Most Europeans believe the European Union is strongly influenced by business, while NGOs are seen as having considerably less influence, according to a new study conducted by Penn Schoen & Berland, the research unit of Burson-Marsteller, on behalf of European Voice. The survey also found enthusiasm among Europeans for greater involvement in environmental and food safety issues.

Among the key findings:
• 79 percent of respondents believe the EU is strongly influenced by business, while NGOs are seen as less influential.
• More people believe the EU should be involved in areas such as the environment (86 percent), food safety (82 percent), energy (78 percent), trade (73 percent), health (72 percent), immigration and foreign affairs than do competition policy (54 percent), tax (49 percent) and culture (47 percent).
• People trust the EU more than their own governments (37 percent trust the EU, 22 percent their own government). This is more so in the new member states (49 percent-11 percent).
• While 56 percent of those polled believe EU membership has had a positive effect on their country only 37 percent believe it has had this effect on them personally.
• 82 percent believe that the EU institutions communicate poorly with them.
• 68 percent of respondents believe the European Parliament should have just one seat, and 76 percent of those believe that seat should be in Brussels.

According to Dana Spinant, editor of European Voice: “The survey shows that people feel they are poorly informed about the EU; they do not understand the way it works; and they talk about it less often than they talk about national or local issues. They also feel that business has a stronger influence over EU decision-making than NGOs—but they don’t trust businesses and they do trust NGOs. This combination is a potential source of popular dissatisfaction with the EU.”

Mark Penn, president and founder of PSB and global CEO of Burson-Marsteller, adds: “The survey shows that the majority of EU citizens see themselves as pro-European but that the benefits of EU membership are not clear enough. This is particularly a problem with citizens from the first 15 member states. However, it also indicates an opportunity to convince some groups—like women with children—who typically are not hostile to the EU but at present believe it is not relevant to their lives.

“To better engage with such citizens, the data shows that the EU needs to transform itself into a body which is seen as open and transparent about its workings, with an agenda of policies which reflect the priorities of its people and where the benefits that EU membership brings are clear.”