Project design

Based on a wide-range of multidisciplinary research and monitoring methods, this project is designed around four major objectives:

  • Monitoring the EU images in the daily coverage of the most popular prestigious national newspapers, prime time television news bulletins, and relevant Internet sites. (Media Analysis below)
  • Surveying public opinion on the EU (Public Opinion Analysis below)
  • Detecting view and attitudes on the EU among national political, business, civil society and media policy- and decision-makers (Elite Opinion Analysis below)
  • Producing policy-recommendations for the EU and external stakeholders

All activities outlined are replicated in each respective country.  They reach a great number of students, researchers, and stakeholders and occur within the same time frame for each sub-project. Projects involve both young researchers in the beginning of their academic career and experienced noted scholars from different disciplines. Close cooperation and research synergy across borders are among major achievements of the project.  

The results of study have been presented at international conferences and in scientific publications. Results have also been presented to the EC Delegations in the Asia-Pacific region.  Project finds have been also incorporated into teaching activities of the NCRE and reported in regional media.

The scope of the research encompasses perspectives on the priority topics -- the EU and dialogue between peoples and cultures and Europe’s Changing Role in the World. External images and perceptions of the EU are studied in relation to key areas of EU global involvement, specifically: the EU’s international political influence, economic relations (including agriculture), environment, regulatory regimes, security, society and developmental aid.

Taking into account a complexity of the research subject, the nature of the project "External Perceptions of the EU" is multidisciplinary -- it consolidates trans-national experts and expertise in political science, European integration studies, social studies, media studies, journalism, image studies, cognitive linguistics and critical discourse analysis.  Consequently, multiple methodologies (from content analysis to survey and in-depth interviewing techniques) are employed.

The project’s ultimate goal is to produce scientific data and a comprehensive analysis that will contribute to the policyformulation on how best to raise the international profile of the EU and how to enhance the understanding of Europe’s interactions and interrelations with the leading global players. 

The comparative approach is claimed to "open up new and rather exciting subjects for investigation." [1] One of the advantages of the study is the opportunity to compare external perceptions of the EU across the places and across the time, featuring comparisons between "similar" (e.g. perceptions of the Union in Australia vs. New Zealand, or Japan vs. South Korea, or Fiji vs. Cook Islands, or Thai in 2004 and in 2006), as well as well as "dissimilar" (e.g. Pacific perceptions and images of he EU vs. Asian; North East Asian vs. South East Asian; Australasian vs. Pacific, etc.)

To guarantee the quality of comparative international communication research, the project meets the requirements of validity and reliability, summarized in Chang et al., 2001. [2] The project design is:

  • prioritizing the theory,
  • ensuring vigorous sampling procedures
  • clearly identifying parameters of comparison
  • and recognizing a dual nature of international communication (a process and a product).

The methodology is deductive in its nature -- the determinants for analysis have been formulated and tested in advance during the course of the project. 

[1] P. Lazarsfeld, ‘The Prognosis for International Communications Research’, in H.-D. Fischer and J. C. Merrill (eds), International and Intercultural Communication (New York: Hastings House, 1976), p.487. 

[2] Chang, Tsan-Kuo,  Pat Berg, Anthony Ying-Him Fung, Kent D. Kedl, Catherine A. Luther and Janet Szuba, (2001), ‘Comparing Nations in Mass Communication Research, 1970–97: A Critical Assessment of How We Know What We Know’, Gazette 63, no. 5, pp. 415–434.

"…the world consists of individual and national actors, and since it is axiomatic that action is cased on the actor’s image of reality, international action will be based on the images of international reality.  This image is not shaped by the news media… alone; personal relations abroad, diplomatic dispatches, etc., count too – whether less, equally, or more, we do not know.  But the regularity, ubiquity and perseverance of news media will in any case make them first-rate competitors for the number one position as international image-former…"[3]

Communication scholars are still debating the influence the media have on public opinion, but one thing is agreed upon: the media has a stronger impact in setting the public agenda in the area of foreign policy. In the political arena of foreign policy people have less first hand experiences with foreign policy issues than with domestic ones. Moreover, foreign issues tend to be less engaging and more complex to enter everyday communication between family, friends, neighbours, and co-workers. In this perspective, people are highly dependent upon the news media for information, and media representations of a foreign actor are viewed as a significant contribution into informing and educating the citizenship in order to participate in the domestic debate on foreign policy.  In recent years, observers have also begun to attribute to the news media new and autonomous capacity to influence the formulation and conduct of foreign policy. According to Peña [4], it is likely that the media have the potential to lead towards the modification of the policies being conducted regarding the events covered.

Studying news media is necessarily complex and requires diverse, eclectic methods [5].Media content analysis employed in the project is based on a two-fold approach -- first, the analysis of manifested, surface, extensive characteristics of an issue coverage, or formal characteristics; and, second, the analysis of the latent, in-depth, intensive mechanisms of image formation, or substantive features. A dual aspect of news -- news as a product and news as a process – was accounted as well.

