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Politicians discuss results of European Social Survey

City researcher Rory Fitzgerald gave a presentation at the European Parliament
by Ed Grover (Senior Communications Officer)

ESS logoThe findings of the European Social Survey (ESS) – which is hosted by the Centre for Comparative Social Surveys at City University London – have been presented to politicians at the European Parliament in Brussels.

ESS Director Rory Fitzgerald gave an overview of the survey, which is based on data from 29 countries across the continent and designed to reflect Europe’s social, political and moral fabric.

Green MEP Jean Lambert, of the European Free Alliance, hosted the event, which was organised to give European politicians an outline of the latest results of the ESS, which is conducted every two years.

The latest edition to be made public was Round 6, which was completed in 2012 and looked at civilians’ understanding and evaluations of democracy. Round 7 was conducted in 2014.

The research explored the different ways that Europeans rank aspects of democracy, as well as the performance of democracy in their own regions – broadly categorised as Western, Northern, Southern, including neighbouring Israel, Central and Eastern.

Opening the event, Jean Lambert noted the relevance of these topics to the business of the European Parliament in the context of declining voter turnout in many nations.

Joined by MEP Julie Ward and Assya Kavrakova, Director of the European Citizen Action Service, she also commented on the importance of analysing “how democracy is done in the member states” and welcomed the ESS for its contribution to this process.

Rory Fitzgerald presented an overview of the ESS, its methodology and question modules, as well as it aims, which include:

  • To chart stability and change
  • Interpret shifts in Europe’s social, political and moral fabric
  • Achieve and spread higher standards of rigour in cross-national research
  • Introduce soundly based indicators of national progress
  • Undertake and facilitate the training of European social researchers
  • Improve the visibility and outreach of data on social change.

The results from Round 6 were presented by Dr Monica Ferrin, of the University of Zurich and a member of the group of experts that worked with the ESS Core Scientific Team to develop the questions asked.

Dr Ferrin stressed the importance of recognising citizens as the true “experts” of how democracy works. She also noted there were two stories to be told: a success story, with positive views about democracy across all of Europe; and a more pessimistic story, in which the problems in implementing and sustaining democracy were emphasised.

The key findings of the ESS Round 6 included:

  • Most Europeans believe “it is important to live in a country governed democratically”
  • On average, Europeans believe liberal, social and direct democracy are important but not all elements are ranked the same. For example, “equality before the law” was ranked much higher than “responsiveness to other EU governments”
  • Northern Europeans are generally satisfied with their democracy, but still highlight significant room for improvement
  • Assessments of democratic performance are related to how well countries performed economically, suggesting the public is a reliable source for appraising democratic quality.

Jean Lambert welcomed the link between assessments of democratic and economic performance and reiterated the importance of a critical analysis of trends in democracy. She also noted the importance Europeans attached to citizens’ equal treatment by the law, which was an issue of concern to many people.

However, she noted concerns about the ESS finding that Europeans place a relative lack of importance on the “responsiveness to other EU governments”.

The discussion that followed explored the need to engage young people more in electoral politics.

Jean Lambert concluded the event saying the ESS’s valuable findings highlighted the key challenge of improving people’s experience of democracy, at both EU and national levels.

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