N° 54, 2016/4 – Governing (with) opinion at European level


Special Issue: Governing (with) opinion at European level

Edited by Céline Belot, Laurie Boussaguet and Charlotte Halpern

Céline Bélot, Laurie Boussaguet, Charlotte Halpern – Introduction: Governing (with) opinion at European level

À partir du cas spécifique que constitue le système politique européen, ce numéro spécial s’interroge sur la relation entre opinion publique et action publique, comme une contribution à l’analyse de la capacité politique de l’Union européenne (UE). La réponse apportée par la littérature à cette interrogation centrale pour le fonctionnement de tout système démocratique (Dahl, 1989 ; Manin, 2012) est en grande majorité américaine (Stimson, 1998, 2004 ; Soroka et Wlezien, 2010 ; Druckman et Jacobs, 2015). Essentiellement fonctionnaliste, elle est soit formulée de manière normative – « Un des principes fondamentaux d’un gouvernement démocratique est que l’action publique doit être une fonction de l’opinion (…) Savoir si et jusqu’à quel point ce principe correspond à la réalité est un indicateur critique de la gouvernance représentative » (Wlezien et Soroka, 2007, 800) –, soit de manière pragmatique sous la forme du « Who leads whom ? » (Canes-Wrone, 2006). Partant du constat d’un recours de plus en plus courant aux enquêtes d’opinion par les gouvernants, cette seconde approche s’est développée au cours des vingt dernières années pour interroger l’usage des données d’opinion dans l’action publique (Enns et Wlezien, 2011). Quel rôle joue le recours à l’opinion publique dans la mise sur agenda, la prise de décision, mais aussi le discours politique ? Fait-elle figure d’aiguillon, constitue-t-elle une contrainte ou au contraire une opportunité pour les gouvernants ? Comment se matérialise le recours à l’opinion, à travers quels dispositifs concrets, et quels en sont les usages et les effets en termes de capacité politique et d’action publique ? …

Claudia Sternberg – Public opinion in the EU institutions’ discourses on EU legitimacy from the beginnings of integration to today

This article offers a long-term historical account of changing and competing references to public opinion and “what the people want”, and of the projected relationship between the two, in legitimation discourses by EU or Community institutions from the 1950s to today. It describes shifts from taking a generally permissive public opinion for granted, over an increased emphasis on the need to act upon and shape it, to a distinct turn, starting in the mid-1970s and in full swing by the 1980s, towards centring any claims regarding Community legitimacy on citizen expectations. The next chapter in the history of discourses around public opinion was marked by the growing and incontrovertible politicization and polarization of public opinion. This came to a head in the context of the constitutional, euro, refugee, and most recently Brexit crises, but was already beginning to show at the times of the Maastricht and constitutional treaties. By now the discursive balance of plausibility has irrevocably been tilted in favour of discourses acknowledging the political nature of the stakes of EU politics, as opposed to de-politicising them. The challenge is to develop mechanisms of channelling and reconciling clashing preferences, interests, and identities, recognising differences without claiming to harmonise them.

Teresa Pullano – Producing Public Opinion within the Space of the EU: the case of the Greek Referendum of 2015

This paper is a theoretical contribition to the question of the role of EU citizenship policies in shaping the preferences of citizens on the process of European integration. EU citizenship policies are here interpreted as a set of legal and political dynamics that produce a differential political space at the scale of the Union. Starting from this theoretical model, the paper develops some research hypothesis on the case of the Greek referendum held on July, 5, 2015, on the economic aid plan proposed by the European Commission to the government of Alexis Tsipras.

Céline Belot, Laurie Boussaguet, Charlotte Halpern – European public opinion in the making: the selection, usages and effects of European public opinion policy instruments

Quantitative and qualitative surveys, deliberative surveys, citizen consultations, the European Citizens’ Initiative… The array of policy instruments allowing the emergence of a « European public opinion » is widely used. This article examines the logics through which it is produced from a public policy perspective, by exploring the development of the European public opinion policy, its usages and effects. In doing so, this paper contributes to current debates about the government of the European Union. It paper assumes that forms of instrumentation in the European public opinion policy domain contribute over time to the production of a specific type of governing resources that is, information resources. These forms of policy instrumentation, combined with institutionalized forms of citizens’participation and representation, enable EU institutions to draw on “self-knowledge” tools which are considered critical for developing the EU’s own governing capacity distinct from that of the Member States.

Renaud Dehousse, Nicolas Monceau – Democratic Responsiveness in the EU: A Plea for a Sectorial Approach

Whereas a vast literature has focused on the relationship between opinion and public policy at the national level, in particular in the USA, comparatively little attention has been given to the issue of the democratic responsiveness of the European Union. To what extent do EU policies take into account the preferences of citizens? The few studies that have focused on this issue have highlighted a relationship between the overall volume of legislation and the evolution of public support to integration. In this article, we plead in favor of a differentiated approach by policy area, which would allow a more subtle assessment of reactions to opinion shifts, and provide evidence of a lack of responsiveness in the areas under study.

Claire Dupuy, Virginie Van Ingelgom – To be legitimate or not to be: EU policies and their feedback effects on citizens

The paper tackles the much-debated issue of the European Union legitimacy but adds a twist: it focuses on the public policy-public opinion nexus. Do European policies contribute to building EU legitimacy in citizens’ eyes? The paper suggests that EU policies’ design partly explains the very existence of a legitimation effect as well as its legitimating or de-legitimating nature. The results lead us to stress on the non-automaticity of these policy feedbacks as policies can have no effect at all. Empirically, the paper is based on the comparison of EU social, environmental and agricultural policies in five countries: Germany, Spain, France, Italy and the Netherlands.

Book Reviews

Christophe Bouillaud – Emmanuel Mourlon-Druol & Federico Romero (eds). International Summitry and Global Governance. The Rise of the G7 and the European Council, 1974-1991. Cold War History Series, London : Routledge, 2014.

Nathalie Brack – Selma Bendjaballah, Des illusions perdues ? Du compromis au consensus au Parlement européen et à la Chambre des représentants américaines. Bruxelles: Ed de l’ULB, 2016.