Since its infancy, the European Union has relied heavily on opinion of the people in the member states. The EU is for the people and there was a need to know how people felt about certain topics, national priorities and the EU itself. As a result, the European Commission initiated in 1973 a series of surveys called the Eurobarometer. After a couple of pilot studies around the Union, the first official Eurobarometer was conducted in 1974. The survey was, and still is to this day, studying the EU public opinion. The results of every single Eurobarometer is publicly available.
The earliest surveys performed about the European Union was actually not by the Commission. In 1962, an international survey was conducted on the attitudes of European unification by the Press and Information Service of the European Communities. This survey was conducted in Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Later in the early 1970’s, the Commission started conducting their own surveys on the public’s opinion on the Common market and the European functions in these countries. However, it wasn’t until 1973 that all current member of the EU, now including Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom, was part of the surveys. As new member states have joined the European Union, they have also been included in the Eurobarometer.
The Eurobarometer has since it started in 1973 included analysis of the results and detailed insight into trends and the evolution of the public opinion on European issues. The survey has a couple of different series:
- European election: A survey series that is carried out to track the European attitudes up to the European elections. The survey focuses specifically on understanding the European’s interest in the elections and opinion on the European project. A detailed post-electoral analysis is conducted to understand the Europeans’ voting behaviour.
- Parlemeter: An annual survey since 2007 by the European Parliament to understand the European’s views of the European Parliament. More specific, it looks at the public image and role, and how much the public know about it. It also includes public opinion on EU membership and its benefits, feeling of identity, European vs national citizenship, political priorities and values.
- Specific surveys: The European Parliament may issue specific survey to assess the public opinion on specific topics. These topics can be for instance be gender equality, social or economic crisis. It may also only include the European youth or other socio-demographics. These publications can often be dedicated to historical trends where monitoring the major changes in the European public opinion is important.
- Plenary insights: At each plenary session, Members are given the most recent Eurobarometer on that specific key topic of the session so each Member understand the view of the public.
One of the most recent Eurobarometer from last year is the Parlemeter of 2019. The survey seeks to understand the public opinion on EU membership and their attitudes towards democracy and priority policies in the European Parliament. The survey mentions that “European citizens specifically want a stronger European Parliament, as 58% of respondents call for a more influential Parliament in the future. This is a plus of 7 percentage points since spring 2019 and the highest result for this question since 2007”.
However, people are starting to question the Eurobarometer as response rates are dropping. The Danish newspaper Dagbladet Information calls the surveys a systematic overestimation of the public support, “Experts consulted by Information estimate that the response rate ought to reach 45-50% before a survey is representative. In the most recent Eurobarometer survey for which response rates have been calculated, percentages were too low in a number of countries: 14% in Finland, 15% in Germany, 20% in Luxembourg, 22% in Italy, 27% in the United Kingdom, 28% in Denmark, 31% in Greece and France, 33% in Ireland, 34% in Spain, 38% in Latvia, and 40% in Portugal”. The Commission has responded and spokeswoman Dana Spinant said, “Eurobarometer is not a tool to collect statistics, it rather provides a snapshot of public opinion perceptions at a given time”. Meaning that even though the response rates may be low, the surveys should still be seen as representative as the survey only measures perception and not are relevant to be statistics.
What is Eurobarometer?. European Parliament. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/at-your-service/en/be-heard/eurobarometer (Accessed 10th January 2020)
Eurobarometer. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eurobarometer (Accessed 10th January 2020)
Eurobarometer. Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/science/Eurobarometer (Accessed 10th January 2020)
Parlemeter 2019: Heeding the call beyond the vote. A stronger parliament to listen to citizens voices. European Parliament. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/at-your-service/en/be-heard/eurobarometer/parlemeter-2019-heeding-the-call-beyond-the-vote (Accessed 10th January 2020)
New data reveals serious problems with the EU’s official public opinion polls. Dagbladet Information. https://www.information.dk/udland/2019/12/new-data-reveals-serious-problems-with-the-eus-official-public-opinion-polls (Accessed 10th January 2020)
EU Commission defends Eurobarometer methodology. euobserver. https://euobserver.com/institutional/146834 (Accessed 10th January 2020)
Written by Mads Rise
Communication Trainee at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament in Luxembourg. Holds a BA in English and IT-based Marketing and Communication from the University of Southern Denmark. Mads finished his BA with a thesis on Search Engine Optimisation and E-commerce. He has hands-on experience in web communication, SEO, administration and logistics.