The current crisis as a catalyst for a European public sphere?

  • In a recent blog post, Ronny Patz makes the point that prior to the upcoming European elections there is an ever increasing amount of attention with the media to topics that originate outside the own national sphere and that could be termed European. The concusion he draws from this is rather optimistic:

    In any case, there is no doubt that the amount of pan-European political debate, the amount of coverage of the upcoming European elections and the potential of thematic spillover and synchronisation of national political spheres around highly salient political topics show that there has been a genesis of a European Public Sphere in the past 5 years. This sphere will not go away anymore and it will affect European politics for the years to come.

    As a common public sphere is often seen as a necessary precondition of a further democratization of European politics this seems like a positive development but I would like to add some notes of caution, considering the nature of the Europeanization of the public sphere and the topics that it covers:

    First, we have to remember that all the examples Ronny Patz talks about are not really examples of the emergence of a common European public sphere but rather of a Europeanization of national public spheres - European level topics discussed through a national lense ((Trenz, H.-J. (2004). Media Coverage on European Governance: Exploring the European Public Sphere in National Quality Newspapers. European Journal of Communication, 19(3), 291–319. doi:10.1177/0267323104045257)).

    Second, the way those topics are discussed is not (yet?) based on a spirit of “We have a common problem, how do we solve it” but rather one of “They could pose a problem to us”, framing European integration as a danger to national prosperity, understanding other Europeans as a threat.

    Third, there is the point that even an emerging European public sphere might not even lead to a further democratization of European Union institutions, as one could argue that those seem more and more removed from general public discourse, as, for example, Wolfgang Streeck does ((Streeck, W. (2013). Gekaufte Zeit: Die vertagte Krise des demokratischen Kapitalismus. Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp)).

    Thus, while I share the interpretation that something is going on in the public spheres of Europe that has something to do with European integration, I am not so sure about its implications in terms of democratization…

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