By Carlo Stokx
Never in Dutch Parliamentary history have the General Elections in the Netherlands drawn as much international attention as the one that took place last week.
Top research and civil society associations dispatch open letter to plea for the establishment of an extraordinary multi-disciplinary expert group
Amsterdam, 19 July, 2016
ESOMAR – the world association for market, social and opinion research, together with 8 associations representing civil society and research, has dispatched an open letter calling on the European Union (EU) institutions to redouble efforts towards more citizen-centric and evidence-based policy- using opinion and social research to assess and evaluate possible future scenarios after the Brexit referendum.
“In order to support and guide any upcoming negotiations with the UK and future EU decision-making process, it is now more critical than ever before to conduct extensive research into the will, and aspirations of the European electorate,” highlights Finn Raben, Director General of ESOMAR, author of the open letter.
The letter highlights the importance of establishing a true and comprehensive understanding of citizen needs and aspirations both in the United Kingdom and the rest of the EU and underlines the role that research can play in uncovering how to better communicate with constituencies about the complex and long-term issues facing Europe. The signatories are calling the European institutions to take these following steps:
- Establish a cross-party and multi-disciplinary expert group composed of academics, experts from research and civil society organisations, and representatives of the EU institutions, to consider the implications of the referendum.
- Issue a call for tender to conduct comprehensive and wide-ranging social research by researchers that abide to the principles of accepted codes of conduct governing market, opinion, and social research.
- Work with the expert group to evaluate and build possible strategies to follow through on the referendum, and even, to formulate possible negotiation strategies (for both sides) on implementing Brexit.
“This initiative, supported by 9 associations, underlines the broad support from both the research community and European civil society to understand more systemically why Europe is failing to inspire its citizenry, what it needs to do to reconnect with all its constituencies. We have to go beyond business as usual and only Brussels can take that first step to position research to help it tackle that disillusion,” adds Kim Smouter, Head of Public Affairs and Professional Standards at ESOMAR.
The open letter is to be supported by a #CitizensFirst social media campaign, individuals and organisations wishing to support the key recommendations of the Open letter can formally register their support by visiting ESOMAR’s website where the open letter and a form to register support has been set-up. The webpage is located at: http://www.esomar.org/citizensfirst.
ESOMAR is the world association for encouraging, advancing and elevating market research worldwide.
WAPOR – World Association For Public Opinion Research
SYNTEC Etudes – Le syndicat représentatif des professionnels des études en France
CEV – European Volunteer Centre
ECAS – European Citizen Action Service
EFC – European Foundation Centre
ENNA – European Network of National Civil Society Associations
FEDRA – Federation of Regional Growth Actors in Europe
By Finn Raben
John Donne, a famous 17th Century English poet, prophetically wrote:
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
The past few days – even with the diversionary activities of the Home nation rugby tests and of course, the European soccer tournament – might have provided a moment of calm reflection on the implications of Britain’s decision to leave the EU, but if anything, the reverse has been true….with impacts on both sides being far greater than were ever envisaged:
- The silence from the winning camp has been deafening, apart from some inflammatory remarks made in the EU….but a plan to move forward? No.
- The appearance of some quite vitriolic, and aggressively xenophobic behavior;
- A number of “Leave” voters now publicising their regret at having voted so…
- The lack of leadership from the Conservative camp, and the implosion of the Labour camp;
- The clear message that both the financial “benefits” as well as the “reduction” in immigration promised by the Leave campaign, is unlikely to be feasible;
- An explosion of anger, disappointment and dismay on social media from the generation who will have to live with the decision, one example of which can be read here.
- The very valid challenge from Scotland, Gibraltar & Northern Ireland as to why they should support a decision which is in direct opposition to the wish democratically recorded in their respective regions?
Increasingly, it is suggested that the electorate were not aware of these ramifications (or their magnitude), at the time of the vote; it is also being suggested that the referendum “morph-ed” into an anti-immigration vote rather than a more balanced assessment of whether people wanted to stay in the EU or leave it. Were people aware of the degree of political chaos that would ensue? Probably not.
So, the old rules have changed.
There now exists a political vacuum as neither the government nor the opposition appear to have a plan to address it.
The EU are being minimally sympathetic, as in their view, the decision is clear, and they wish to prevent a further spread of uncertainty, which is both the financial markets’ single biggest enemy, as well as the “tremor” that now rocks the very foundations of the EU, quite articulately put by The Guardian.
