Friday, 29 March 2013

Lett the People Speak


A (convoluted?) thought experiment: 

Imagine yourself to be a pro-EU, pro-euro commentator here in the UK. You are crafting a daily series of articles about the eurozone which are being published over the course of a week. Your intention is to accentuate the positive about the EU and the euro and to persuade your largely skeptical readers that things aren't as bad as they think they are in the eurozone, even given recent events in Cyprus. You would obviously want to get the trickier stuff out of the way early on and then end your series on an optimistic note.  

Given that optimistic notes seem hard to come by, where should you end your series? Not in Cyprus, obviously. Not in one of the other economically fraught eurozone nations of South Europe either. Nor in precarious Slovenia, whose economy has fallen back since joining the euro in 2007. Nor should you go to France, what with its increasingly dodgy economy. Even Germany wouldn't be the place to finish, as people outside Germany have concerns about Germany's behaviour in recent years with regards to the eurozone. No, you would have to find some country that is (a) thriving in the eurozone (which is a bit tricky at the moment) or (b) find an EU country presently not in the eurozone that wants to join the eurozone. That latter course of action is clearly the better one, as it shows that there are people who still put their faith in the euro and are deeply optimistic about it. As Latvia is the country that wants to be next to join the euro, that's probably your safest best. You could even go there and talk to its highly enthusiastic prime minister. 

Funnily enough, that's precisely what Today's business reporter Simon Jack has just done (15 minutes into the link, for the next 7 days). His week-long excursion around the capitals of certain eurozone nations ended today with a trip to Latvia and an interview with its highly enthusiastic prime minister, Valdis Dombrovskis. 

As I've been following the Latvian story since looking into Latvian attitudes to the EU in an earlier post for Is?, something leapt out at me from Simon's report. 

Though he certainly didn't hide the fact that Latvia is split over the issue - featuring a couple of "anti" students and a prominent politician calling for a referendum, for example - he did make the surprising statement that
"Public opinion is thought to be fairly evenly split." 
My understanding, however, is that the Latvian public is not fairly evenly split at all. There is in fact a clear majority against adopting the euro. The percentage of "antis" (who want to stick with the lats) is usually quoted as two-thirds, as against a mere one-third of Latvian in favour of the euro. A re-checking of recent media reports confirms that most Latvians are indeed against becoming eurozone members. (Examples can be read herehereherehere, here, herehere and here.) So why did Simon say that the Latvian public is "fairly evenly split"?


Similarly, Simon (pictured above) also said 
"Business leaders are convinced it makes sense."
before interviewing the pro-euro president of the Latvian Chamber of Commerce. 

Well, that depends on what you mean by "business leaders". Again, the opinion polls tell a somewhat different and far less decisive story. Though more business leaders are "pro" rather than "anti", the "pro" camp is not a majority:
41.2% for
35% against
21.6% neutral 
(Source

Simon Jack's report did feature a range of voices. It was not pure propaganda. Still, Simon does appear to have overplayed the support of Latvian business for the move and to have drastically underplayed the extent of public opposition to joining the euro. I'm puzzled as to the reason why. 

That thought experiment was, of course, a way of lulling you into seeing Simon Jack as behaving like a pro-EU, pro-euro reporter. That could either be because he is a pro-EU, pro-euro reporter or because I've fallen victim to confirmation bias again. Those two factual 'glitches', however, do make me suspect the former this time. 

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