. – 6. The future of Eurobarometer. Conclusions.

. The European Union can be considered an international organization boasting a unique institutional structure and specific legislative and adjudicative powers. This ingenious architecture is based on the concept of functionalism and on the progressive and aware transfer of powers from the national to the European level. It is therefore complicated to classify this organization because identical models in any other traditional sector of international law1 do not exist. The Lisbon Treaty2, which represents an epochal stage in the long process of European integration3, confirms these features and introduces several important changes4. These innovations allow the European Union to be closer to its citizens, more democratic, and more efficient and to strengthen its international identity.

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First of all the European Union now has a single legal personality, recognized in its external relations though two new political figures: the President of the European Council5 and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy6. There are intense doctrinal debates about the procedure of appointment and their powers and margins of action. The discrepancies underline the necessity to define their competences more precisely and clearly. However they ensure the external representation of the Union on issues concerning its common foreign and security policy and enhance the consistency and unity of the European Union’s external action. In order to develop cooperation with the diplomatic services of the Member States and to improve the activities of the General Secretariat of the Council and of the Commission, the Treaty of Lisbon has set up the European External Action Service (EEAS) whose role is to assist the High Representative7. There will also be relevant modifications in the voting system of the Council. Until November 2014 it votes on the basis of a qualified majority and the number of votes of each Member State is prearranged by the Treaty itself. From then on there will be a double majority and an act will be adopted with the support of at least 55% of the EU Member States and at least 65% of the population of the EU8. This procedure suggests a closer relation between the EU’s institutions and society and answers the increasing demand of higher participation and representation. This trend is also validated by the extension of codecision to some forty fields, which becomes the ordinary legislative procedure of the European Union9, and by the introduction of the citizens’ right of initiative. This procedure will render valid a petition signed by a million citizens to invite the Commission to submit the Parliament and the Council a proposal on any area of EU competence. There will also be significant changes related to the number of members of the European Parliament, not exce-

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The Role of Eurobarometer Surveys in the Communication Policy of the European Union

eding 751. At the same time the breakdown of parliamentary seats between Member States will be degressively proportional. This new rule means that the Members of European Parlament (MEPs) of the biggest Member States will be proportionally fewer than the MEPs of the smallest ones. Although the Treaty stipulates that no Member State can have fewer than six or more than ninetysix seats, it is evident that the citizens’ democratic parliamentary participation and their right to vote is partially damaged by different weights in the appointment system and by a representative imbalance. This contradiction is compensated by the new role established by the Lisbon Treaty for national parliaments. These latter will have the possibility to examine draft European legislative acts in order to verify if a legislative act is contrary to the principle of subsidiarity. The strong cooperation between EP and national parliaments clearly involves citizens, who are the protagonists of an innovative communication mechanism and have an unquestionable right to communicate, to be informed and to inform. This right is perfectly in line with the content of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, that has the same legal value as the Treaties, and specified in Articles 6, 11, 41, 42 and 43 of the same Charter. Therefore the Lisbon Treaty provides for innovative communication relations that produce vertical and horizontal cooperation forms. While the horizontal one reflects the collaboration among all the EU institutions, bodies, offices and agencies, the vertical view further recognizes and develops the double legitimacy of the European Union, that is at the same time a union of Member States and of citizens. These subjects have multilevel relations with the EU structure, based on the mutual right to a open, efficient and independent administration, on the protection of common interests and on the concept of equality10. The European Union is based on the rule of law and this principle is validated by the treaties, which are agreed on voluntarily and democratically by all Member States. Therefore communication becomes one of the pillars of EU action and the fundamental instrument to make people improve their knowledge of the European reality. This service finds its most marked roots in the Plan D for Democracy, Dialogue and Debate11, in the White Paper on a European Communication Policy12 and in the Commission Communication “Communicating Europe in Partnership13”. These documents give special emphasis to the growing European subjectivity of the citizens. This is confirmed by an emerging trend which also recognizes citizens’ international subjectivity (both from a prescribing and jurisdictional point of view).

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As underlined in these documents, the relevance of the citizens in the EU institutional communication process leaks out through their closeness to the European reality, summarized among the others by the Eurobarometer surveys.

In 1973 the European Parliament published the socalled “Schuijt Report”, in which it suggested the creation of a European observatory aimed at studying public opinion14. This idea met with the Commission’s favour and Eurobarometer rapidly became a reality, thanks to JacquesRené Rabier, the first EU director general of information policy and founder of Eurobarometer. This instrument is one of the oldest points of reference for surveys in Europe and can be defined as a precious photograph album that shows the evolution of European public opinion and the level of knowledge and trust in the European Union15. These photographs can be easily compared and stimulate a crossnational and crosstemporal research, which are principally used by EU’s institutions, Member States, experts and professors, as well as by windows like Europe Direct and Eurostat. Eurobarometer has been transforming itself in a common heritage that allows different communicative outlooks16. It represents a resource that assists the European Union in knowing its citizens better, but it is also a point of contact for all people wishing to discover the EU, its institutions and its activities. In the middle there are all those national institutions and bodies that get information from Eurobarometer surveys in order to define and optimize their European relations and to develop a more indepth communication with their citizens. But candidate countries, international organizations and third countries show an increasing interest in Eurobarometer too, which is nourished by its complex social, psychological, anthropological, economic, historical, cultural and linguistic framework.

This “questionnaire of customer satisfaction” gains benefit from Internet and ICT (Information and Communication Technologies). These tools ensure a wide diffusion of its reports, numerous debates and the increase of citizens’ awareness of their rights (first of all the right to have an active role in their contacts with the EU world). In order to improve its relations with EU citizens, Eurobarometer recently opened the Eurobarometer Interactive Search System, that is an innovative procedure used to facilitate citizens’ researches concerning surveys and reports. People have the possibility to get multilevel information, starting from the type of survey, its national feedback and its temporal evolution. This link

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also confirms the complexity of Eurobarometer, which boasts five efficient pool schemes: Standard Eurobarometer, Special Eurobarometer, Candidate Countries Eurobarometer, Flash Eurobarometer and Qualitative Studies17. These schemes differ in the number of people interviewed and in the way the questionnaire is presented (face to face interviews, focus groups or phone interviews)18.

Besides, the relevance of Eurobarometer is demonstrated by the guidelines of the above mentioned Commission Communication ”Communicating Europe in Partnership”, that expresses the citizens’ right to receive objective information and to know how EU activities and matters are perceived. In 2006 Eurobarometer started organizing meetings which register a more intense involvement of experts and citizens and fruitful transnational consultations. These meetings absolutely emphasize the new European communication strategies and stimulate profitable contacts with every social reality.

In the end, it is clear that Eurobarometer could become one of the main EU resources to promote its activities and to improve them getting in touch with all those concerned. The results...

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