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…

2 Kommentare

  • Thanks for covering this!

    I just wanted add that I myself did not make a strong case that the recent changes will lead to a democraticisation as such, I only argued that the phenomena observed could indicate that (pre-)electoral discussions ahead of the 2014 EU vote could, unlike in 2009, actually turn around at least a limited set of topics that are common to all spheres.

    The concept behind the claim that there would the genesis of a European Public Sphere is implicitly based on the concepts of horizontal Europeanisation (national media covers what happens in other EU countries) and vertical Europeanisation (more coverage of EU-issues) as discussed by Brüggemann &
    Kleinen von Königslöw (2007)
    . Of the 4 dimenstion of Europeanisation of the public sphere proposed by Brüggemann et al. (2006) – “monitoring governance, mutual observation, discursive exchange, and collective identification” – at least the first 3 can be found in the examples I put forward in my blog post.

    But I readily admit 🙂 that (a) these are just a few selective cases, (b) a fully-fledge European Public Sphere (whatever this is) still has way to go and (c) this does indeed not necessarily lead to democratisation, not least because awareness about common issues does not necessarily meets transnational or supranational democratic influence structures that can be used by all of us to react to those issues.

    • Thank you very much for your comment, Ron. I know it was not your point to emphasize the democatizing power of those public discussions but other people make this point quite often. The interesting thing is, that the four dimension you mention do not refer to the nature and the sentiment of the public discussion and the emergence of a European public sphere that is characterized by mutual animosities, fear and stereotypes can harm the European integration process as positive and constructive discussion can strengthen it.

      In his book “Das deutsche Europa” Ulrich Beck distinguishes between the ‘logic of war’ and the ‘logic of crisis’; the former driven by fear of an other that one has to defend oneself from and the latter driven by the mutual understanding that something constitutes a common crisis that can only be solved cooperatively. While both could bring forward “mon­i­tor­ing gov­er­nance, mutual obser­va­tion, dis­cur­sive exchange” they engender completely different integration dynamics.

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