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Gütersloh, 16/10/2007

Before the EU Summit: The Germans, French and British want a “Council of the Wise”

While top politicians remain silent, citizens desire a greater degree of orientation as to Europe's prospects.

House of the EU

Brüssel-Gütersloh, October 16 - a clear majority of the citizens residing in the largest States of Europe support the proposal put forward by the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, to establish a "Council of the Wise", to be made up of prominent persons and to be entrusted with the task of elaborating proposals for the future development of Europe by the year 2009. 

According to a recent survey conducted by the German Bertelsmann foundation in France, Great Britain and Germany, a large majority of those surveyed were in favour of the Sarkozy proposal.  Nearly two out of three of those surveyed were in favour of the proposal, with less than 20% against.  The country most favourably disposed towards the idea was France, having 67% of those in favour, with Germany being 65% in favour and Great Britain registering a majority of 47% in favour with 40% against. 

The favourable majority is clearly apparent across all countries, in almost all age groups, and is consistent across both genders.  Particularly amongst the younger generations in Germany and France was the proposal viewed favourably, with those in favour polling above 70%.  Also in Great Britain, amongst those under 30, the proposal scored favourably for 61% of those surveyed. 

Also in older generations above 50 years of age, 60-70% of French and Germans are in favour of a Council of the Wise.  And also in Great Britain with 48% of the majority of those surveyed.  Solely in a small sub-category of all those surveyed is one able to find a predominant group not in favour.  Fifty percent of British citizens over 60 reject the French proposal, whereby some 37% of this group is still in favour.

For Dominik Hierlemann, European Expert at the Bertelsmann Foundation, a noticeable gap can be observed between the opinions of citizens and the reactions of leading politicians in Brussels and in European capitals.   “European politics would have suffocated Sakozy’s proposal to death.  After the unfortunate discussions surrounding the constitution, there should be an end to debating fundamentals.  But citizens can sense that the EU still needs to work on conceptualizing its future.  The large majorities in favour of such a council point towards the fact that a vestige of European uneasiness remains.”

In a recent study ("spotlight europe", 2007/07) the Bertelsmann Foundation and the Centre for Applied Political Research show what preconditions success for the Council of the Wise would be contingent upon. In addition to its composition and the issues chosen for it to focus on, an important factor would be how citizens and European civil society would be able to participate in its deliberations.  In the most recent history of the European Union groups of experts and thinking committees have been convened in order to impart new impulses at pivotal junctions.   The study draws lessons from this process which can serve ongoing discussions. In this way, a group of experts such as the Council of the Wise should not be set up along the usual political battle lines – this means it would be better without having to take account of such considerations as parity, proportionality and party representation.  

The opinion poll of the Bertelsmann Foundation was carried out at the end of September 2007 and involved representative surveys of 3000 citizens in Germany, France and Great Britain.  


About the Bertelsmann Foundation: The German Bertelsmann Foundation is a non-profit, politically independent foundation, which is dedicated, amongst other things, to the subject of international understanding and which, acting in the capacity of a think-tank offering policy advice, also develops proposals to provide solutions to questions arising in connection with European integration.


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