Why you should never answer the question ‘do you trust the EU’, and what you should know if you hear others answering it
In the run up to the European Elections there has been some media attention to the public’s trust in the EU – which is reportedly falling. Polls show that apparently people do not trust the EU. While there are many legitimate concerns about the relation of the EU and its citizens, there are likewise many legitimate concerns over such polls. To sum them up: the polls ask that indeterminate and thus meaningless question trust as such. They do not specify what it is that I am supposed to trust the EU with (or not), and thus inquire after an attitude without an object.
by Eljalill Tauschinsky
The EU Barometer polls levels of trust in the EU routinely by asking: ‘For each of the following institutions, please tell me if you trust or tend not to trust it.’ Apparently this is a rather standard way of asking the question, although there could be some variation in terms or translations, such as replacing ‘trust’ by ‘confidence’- but let’s stay with trust for the moment.
The problems with this question is, that is does not actually make sense, trust does not work in this way. Actually there is hardly such a thing as universal trust, instead you trust a person with certain things and not with others (there is a great talk by the Cambridge Philosopher Onara O’Neill about exactly this). Even my small daughter at the age of three, who looks up to her daddy with that clear eyed admiration that little children are capable of, knows that trust has boundaries – and that she goes to Mummy if she wants her hair to look nice. So, does she trust her daddy? Well, it would certainly not be true to say that she does not trust her daddy. She trust him with many things that are very important to her. Just not with her hair.