Tuesday, March 11, 2008

What do they think we think?

Every now and then the European Institutions produce one of their surveys of public opinion. Some are regular tracking polls and then they have special event polls. The latest is one celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Common Assembly, now better known as the European Parliament.

We have to take Eurobarometer with a pinch of salt. Remember in a survey that came out only a week after the 'No' votes on the Constitution it blithely announced that huge majorities in France, Holland and the United Kingdom were in favour. It also highlights that less than a third of our citizens have heard of any EP activity in the last few months.

However on to the detail, What the survey shows is immense ignorance as to the position and role of the European Parliament. Essentially people interviewed believe that the Parliament is indeed a Parliament and thus has legislative and decision making power. It seems that they would like it to have powers it currently does not posses.

Perception: A majority of respondents (43%) take the view that the EP is currently the institution which has the greatest degree of decision-making power in the EU, compared with figures of 14% for the Commission and 10% for the Council.

Wish: A majority of respondents (47%) take the view that the EP is the institution which should have the greatest degree of decision-making power in the EU, compared with figures of 9% for the Commission and 8% for the Council.
The British figures are almost exactly contiguous with the European average. The perception in the UK sense is 42% rather than 43%). It is however apposite to point out that only 6% in the UK think that the Commission should have the power it currently exercises.

It is telling that in the UK while 59% believe the EP to be important, only 39% would like to see its power increase, whilst 40% would like to see less power of stay the same.

The other questions are similarly presentational. It is apparent that the older and larger the country the less they rate the European Parliament, with the UK always at or near the bottom in issues such as visibility and trust. This I would think is largely to do with those countries having a historic attachment to National Parliaments, and having a media that concentrates on the historic powers rather than the contemporary ones.

Thus in the run up to the European elections of 2009, it would appear that it is incumbent on those of a eurorealist position to bang home the reality here in Brussels where the Commission is the fount of all power, which is contrary to the wishes of the British population and the Parliament is little more than a talking shop. Good for sending an electoral message, but precious little else.

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