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Public Opinion Trends and Policy-Making in the European Union

Final Report Summary - RESPONSE EU (Public Opinion Trends and Policy-Making in the European Union)

The objective of this research was to study democratic governance in the EU and the determinants of European legislation. Specifically, this project quantitatively measured the responsiveness that is to be found between public ‘demand’ and policy ‘supply.’ It has long been realized that democratic governance requires a two-way flow of influence. Governments must be able to react to what people want and people must be able to react to what governments do. Thus, the objective of this research was to put together measurements of these two directions of influence in such a way as to obtain a quantitative view of the extent and sensitivity of democratic processes within the European polity. One aspect was to examine the influence of the level of public support, and its heterogeneity, on policy-makers. Such an influence is indicative of the degree to which the volume of European legislation, both across policy fields and time, reflects changes in public support for the various policies. In other words, the question answered by my research is: Do the legislative productions of the EU reflect the evolving wishes of the European public? A second aspect of the research was to examine the degree to which the European public appears to be aware of current and past EU legislation by policy area. Thereby, I answered the corresponding question: Is there responsiveness of public opinion to changes in the volume of EU legislation across different policy areas and time?

The work of the project was subdivided into three logical parts. First, I reviewed the extensive literature on public opinion, democratic governance and European legislative studies. Theoretically, the project developed an innovative approach since it simultaneously drew on issue congruence, the thermostatic theory of political responsiveness and on studies of EU legislative decision-making. Democratic theory tells us that in a representative democracy there should be some congruence between the interests of citizens and the policy positions of their representatives and policy outcomes. I reviewed the existing work on issue congruence and party democracy both the on national government policy-making and on EU policy-making. Regarding congruence in the EU, one finding in the extant literature is that voters and party elites appear to be broadly in agreement regarding European integration in general while other work shows clear diverge between voters and party elites, especially when it comes to specific policy areas. Furthermore to apply insights from models of thermostatic responsiveness, I reviewed the literature on North America and European countries as well as the EU. Research on political responsiveness suggests that EU legislative outputs are strongly related to public opinion with variation across policy areas.

Second, in order to create the empirical basis for the analysis of the project, I created a pooled cross-section time series data set of the preferences expressed in public opinion. I used Eurobarometer datasets starting from 1970 until 2010. For each year, I selected two surveys and harmonized each variable to a common coding scheme. This data set has already been shared with other researchers and is being used by several Doctoral candidates and Post Doctoral Fellows. Additionally, I collected all of the European legislation from the publically accessible website Eurlex. I wrote customized web-harvesting scripts which allowed me to collect over 1,5 million records with all the associated meta-information. These records I have further classified by type, policy-area and whether it is ordinary legislation or an implementing measure. Finally, each piece of legislation has been weighted using different measures such as the number of paragraphs or recitals. This gives me a proxy for the potential visibility, and likely importance.