Britain’s relationship with the European Union excites a great deal of emotion. It is a staple of the tabloid press and one of the few political topics that is regularly discussed in pubs and offices. However, this does not necessarily mean that we know much about the EU or how it works.
British citizens are less confident that they know about the EU’s policies and institutions than the people in any other member state, except Hungary. In a Eurobarometer poll conducted in Autumn 2005, only 46% of British respondents were aware of the UK’s Presidency of the EU and MORI research found that 82% of those polled do not feel they have enough information to make an informed decision on whether or not to adopt the Constitutional Treaty.
Lack of knowledge leaves us vulnerable to misinformation and myth-creation. This is worrying, not only because it leads to frustration and alienation but also because political parties shape their policies on Europe according to what they believe the public will accept. If the public do not have enough information to engage in a serious debate about the future of the European Union and our relationship to it, then it is likely that our policies will be unsound.
This project was designed to gauge informed public opinion on Europe. We wanted to find out what citizens would think when all the information had been presented to them. It was important to us that it should be a deliberative process so that we could get beyond the snap judgements given in response to polls. We also wanted to discover how public information about the EU might be improved.
We believe that a serious, informed debate about Britain’s future relationship with Europe is long overdue and hope that this report goes some way towards beginning that process.