Academic research on the EU, Central and Eastern Europe, Europe in the news, the Netherlands, Uncategorized

Eastern Europeans in the Netherlands: A battle of the numbers or are journalists bad scientists?

RTL news  reported yesterday (link in Dutch) that the PVV, the Freedom Party led by Geert Wilders, have received 40 000 complains on their controversial website asking people to report Central and Eastern European citizens causing ‘problems’ in the Netherlands. More than half of these were, according to the news item of 13 December about ‘drunkenness, noise and parking problems’. No detailed breakdown of issues or problems or even an overview of the 40 000 (complaints/messages? filled forms?wesbite hits?) has been made available yet and still a number of Dutch media dedicated quite some attention to the figure mentioned by the PVV. 40 000 sounds, after all, very impressive, even of a percentage of the messages left on the website may have been  from people who had a positive story or complained about the website itself.  More importantly,  the journalists asking questions about the ‘Central and Eastern European problem’ seemed unaware of a report presented this very same week, on 12 December, of a broad representative study by the Polish Institute of Public Affairs  showing that the majority of Dutch people have a positive or neutral impression of Polish people working here.

This provides some food for thought. First, it appears difficult for the media to distinguish representative, science based results from any other numbers that get used and abused in public debates. Secondly, there is clearly a selection bias on the PVV website, which could be understood better if we could see a breakdown of the type of issues and complaints. This was also stressed by the Polish embassy, whose spokesperson rightly remarked that the PVV reported numbers have no scientific value whatsoever.  This latter comment reached us through the SPITS newspaper (link in Dutch here) that managed, in its turn, to confuse the authors of the report on Polish perceptions in the Netherlands – the research was done by the Polish Institute for Public Affairs and GfK, but not Leiden university ( we co-hosted a presentation of the results in our Campus in the Hague). In the end, the only conclusion that can be drawn so far from the coverage of the  perceptions of Poles in the Netherlands report as opposed to the PVV complaint numbers announcement appears to be that some journalists do not pay much attention not only to science, but also to the basic facts.

For anyone who is interested in the actual data related to the perceptions of Poles in the Netherlands, a link to a summary of the findings and figures of the study can be found here. The full report is yet to be finalized and we look forward to examining the complete results.

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Euroscepticism, Future of the EU, Public opinion

The European Commission vs. the People

The Commission has recently published its vision about the future of European integration. The report is more than ambitious calling for full banking, economic, budgetary and political integration, including ‘dedicated fiscal capacity for the euro area’ which I believe means taxation powers for the EU. Here is the assessment of the Commission about the present state of EU’s legitimacy:

The Lisbon Treaty has perfected the EU’s unique model of supranational democracy, and in principle set an appropriate level of democratic legitimacy in regard of today’s EU competences. ..it would be inaccurate to suggest that insurmountable accountability problems exist. (p.35)

Wow, wait a minute! P e r f e c t e d    the model of supranational democracy?! Appropriate level of democratic legitimacy?! Are the Commissioners living on the same planet as the rest of us? According to data from autumn 2012, fewer than 1 in 3 Europeans said they trust the EU. 60% don’t trust the EU. For only 31% of European citizens the EU ‘conjures’ [sic] a positive image, while for 28% it ‘conjures’ a negative one. In late 2011 only 45% of European expressed satisfaction with the way democracy works in the EU. 43% were not satisfied with the ‘perfected model of supranational democracy’.

And what about the impact of the Lisbon Treaty? Here is a graph of the trust Europeans have in the different EU institutions. By the way, the Commission currently stands at 36% (click to enlarge the graph).

New Picture (1)

The trend is quite clear from a bird’s eye-view, but let’s zoom in on the period after the Lisbon Treaty entered into force:

New Picture

Trust in EU institutions has decreased by more than 20% (from its 2009 levels) so that currently even the directly-elected European Parliament doesn’t get the trust of more than half of the European population. The Lisbon Treaty has perfected things indeed.

Finally, let’s look more specifically at what people think about EU’s expansion into some of the policies mentioned in the report. An absolute majority of Europeans consider that it is only for the national governments to make decisions about public debt (51%), unemployment (58%), social welfare (68%), taxation (68%) and pensions (73%).

If these are not ‘ insurmountable accountability problems’, I don’t know what is. For all its ambition, the Commission offers few answers how the reforms will be pushed through in the face of such strong opposition from the people. There is no way to proceed behind the backs of the citizens, and there is no magic trick to earn their trust overnight. The Commission might be applauded for expressing a bold vision for future Europe, but some reality check is in order.