chapter  1
The Significance of the European Social Survey
ByMICHAEL J. BREEN
Pages 14

In 1988, the Standing Committee for the Social Sciences of the European Science Foundation took stock of social science datasets in Europe. They recognised that an analysis of existing datasets was required if the proposed project, Belief in Government, was to be successful, as the span was 40 years and the core questions were centred on European citizens’ political orientations. It rapidly became apparent that there was no standalone dataset that provided the basis for crossnational comparisons on a time-series basis. The Eurobarometer, which started in 1973, had a very distinct orientation toward service of the European Union (EU) constituent elements and the needs of various EU bodies. The International Social Survey Program has run annually since 1984, involving, at one stage or another, some 53 nations across the globe. But neither the Eurobarometer nor the International Social Survey Program, valuable as they are, could meet the requirements envisaged by the Standing Committee for the Social Sciences in terms of a pan-European, ongoing, stable time-series survey infrastructure. In time-honoured European tradition, a committee was formed. But this was no talking shop.

Social scientists in Europe were swift to grasp the possibility being explored. The small committee, chaired by Max Kaase, recommended that the European Social Survey project be pursued. To this end, two further committees with distinct objective were formed: a Steering Committee to be chaired by Max Kaase, and a Methodology Committee to be chaired by Roger Jowell, with a simple objective: to establish the European Social Survey as a pan-European project, which would be rigorous, replicable, and reputable as a framework within which the attitudes, behaviours, opinions, values, and beliefs of Europe’s citizens would be analysed and better understood. Both committee membership lists read like a roll of honour for European social scientists. This was serious work, undertaken by luminaries in the field. Full membership lists are given in the endnotes in this chapter.1,2 Ultimately, the fruit of the committees’ work was the presentation of a joint proposal entitled “The European Social Survey (ESS) – a research instrument for the social sciences in Europe.”