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The Emergence of the European Public Sphere?, Vol. 8 - 2001, No. 1

Problems with a European Public Sphere: An Introduction

, , pages: 5-20

This introduction discusses some of the problems of applying the concept of the public sphere to the current situation in the European Union. The EU is a body that is beginning to have many of the features that were historically associated with states, and therefore the issues of openness to public scrutiny that occasioned the birth of the classical public sphere begin to become important in this new context. The citizens of the EU gain their information mostly from the mass media, but these remain predominantly organised along the lines of the constituent states of the Union, rather than on any genuinely transnational basis. This means that there is always a tension between the discussion of issues as European issues and their discussion as issues of national interest within Europe. The concept of a public sphere is a much-contested one, and it is important to determine whether it is the correct starting point for considering the openness of political processes in the EU. The introduction reviews some of the issues, and concludes that it seems very difficult to hold on to some of the strong formulations that are associated with the category. On the other hand, the idea of the public sphere in its more radical formulation illuminates very clearly some of the issues of the practice of democratic political life that are currently absent from, and urgently needed by, the European Union. Modified to take account of what is now known about the reality of public life, and linked more closely to concepts of social and political action, the concept can provide a useful starting point for further enquiry.

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