Clearly, the political class are guilty of substantially underestimating the strength of emotion/opinion of the electorate, which further suggests a lack of understanding on the politicians’ part of their constituents’ wishes. Furthermore, the respective campaigns did not make the political implications sufficiently clear to counteract the emotive arguments….so where to now?
Well, simply put, now – more than ever before – is an “ideal” time to do some really extensive research into the will, and aspirations of the electorate.
Good research has always been an invaluable tool in guiding and assisting key decisions – be they for companies, governments or societies.
A true and comprehensive understanding of the electorates wishes would now be invaluable to both sides of the House – as well as both sides of the Channel – as it would provide evidence-based guidance to all of those who have the responsibility of building the new political architecture within the context of Britain’s referendum’s result.
If I had a voice, I would strongly recommend the establishment of a fully cross-party joint committee to consider the implications of the referendum, to conduct a wide-ranging piece of social research, and from there, to build possible strategies to follow through on the referendum, and even, to formulate possible negotiation strategies (for both sides) on implementing Brexit. Research has always been the cornerstone of informed decisions – so why not now ?
Finn Raben is ESOMAR Director General.
By Finn Raben
This morning’s news that the people of Britain had voted to leave the EU, has ensured that June 23rd will be an historic day in the annals of the EU…whether it will be regarded as a “good” day or a “bad” day for either Britain or the EU, will only become apparent during the next two years.
That said, I suspect that the euphoria expressed by the winning side will soon dissipate as the true complexity of dealing with the outcome becomes clearer.
There was a very interesting article published in The Guardian newspaper yesterday, entitled : ‘The UK is now two nations, staring across a political chasm’ – written by John Harris. This article took the position that the story of the referendum was the restive mood of millions in the UK, and that the (in Harris’ words) “disgraceful tricks” of political messaging were not sufficiently counterbalanced by responsible broadcast journalism, leading to emotive themes becoming the predominant communication tactic.
Now that the result is known, the chasm is probably a lot wider, and a lot more complex, than a simple In / Out decision might have inferred….
- Almost half of Britain does not want to leave the EU
– the split of 52% – 48% is by no means an overwhelming majority
- England and Wales voted to Leave the EU
- Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU…
– Will this require a second independence referendum in Scotland ?
– Will the travel, customs and security border need to be reinstated between the 26 counties of the Republic and the 6 counties of the North of Ireland?
– Does this signify the beginning of the end for the Union of Home Nations?
- London voted to remain, much of the North voted to leave…
– is there a capital city syndrome becoming apparent ?
- Most of the House of Commons supported a Remain position;
– Is the current government now out of sync with the electorate?
– Is there a need for a general election?
- The young (under 50) voted to remain in the EU, the older generation to leave….
– Most young people (all over the EU and the world) are pro Europe, so should voters have stood back and remind themselves that the future is about their children and grandchildren, and have trusted in the next generations instincts and vote in a way that best suited their future desires?
- What will happen to British expatriates, living and working in the EU, and their EU counterparts, living and working in the UK ?
- The Brexit vote will put immediate stress on Transatlantic political unity (amid growing tensions with Russia), and will complicate U.S. trade ties, particularly on issues such as TTIP and the Privacy Shield.
- If we assume that the Brexit vote was largely a referendum on elites and immigration, these are the same themes that Republican nominee Donald Trump has put at the center of his bid for the White House –will he seize on these results as a vindication of his position and campaign?
- Right-wing conservatives in the Netherlands and in France are using the result to call for referenda in each of the member states; Russia will be delighted at any sign of weakness in the EU structure, and at any evidence of transatlantic disunity, putting pressure on the EU to “resolve” the situation quickly
The essence of a referendum is that people speak – not the politicians. The British people have now spoken, and the resulting task facing Britain’s government is a daunting one; effect the withdrawal, whilst managing/repairing the rifts that the voting results above have clearly highlighted.
However, an equally daunting challenge now also exists for the European Union; if Britain has reached a point where dissatisfaction with its EU membership has hit breaking point, how long will it be until the next country seeks a similar referendum? The danger is to assume that the EU is “ok”, whereas it is far from it. Reform will be needed on both sides of the European divide, to ensure both entities are “fit for purpose” for the coming years. If this is not recognised, if the political classes do not notice that people are discontent and that they feel they are not being listened to, then politicians play into the hands of populists who leverage emotions and prejudices…so listen, or beware.
Finn Raben is ESOMAR Director General. @Finn01 #esomar