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The Joint Research Centre’s new report calls for the systematic consideration of values and identities in EU policymaking

The “Values and Identities – a policymaker’s guide” report, a new addition to the JRC’s Enlightenment 2.0 series explains that policymaking can reach better results and decrease political polarisation by paying systematic attention to values and identities.

The report published today addresses the paradox that even though we have ever more scientific evidence to guide policymaking, we see strong and in some places growing disagreements on policy choices and an increasing dislike of opposing groups. To overcome this contradiction, we need to better understand the role of values and identities.

For most of the 20th century, politics in Europe were viewed through the lens of the left-right divide relating to socio-economic interests. Today, individual values, attitudes and identities predict political behaviour better than traditional class affiliations.

Vice-President for Values and Transparency, Věra Jourová said: “To reinforce trust in democracy we need to understand the diversity of personal values of citizens and their identities. The results from a new Eurobarometer – discussed in this comprehensive report – show an overwhelming support for our EU values. However, we also need to understand the full spectrum of values held by EU citizens. This will help reach better policy results and reduce political polarisation. The report suggests innovative ways to reflect the diversity of citizens’ values in the EU’s policymaking.”

Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, Mariya Gabriel said: “This report provides a robust approach about how to link scientific evidence with citizens’ values and identities when discussing public policy. It is important for policy makers to consider citizens’ values and identities, attitudes and behaviours. Knowing and addressing citizens’ concerns will contribute to developing evidence-informed policies.”

Our values and identities influence what we want in life. They also influence how we perceive and believe new evidence and facts. On the issues people care about the most, their own values and views from their social groups automatically colour their views and beliefs in the facts themselves.

The report highlights that policymakers are not exempt from this ‘myside’ bias and that they often are not solely basing policy choices on evidence. The tendency to favour information that confirms one’s preconceptions and convictions is a key challenge to evidence-informed policymaking.

The report underlines the need to recognise that others may simply have different value priorities that can legitimately lead both sides to conclude something different from the same evidence.

To reach better policy results policymakers can learn to be conscious of their own blind spots, and take the values and identities of citizens into account when designing policies. This way policymakers may regain trust in democracy and decrease political polarisation.

Reducing political polarisation is a crucial task. The report notes that polarisation is on a similar level in the EU as in the US. In its extreme form, polarisation can reduce trust in government, increase intolerance, shrink accountability and threaten democracy.

Strong support for EU values across the whole EU

A special Eurobarometer surveyed EU citizens to understand better their values and identities. It also asked EU citizens about how much they agree with EU values enshrined in Art. 2 of the Treaty on European Union.

According to the Eurobarometer results, the vast majority of EU citizens strongly support EU values. Importantly, from the survey results the report concluded that there is no fundamental difference between EU countries in their support for EU values (see the map below).

 

Map of agreement with EU values index by country.

Map of agreement with EU values index by country. Special Eurobarometer 508 on Values and Identities of EU citizens, wave 94.1, 2020


©EU 2021

The EU value most highly supported by citizens is the independence of courts, which is a key element of the rule of law. Over 80% agreed that judges should be independent and that the law should treat everyone equally.

At the same time, EU values are not the only values that are important to citizens. The report highlights that EU values respond less to the values of conservation (preserving group cohesion, order and security) and self-enhancement (seeking pleasure, wealth and esteem), which are also important to many citizens. To avoid further polarisation, EU policymaking could reflect more on these values as well.

The survey also asked respondents about their identity. Family came out on top, followed by nationality. Specifically, 81% identified themselves with their family and 73% with their nationality.  For more see the figure below.

Identification with different groups in the EU. Source: Special Eurobarometer 508 on Values and Identities of EU citizens, wave 94.1, 2020.


©EU 2021

Tools to help policymakers to work with values and identities

The report offers policymakers a toolbox to help them consider the relevant values and identities aspects of their policy work. Three types of tools are proposed:

  • Heightened understanding (e.g. fast-track assessments and surveys)
  • Co-creation (e.g. citizen engagement and deliberative democracy tools)
  • Communication (e.g. values text-mining and values framing)

If values and identities are in opposition in a specific policy, successful resolution may not only focus on the outcome, but also the way it was achieved.

The JRC’s report responds to the need, identified in the recent Better Regulation communication, that to sustain trust in the European Union, EU policies need to take into account and reflect the values and concerns of citizens.

The European Commission is actively seeking feedback from citizens, businesses and stakeholders on its initiatives through public consultations on the EU Have Your Say portal.

Moreover, the Conference on the Future of Europe is a unique and timely opportunity for European citizens to debate on Europe’s challenges and priorities, and citizens are free to raise any issue.

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