Friday, July 29, 2011

Right back at you Ronny... :-)

Ronny  Patz over at Polscieu has taken issue with my previous post about the gulf between the public and the publically funded as evidenced by the report  on the consultation over new tobacco restrictions being proposed by the European Commision. Here is my ripost.

Whilst it is undoubtedly true that 57% of the private citizen came from a couple of lobbying campaigns, and of that 30,000 came from the Italian tobacconists (got to admire their pluck though, don't you think, wish ours were as pro-active) that doesn't actually negate my point at all.

If you recall that on top of the full contributions there was a further 18,650 signatures on petitions, those signatures, though collected by institutions such as retailers etc count as bona fide citizens? Or do we write off petitions entirely (which would screw up the citizen's initiative for a start).

In addition, the Commission also received 10 petitions from citizens, retailers, traders, wholesalers, gas station owners and trade unions. In total these petitions counted for around 18 650 signatures. Four of the petitions collected more than 1000 signatures each.

If you take out the duplicates spotted by the Commission we are left with the tiny figure of 36,325 individual contributions. Including my own.

Anyhow, taking out all the form and Italian tobacconist responses (though I would suggest that they have a legitimate interest and should be counted in some way) we are left with 3396 organisational responses (Govt, NGO, Industry etc) and 36,325.

So individual citizen responses outnumber official responses by a factor of 1:10.

An interesting comment in the report is the difference between the responses and the Eurobarometer survey with the Commission pointing out that the Eurobarometer survey is far more in line with the Governmental/NGO position than the balance of this report.
To which my rejoinder would be twofold.

1) Well Eurobarometer always tells the Commission what it wants to hear. I recall that the Eurobarometer from the Netherlands informing us a week before the No vote in the Constitution referendum that a significant (65% if I remember rightly) majority of the Dutch were in favour of the Constitution. I have never seen Eurobarometer report that doesn't support the chosen policy prescription of the Commission.. Have you?

2) This suggests that the vast majority of people really don't care either way, but of those that do care, would prefer less legislation.

As far as I can work out talking to people and conducting my own deeply unscientific research on the issue you can split the population into three bands on the smoking issue, vis-a-vis restrictions.

There is a vocal minority that opposes, strongly, bans (about 20% mostly smokers and freedom enthusiasts)

There is a very vocal minority (that have captured the funds and the political class about 5%) who hate smoking and would ban it entirely but in the meantime make do with the sort of stuff proposed by this legislation because they now they would cause revolt.

And then there is the vast majority of generally non smokers who don't particularly like smoking but really don't care, and are happy for people to smoke if they want to. (about 75%)

Going back to your post however, the facts about the survey you highlight are correct, but I don't think change my argument one iota.

The political elite and the publicly funded (Para) -NGO's like ASH and the Smoke Free Partnership, allied with big Pharma who can make a mint out of smoking cessation products are on one side of this argument, and the broad mass of the people are actively opposed to them or at worst indifferent.


Ron said...

I kind of expected these arguments but they miss my point.

What you tried to construct with your previous post is an opposition between NGOs and citizens. What I wanted to show is that the situation is more complex, that in quantitative terms it looks more like NGOs against NGOs: When the report quotes "a large majority" when it comes to citizens while this large majority is copy-paste lobby-based contributions then constructing "citizens vs NGOs" on these grounds is a little easy.

This doesn't say that it isn't nice that people care about influencing EU decision-making, but this remains a public consultation, not an election. As one could see for example in the regional referendum in Bavaria last year that a majority voted in favour of banning smoking from public places. That doesn't tell either that a majority is in favour or against all banning measures, but that constructing an opinion divide citizens vs NGOs based on a public consultation (or on participation figures to this consultation) is also a little too easy.

And what you also ignore is that NGOs apart from some that may be proxy organisation can actually represent quite important amounts of citizens through membership or supporters who may not write directly to the Commission but may rely on these intermediate organisations to represent their interests. And this will be the case on both sides of the political spectrum (in this case: pro vs contra bans), so counting up which side is more important in quantitative figures both when it comes to citizens or to NGOs

What is important to know is that I'm not a big fan of all these bans and I also didn't make this part of my argument. But the way you presented your case was way too simple and you did so because you agree with one of the sides and you wanted to make their arguments or strength seem stronger than it actually can be measured through the consultation.

Hence: A nice try, but not too convincing, even for someone who may not be that far away from your point of view in this case. ;)

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Gawain Towler said...


I think there is a great difference between NGOs and what I call Para Governmental Organisations.

NGOs provide a sterling service and cannot exist without the support of private individuals. Organisations like ASH exist on public subsidy, thus cannot be equated with normal traditional NGO's. As they exist on public subsidy it is in their interest to support what they think legislators want.

There is a fascinating example of this in a similar consultation carried out in the UK, vis-a-vis this EU consultation,

Of course this is just one small corner of the lobbying/consultation/policy formulation world, but the results here highlight a general problem.

There is a divide between PGO's and the public.