Questioning the European Public Sphere, Vol. 19 - 2012, No. 1
This article proposes a conceptual and analytical framework for analysing the ongoing structuring of the European public sphere. It views the public sphere as being in a symbiotic, but non-deterministic relationship with polity forms and diversity accommodations. Operationalising the public sphere as a four-dimensional matrix of governance levels, networks, discourses, and collective actors, which takes into account the aforementioned relationship, it identifies the elements of the public sphere that should be focused on research about the European public sphere and locates the individual articles in this issue of Javnost – The Public within this matrix.
The EU institutions, particularly the European Commission and the European Economic and Social Committee, have encouraged and sponsored the emergence of non-governmental organisations in Brussels. This strategy has been aimed at mobilising the interests of social actors toward the EU and at helping to reduce the EU’s perceived communication deficit. This article first suggests that, when put into practice, this strategy has rather reinforced Europeanisation of social actors. Europeanisation within civil society has been rendered as legitimisation of the European political project and of particular modes of governance. Then, the article proposes an alternative NGO networking model, which stresses the civilising impacts of public spheres instead of the proximity of civil society with political power.
Can transnational public spheres be envisaged for Europe, which, in fact, create accountability – that is, spaces of critical articulations, control mechanisms, and political correctives to the governing levels? Can the political, as a critical force and the willingness to struggle and decide, be re-introduced into the public sphere? In which ways are race/ethnicity, class and gender cleavages being (re)presented and articulated in the public sphere and how do they intersect? In attempting to answer these questions, we aim this article at exploring the potential for a European discursive space pertaining to issues of gender and diversity. The empirical focus is on the views of political parties and social movements that are participating in public debates. Addressing the inclusions and exclusions in the European public sphere at the intersections of gender and racial/ethnic minorities, we look at the shifts in rhetoric, discourses and policies. As a result, we find common discursive patterns on the intersections between ethnicity and gender which, however, can at best be interpreted as a sign of the emergence of broader European public spheres. Only if these debates can be generalised, European public spheres fulfilling the functions of creating accountability and control mechanisms can develop.
This article compares how diversity views affect political parties’ willingness to engage in trans-European deliberation to create trans-European publics. Relying on data collected within the Eurosphere, we investigate the extent to which European diversity frames the issue of integration in the public discourse of political parties in 16 European countries – 14 members of the EU plus Norway and Turkey as non-members. We identify the homogeneity vs. heterogeneity of political party discourses and the consensus or contestation among these discourses. As a result, we find that parties with more inclusive views of diversity are more likely to be active participants in European arenas irrespective of the parties’ government role or ideological background (though limited to mainstream parties). More importantly, the nature of the national public spheres and domestic political competition and cleavages determine whether national publics are willing and able to be more open to transnationalisation efforts.
The mass media are key social actors in the articulation of themes of common concern in the European public space, nowadays. Through mediation of messages, symbols and visions on important issues the media may influence on which themes to dominate the European public sphere. In this article we examine the patterns of media reporting on important EU-related issues, particularly the issues of Construction of the EU and Reform Treaty, in 16 European countries, incl. Turkey. We analyse the EU-related content of 77 print and broadcast media actors by focusing on two dimensions of media reporting: the frequency of reporting and the attitudes manifested by the media actors while reporting on EU-related issues. Our general findings suggest that at the time of data collection (May-October 2008) there was a prevailing country-specific, instead of a unified pattern of media reporting in Europe. Significant interdependencies between the types of state membership (old, new and non-member) and the articulation of both discussed cases, as well as other topics of the EU integration in media are outlined.
Ethno-National, Religious, Ideological and Sexual Diversity: European Elite and Citizen Views Compared
In contexts of multi-level governance, such as we find in the European Union, where elites are more active in the public sphere, it is particularly crucial to assess whether citizens’ views correspond to the views of the elites who claim to represent them. This article compares the views of elites with the views of representative samples of citizens, with a focus on their views on ethno-national, religious and sexual diversity. Findings confirm relationships between elite/citizens views and revealed several rules: Firstly, ethnic and ideological groups which were commonly rejected from neighbourhoods were recognised by elites as relevant for social diversity. Secondly, the most accepted migrant workers by citizens were also viewed as most relevant for social diversity by elites. Finally, sexual diversity manifested a more complex relationship – where gays are most accepted, they are either viewed by elites as highly relevant (Austria, Denmark) or irrelevant for social diversity (Czech Republic, France, Italy, Spain). In countries with high public rejection of gays, LGBT tend to be viewed by elites as very relevant (Turkey, Bulgaria, Estonia). Elite views of relevance push the public to a greater tolerance; public intolerance increases recognition of relevance of marginalised groups.
Are there any trans-border interactions and networking patterns, any common systems of competing political discourses, and/or any common channels, platforms, or arenas of communication or action that can be regarded as the beginnings of a European public sphere? If so, how is this embryonic European public sphere being structured? Based on a comparative analysis of discursive confi gurations and networking patterns of more than 240 civil society organisations in sixteen European countries and eight European civil society networks, this article finds discursive gaps between the views of member state-level and European-level civil society organisations on diversity, the future of the EU polity, and who they see as their legitimate addressees. Networking patterns indicate this gap is not only in discourses but also in interactions. Considering the current segmentation along national lines, this may imply the beginnings of a development toward the emergence of a horizontally and vertically segmented European public sphere.