Earlier this month, Debating Europe looked at Eurobarometer data indicating that the number of citizens who said they trusted the EU has almost halved to just 31% since the start of the crisis. We also published a Gallup / Debating Europe poll suggesting that pessimism has increased radically among Europeans when it comes to questions about the future for young people. Mistrust and pessimism go hand-in-hand, and can make for a volatile social mix.
Trust in politics was also the topic of a recent debate that we partnered with, held by the Paris branch of the German Goethe-Institut, alongside nine other organisations. The live debate took place in Brussels, and was titled “Europe, the politicians and the people – confidence and commitment?”
So, do YOU trust politicians? Do you have confidence in the work they do on your behalf? The typical response, from all these polls and debates, seems to be a resounding ‘No’.
Samo, for example, left us a comment saying:
People are fed up with all the incompetent and corrupt politicians. And, yes, this is an EU-wide problem because the politicians with a vision for a better future are an endangered species on the brink of extinction.
While Sarchis thought that:
Too many politicians have forgotten what their ‘business’ is: to keep things going! Instead, they behave as if they belong to a caste, their positions (inside the ‘political establishment’) are permanent and their ‘raison d’etre’ is to enjoy the perks of power.
Clearly, then, trust in politicians appears to be at a low point. And yet, some of our commenters warned that we should not get carried away and reject politicians completely. There may be a temptation to “sack the lot of them”, but are the alternatives necessarily any better?
Yiannis, for example, argued that voters should take more responsibility for the state of politics today:
People vote and act irrationally. Maybe we deserve the extremists so as to learn the hard way…
Last year, when we spoke to Professor Andrew Moravcsik of Princeton University, he argued that people have never liked politicians, and probably never will. What people care about is results:
People do not judge the legitimacy of political outcomes based on how much they participate; it’s just empirically wrong as political science. They don’t like institutions that are highly participatory, and generally they hate parliaments (even national ones), and elected politicians they hate even more, generally speaking, compared to judges and other things. What they judge is results, so the euro needs to be generating results that people like.
Recently, we interviewed Denis MacShane, a former British Labour Party MP who resigned his position after the Standards and Privileges Committee of the House of Commons found he had paid for research and travel expenses “in the order of £7,500″ between 2005 and 2008 in a misleading manner, through an organisation that he himself controlled. The money was for reimbursement as Tony Blair’s personal envoy to Europe and his other work in Europe as an MP.
However, he was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing by police, and the Standards and Privileges Committee found no evidence he had made any personal gain from his claims. He apologised and paid back the money. Nevertheless, the committee recommended that he be suspended from the House of Commons for 12 months, and in response he resigned as an MP.
As a politician who has felt the glare of public anger, does he feel there is a growing “anti-politics” trend in Europe today?
Very, very much. All over Europe, one sees politicians treated with scorn and contempt and blamed for everything. A Freudian psychoanalyst would call this ‘transference’. Voters think: ‘I’m perfect, and what I do is always right. But those terrible politicians are responsible for all the mistakes in the world.’
It is interesting that in the Second World War, when Britain was defending parliamentary democracy, only 35% of British people thought that politicians were honest and good for the country. So, perhaps that’s just in the nature of politicians; they’re never going to be loved and looked up to with huge respect…
Believe me, in a hundred years’ time – and I hope we still have democratically elected parliaments everywhere in Europe, because the alternative is far, far worse – believe me, in a hundred years’ time, everybody will still think politicians are doing a poor job.
What do YOU think? How can politicians regain YOUR trust? Are there alternatives to the current way of doing politics? Or is the current system the worst possible system, except for all others? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions.