Eurobarometer – Is the instrument introduced for monitoring turning into an intervention tool?

Our society is becoming increasingly abstract and big. In this context, opinion research is taking on an important role, in particular to understand the main features and the value system of society. Furthermore, the meaning of the opinion surveys is connected to their role as a democratic instrument between elections. At the European level this role is intensified, since surveys along with the elections, which take place every five years, represent an important opportunity for the political actors who aim to monitor the processes of formulating opinions and political demands in Europe.

By Julia Mayer / 10.09.2019

The Eurobarometer proves to be an excellent tool as shown by a public opinion poll commissioned by the European Commission in order to monitor the public’s opinion-forming. However, its active role in the very process of opinion-forming is often criticised. In fact, because of its growing significance, the Eurobarometer might turn from a simple aid for politics into a device for political players to pursue their own goals.

The term Eurobarometer should emphasize the monitoring and forecasting aim, but this instrument is actually seldom used for monitoring the acceptability of future decisions. Surveys and reports focus more frequently on the retrospective illustration of attitudes for tracking the opinion-forming processes.

How does it done in practice?

The European Commission asks periodically particular questions always using a similar formula, the same method and with all Member States. There are three procedures for the evaluation of the results. Historical comparison values can be considered for the interpretation of the results. Additionally, it is also possible to make a comparison between the values of the Member States or to combine the two methods. A standard text of the questions and possible answers guarantee the geographical and historical comparability of the data. However, this original text is then translated into the different official languages and their variations. Obviously, the translations are controlled, so that in the end the answers will have the same meaning in the different languages.

The results of the surveys are then collected in thematic chapters in the so-called Eurobarometer-publication and illustrated through graphics. Critics have observed that the analysis of the results is always carried out in a pro-European way, thus giving exclusively a positive image of the development of Europe. However, that should not be the case when considering the effort pursued twice a year in every Member State. Here, the political importance for the European Commission outshines the scientific aim. As a donor and an employer, the Commission determines the content and the interpretation of the results, possibly at the expense of the scientific point of view.

In the end you could say that the instrument of the Eurobarometer has turned away from its original intention, namely the investigation of the attitudes of the European citizens, and has instead been politically exploited, thus compromising its informative value. This trend is certainly connected with the monopolistic position of the European Commission that decides on the development, the financing, the implementation, the interpretation and the publication of the Eurobarometer study. As a consequence, the question arises of whether political actors should carry out surveys to confirm their political action.

For more information:

Nissen, Sylke: Eurobarometer in Bach, M./ Hönig, B. (Hrsg.): Europasoziologie – Handbuch für Wissenschaft und Studium, Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft, 1. Auflage 2018

Author

Julia Mayer (Germany)

Studies: Public Management

Languages : German, English, and French

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Alessandra Ivaldi (Italy)

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Stephanie Whitehead (United Kingdom)

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