One week to go: a discovery about the European public sphere

J Clive Matthews
5 October 2007
The European public sphere?

In a week's time I'll be boarding a Eurostar to Brussels to observe the proceedings at the Tomorrow's Europe poll. At the moment, however, I still know very little about what to expect.

The initial opinion poll - the random sample of 3,500, from which the 400 people selected for the main event are chosen - has already been conducted and the results are in. Yet the only result of this poll so far trumpeted is the decidedly unsurprising statistic that "87.9% of Europeans have either 'never' or only 'just a few times' discussed EU matters with citizens of other EU countries". Most people, even if they are relatively unusual in having friends from other EU countries, generally have more interesting things to talk about.

In fact, the real surprise was the more detailed breakdown - because it revealed that contrary to the spin that only one in ten Europeans had got into such discussions, the poll's actual results were that 3.4% said that they discussed EU matters with people from other EU states "very often", 8.2% "fairly often", and 39.5% "just a few times".

That means that - to give it an alternate take - 51.1% of EU citizens have discussed EU politics with people from other EU countries. A proper, genuine majority of those polled have seen the EU as an important enough shared connection to warrant a conversation with someone from another country. Yes, the majority may have only answered "just a few times" - but that's the answer most likely to be picked by the average man in the street asked if he's ever had a chat with someone about national politics, let alone EU affairs. Because most people neither know nor care.

51% of EU citizens having duscussed EU politics with someone from another member state is a staggeringly large, entirely unexpected figure. I'd have been surprised if 50% of respondents had ever discussed the EU with someone from their own country, let alone from another.

Does this suggest a significantly more developed cross-border public sphere than previously imagined in the EU? Have they already unwittingly released the most interesting result of this poll, before the main event has even taken place?

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