Producing Salience or Keeping Silence? An Exploration of Topics and Non-Topics of Special Eurobarometers. London School of Economics and Political Science "Europe in Question" Discussion Paper No. 88/2015

Markus Haverland, WJM Ruiter, Steven Walle

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperAcademic

Abstract

Public opinion does not fall out of the sky. What passes for public opinion in the European Union is largely the answers of its citizens to questions posed in surveys commissioned and controlled by the European Commission. This paper presents the first systematic mapping of the topics and non-topics of the 400 so-called Special Eurobarometers: reports based on batteries of questions about specific policy issues posed in face-to-face interviews to about 25,000 citizens, constituting nationally representative samples of all member states. This exploration is especially relevant against the background of the increased politicisation of the EU; both given the potential value of public opinion as a “substitute” for a more direct link to the electorate and as a power resource in decision-making. We chart the frequency of Special EBs over time, identify the topics (and non-topics) using the Comparative Agenda Project’s EU codebook, and relate their frequency to the distribution of competencies between the EU and its member states. We also document the variation across DGs in their effort to gauge public opinion. We conclude that the Commission is increasingly seeking public opinion and that it does so in a very broad range of policy areas. We find a curvilinear relationship between the degree of EU competencies and the frequency of Special EBs. Citizen input is less sought in areas where the EU already has far reaching competencies and in areas which are clearly in the national (or even sub-national) domain. The lion’s share of Special EBs is conducted in the realm of shared competencies, with an emphasis on those areas where the EU got involved relatively recently. We also detected only two Special EBs specifically related to the redistribution of resources (e.g., cohesion policy) and none on immigration. We also find a large variation across the DGs on whose behalf Special EBs are conducted. Three DGs are responsible for half of all EBs and nine DGs for less than five percent. These results open up promising avenues for research on the responsiveness of the European Commission and its agenda setting strategies and legitimacy seeking behaviour.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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