EU needs to understand citizens better – Eurobarometer

Regional and local leaders are asking the European Union to redouble efforts to listen to local communities by introducing annual EU-wide regional surveys. The members of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) were reacting to the latest study of 62,511 citizens conducted by Eurobarometer which surveyed public opinion in 209 EU regions.

The regional Eurobarometer, the first since 2012, found that unemployment remains the biggest source of anxiety and that immigration is the fastest-growing issue for EU citizens. The President of the European Committee of the Regions, Markku Markkula, said: “The EU must reduce the gap with its citizens and the first step is to listen. This is why we welcome annual regional surveys as part of efforts to create a truly citizen-centred Europe. Unsurprisingly, migration and unemployment are the two main areas of concern among citizens, which is why the CoR has prioritised these challenges for the coming years. The CoR is committed to closing the EU’s gap with its citizens and to supporting the EU in reconnecting with its citizens. We share common problems and we need shared solutions.”

The Eurobarometer survey results were presented on 21 October at EuroPCom , the 6th European Conference for Public Communication organised and hosted by the CoR. The results were unveiled in the presence of Luxembourg’s Prime Minister, Xavier Bettel, whose country holds the rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Speaking in Brussels, he said, “The EU is strong and showed its strength several times in the last few months but it also must show its worth and find a common path in response to the challenges we all face. Governments at all levels need to cooperate to listen and respond to the needs of citizens. Public opinion research at the local level can contribute to this common objective”

The CoR has consistently called on the EU to make greater use of the potential of the single market, to strengthen physical and economic connections across Europe and to foster innovation through ‘smart specialisation’ in the EU’s regions. In a draft report on migration, the CoR points to the importance of transforming the EU’s long-running debate on migration and asylum into agreements that are robust and fair for all.

Unemployment was identified as the most important problem by 46% of respondents, a 9% point decline since 2012. There were also increases in those who described the economic situation in their region as ‘good’ (55%, up from 45%) and described their quality of life as ‘good’ (76%, up from 70%). However, concern about unemployment remains high across the continent, with increases in anxiety recorded in five of Spain’s regions, three regions in France, in the Belgian region of Flanders, in Finland and across Austria.

Heightened levels of concern about immigration – with 35%-50% of the respondents citing immigration as the most important issue facing their region – were found in northern Italy, southern Sweden, Flanders, Estonia and most of Austria, Hungary and Germany. More than 50% of people in two German länder – Bavaria and Baden-Wurttemberg – said immigration was their region’s biggest challenge.

When asked who was best placed to explain the EU, respondents identified local and regional authorities as their preferred source of information in 22% of cases. National politicians were selected by 20% of respondents. The figures varied between regions and countries, but were broadly similar to the 2012 findings.

Photo: European Commission