Anna Elena Maria Ferrari
There is little doubt that the dream of the full realization of the European project passes through the creation of an European public sphere. Information, in this regard, is key to foster a sense of European belonging. The question is then: how much European do the citizens of the EU member States feel? Are they used to think and receive information perceiving themselves as a whole European community? The answers coming from the studies on the European public sphere cast many doubts on the existence of a sound and relevant European public sphere.
A paper released in 2015 by Silke Adam, from the University of Bern, defines public sphere as the link between politicians and citizens, to whose development the media can contribute. The author acknowledges that the national public opinion is more Europeanized nowadays, but this statement is mostly valid for elites. Moreover, the level of this process is not uniform among EU members, because it is influenced by both internal and external factors, such as type of media, EU institutional design and specific events.
According to a study conducted by researchers Michael Brüggeman and Hagen Schulz-Forberg in 2009, the audience of transnational media in Europe is small, but influential. The question is whether and how they could help to cover the distance between the EU institutions and the EU citizens and to create a European public sphere that goes beyond national borders and that consists in a network of forums. An European public sphere in fact can have two dimensions: on one hand, the Europeanisation of national media; on the other hand, the establishment of transnational media.
Regarding the situation of the first dimension, national media increased along the years the attention given to the EU institutions.
For what concerns the second dimension, instead, Brüggeman and Schulz-Forberg listed the pan-regional media as the type of transnational media that could contribute the most to a European public sphere. One of the given examples in the study is euronews, considered the most ambitious broadcasting project among them. euronews has had an increasing audience and nowadays, according to euronews website, it broadcasts in thirteen different languages, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, reaching 400 million households in 155 countries. In the past years had been heavily subsidized by the European Commission, nowadays it belongs to at least 22 shareholders, among which there are public broadcasters of a number of EU member States, but also countries such as Russia and Algeria. Other examples of EU focused media outlet are Politico, EuroActiv.com, EU Trade Insights.
Websites based on discussions on European issues, like Café Babel and EuroActiv.com are praised by Brüggeman and Schulz-Forberg, but they are at the same time considered not very spread among mass audiences. The ability of reaching out for the broader European public is still modest and the language seems still to be a huge limitation, as the audience largely prefers to receive news in native language. Therefore also Brüggeman and Schulz-Forberg doubted about the existence of a European public sphere.
Another potential resource to create an European public sphere are social media. In 2015, researchers Jacob Groshek and Ahmed Al-Rawi published an analysis on the online protests against austerity measures during the EU economic crisis. The starting point of their research was that, since the movements were transnational, a European public sphere came alive in those days. They focused on Twitter using the key words “austerity”, “euro” and “crisis” from the last two months of 2012. Their findings did not show a very densely interconnected flow of information, however they concluded that the use of these emerging media contexts is important for the sustainability of protest in pan-national social movements.
Another way to look at the problem is to take a step back from the mere media tools and to focus on the political situation. According to Jürgen Habermas, in his 2011 essay ‘Why Europe needs a Constitution’, the lack of transparency and civic participation in decision-making – the so called ‘democratic deficit’ of the European institutions- is cause of distrust among different states. While the euroskeptics often sustain that a European people does not exist yet, Habermas acknowledged that, historically, in the formation of the present nations, mass communication was a key element in the creation of national consciousness. He showed belief in the concept of civic nation, which is the decision to create a sense of solidarity among strangers, and underlined the importance of political inclusion in order to win the currently hesitant or reluctant part of the population to the European project.
In conclusion, nowadays challenges related to immigration and globalization call for a common European solution, but a wide European public sphere can be built only by creating an identity beyond borders. It would contribute to solve the deficit of democracy, because it would represent a network that gives citizens of all the member States the opportunity to be part of the political process. So far, some media outlets are contributing to this result, but overall, the audience is still national bounded. Much more work needs to be done, both on the side of transparency in democratic political processes in the European institutions and on the side of the media.
Adam, S. (2015). European public sphere. In Mazzoleni et al (eds) International
Encyclopedia of political communication. New York: Wiley.
Brüggemann, M. and H. Schulz-Forberg (2009). Becoming Pan-European? Transnational
Media and the European Public Sphere. The International Commnication Gazette 71(8):
Groshek, J. & Al-Rawi, A. (2015). Anti-austerity in the euro crisis: modeling protest with
online mobile media usage, users and content. International Journal of Communication
Habermas, J. (2001).Why Does Europe Need a Constitution? New Left Review 11
Anna Elena Maria Ferrari
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The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of the author, and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of ALDA and the European Union.