[3] Galtung, Johan and Mari Holmboe Ruge, “The Structure of Foreign News”, Journal of Peace Research, 1965, Vol. 2, No.1, 64-91, p.64.

[4] Peña, Mónica,News media and the foreign policy decision-making process, CNN or Washington in Razón y Palabra, N 32, Abril - Mayo 2003

[5] Cook, Timothy, Governing with the News: The News Media as a Political Institution, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1998.

"If the European Union is serious about taking a greater role in the world affairs it will require a public diplomacy capability to match.  … For the Union to prosper it must project a positive image of itself to opinion formers and to the ‘man in the street’ both within and beyond its borders." [6]

Even though foreign policy execution is usually a prerogative of national elites,[7] in the formation of the EU’s nascent public diplomacy, an understanding of external public opinion is important.[8]   Account for the international public opinion on the EU in this project is argued to be an overlooked, yet a valid contribution to the debate on the EU’s growing foreign actorness and its emergent public policy. Respectively, the project design includes national surveys of public opinion over the course of the project in each location, providing a unique longitudinal perspective to the public opinion on the EU outside the Union.

Depending on the level of computer literacy and Internet usage in each location, the sub-projects are using either of two methodological tools: CATI telephone or Internet panel surveys. Preferred sample is 1,000 respondents for each location (margin of error ±3.1%). Yet, with a view to budget optimization, sometimes samples include 400 people (margin of error ±4.9%).

The questionnaires include 23-25 questions (depending on the goals of the sub-project) and feature 5 or 6 open-ended questions. 8 questions deal with gauging information regarding the demographic profile of the respondents. 

The survey of the public opinion keeps up with the best practices of the Asia-Pacific previous research of the EU’s external perceptions, namely, its questionnaire design connects together media, elites and public components in order to endure a more comprehensive study of the EU’s external images and perceptions. 

Categories of Public Opinion Analysis

  • Comparative importance of the EU (in the present and in the future)
  • The state of relationship with the EU
  • EU issues and actions perceived to impact an external location
  • Spontaneous images of the EU
  • Personal and professional contacts with the EU
  • Sources of information on the EU
  • Perceived ways to enhance international presence and relevance of the EU

[6] Twigg as cited in P. de Gouiveia and H. Plumridge European Infopolitik: Developing EU Pubic Strategy (London: Foreign Policy Centre, 2005). VI.

[7] C. Moisy, ‘Myths of the global information village’ (1997) 107 Foreign Policy 

[8] P. de Gouiveia and H. Plumridge European Infopolitik: Developing EU Pubic Strategy (London: Foreign Policy Centre, 2005).

“The rationale for including élite images among the inputs of a foreign policy system is a simple truth: decision makers act in accordance with their perception of reality, not in response to reality itself. […] In any event, all decision-makers may be said to possess a set of images and to be governed by them in their response to foreign policy problems. Indeed, élite images are no less “real” than the reality of their environment and are much more relevant to an analysis of the foreign policy flow." [9]

Elite perceptions and attitudes of foreign counterparts (including the EU) are believed to one of the key inputs into a foreign policy system. Correspondingly, the identification of the patterns of foreign actors’ perceptions at the ‘elite’ level was to enhance the understanding of the conduct of foreign policy towards the EU by the Asia-Pacific countries, as well as the EU’s reactions (on an policy-making level) to the external images of the Union identified in the external regions in the course of this project.

Sampling strategy for the elite interviews included a random selection of the key informants across the country and across the various cohorts. The interviews take place in political and economic centers of each individual location.  The analysis involved comparison between perceptions of the EU expressed by elites in business, political, civil society and media sectors:

  • 'Political elites' are identified as primary political actors, with a primary focus on current members of national parliaments representing different parties and a secondary focus on government officials and servants.
  • 'Business elites' were identified as members of national business round tables, Chambers of Commerce, and other official business networks, and leading exporters to the EU.
  • 'Civil society elite' were identified as representatives of various non-government organizations and non-state-actors (both of international and local status)
  • 'Media elites' were identified as international, political and business editors, editors-in-chief, television news broadcast producers and both key locally- and Europe-based correspondents of the media outlets that were established as the national leaders in the EU coverage.

A target of 40 interviews (with a minimum of 32) in each location is sufficient to obtain reliable representative views. The size and profile of the sample and the kind of data contemplated reinforced the choice of a data collection strategy, namely individual in-depth face-to-face semi-structured on-record interviews. This technique was argued to be a more personal, flexible, and respective of respondents’ privacy and status approach. Each interview lasts 45 minutes on average.

[9] Brecher, Michael (1968) India and World Politics: Krishna Menon’s View of the World. New York and Washington: Frederick A. Praeger, Publishers, p.298.