Citizens' trust in EU 'falling'

Better communication at the EU-level is needed to increase voter trust and 'participatory democracy', says Vicky Ford

By Vicky Ford

30 Mar 2014

I was honoured to host representatives from the UK's leading independent social research agency, NatCen social research, at the European parliament to talk about political interest, activity and trust across Europe.

NatCen have been researching public political and social attitudes in the UK and throughout Europe for more than 40 years. And at an event in parliament, their chief executive Penny Young detailed the wide disparities between how different European nationals engage with politics.

Drawing on the European social survey, which covers 30 European countries, Young explained a large divergence in the extent to which Europeans participate in politics - showing that more than 70 per cent of people in Sweden and Iceland had participated in at least one political act over the previous year, but fewer than 20 per cent had done so in Portugal, Slovenia and Bulgaria.

"MEPs might take some comfort from knowing that the parliament is the most trusted of the EU institutions, but that trust is still low"

She also revealed similar divergences around the level of interest in politics. Fewer than 40 per cent of people in Spain, Poland and Slovakia say that they are interested in politics, compared with more than 60 per cent in Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

The European social survey also reveals that the extent to which the public trust politicians varies enormously across Europe. Citizens' mistrust of governments and politicians is highest in countries in the former eastern bloc and countries that have faced recent economic and social turmoil, while mistrust is lowest in the Nordic countries.

The European Union's own Eurobarometer survey shows how trust in the EU has been falling in recent years. In 2004, 50 per cent of respondents across the EU indicated they trusted the European Union, but by autumn 2013 this figure was only 31 per cent.

MEPs might take some comfort from knowing that the parliament is the most trusted of the EU institutions, but that trust is still low: 39 per cent say they trust the parliament, while 35 per cent trust the commission and 34 per cent the European central bank.

Findings such as these are vital to improve our understanding of what people think. They enable us to listen to people's concerns and respond. In particular, NatCen's research highlights the need for politicians to communicate better with voters in order to ensure that participatory democracy is truly participatory.

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