The Transformation of Political Mobilisation and Communication in European Public Spheres (EUROPUB)
Theoretical background and objectives
This project is rooted in the problematic of the Europeanisation of governance structures, on the one hand, and increasing popular scepticism about European integration, on the other – a problematic often denoted as the EU's 'democratic deficit'. Too little and too negative media attention for European institutions and issues is often seen as an important cause of popular disenchantment with European integration – i.e., the democratic deficit is often seen as a 'public sphere deficit'. The first aim of the project is to investigate whether these claims about Europe's representation in the media are accurate. Second, we want to explain temporal, cross-national, and cross-issue differences in degrees and forms of Europeanisation of public debates. We do so by taking an opportunity structure perspective that predicts that the characteristics of public debates will reflect temporal shifts and issue differences in the distribution of competencies between national and European governance levels, and will cross-nationally reflect the depth of involvement of a country in European integration. Theoretically, the project has had an important impact on studies in this field by introducing the distinction between horizontal, vertical and supranational forms of Europeanisation of public spheres. The study covers the time period 1990–2003 and focuses on general debates on European integration (polity issues) as well as six selected policy domains: monetary politics, agriculture, immigration, military troop deployment, pensions/retirement, and education. In addition, we analyse how Europeanisation of public debates affects the discursive influence of various categories of actors, e.g. governments, parliaments and parties, NGOs and social movements, and supranational, national and regional actors. We assume that shifts of political authority to the European level will affect the opportunities of some categories of actors positively, while other actors find it more difficult to get their voices heard in Europeanised debates. In that sense, European integration not only entails shifts of authority between the national and the supranational but also the differential (dis-) empowerment of national actors.
Research design, data and methodology
The project combines a variety of data sources, including content analytic data from 28 European newspapers, including both more than 20 000 claims by a variety of non-media actors, and newspaper editorials. In addition, the study includes extensive analyses of search engine results and hyperlink networks to investigate to what extent we find differently Europeanised and inclusive structures of political communication in the online public sphere compared to the traditional print media. Further, hundreds of structured interviews were conducted with media professionals and representatives of various categories of collective actors.
In line with political opportunity structure theory we find that public debates closely mirror the way in which authority is shared and distributed between European and national levels of governance. Because "Europe" receives much and increasing media attention where it is important, and because media in their own claims (e.g., editorials) raise European issues more frequently than other actors do, we find no evidence that there is a lack of media attention for the European Union. Moreover, we find that public debates are not overly negative about European integration. To the contrary, most categories of actors – including the media – are generally supportive of European integration and even though European institutions are often criticised they are mostly seen less negatively than national institutions and actors are. However, degrees of support or opposition to European integration and European institutions vary importantly across collective actors. This is linked to an extremely unequal representation of various categories of collective actors in Europeanised debates, which are very strongly dominated – much more so than debates with a national frame of reference – by core executive actors from the European (the Commission and Council) and national levels. These executive actors also turn out to be the staunchest proponents of European integration in public debates. Thus, the shifts in political opportunity structures that have occurred because of European integration privilege executive actors both in decision-making processes, and in the public debates surrounding them. These conclusions are confirmed by the analyses of the structure of political communication on the Internet and by the interviews with collective actors.
Please note: the project has delivered a great number of publications, including six dissertations, of which only those that involved MIT researchers and appeared since 2007 were listed above.
Koopmans, Ruud (2010): "Vertical and Horizontal Dimensions of Europeanised Political Communication". Keynote lecture, conference on "Reflections on the Europeanisation of the Public Sphere: The Turkish Case", Yaşar University, Izmir, Turkey (08.11.2010).
Koopmans, Ruud (2010): "The Europeanisation of Public Spheres: Comparisons Across Issues, Time, and Countries". UACES Annual Conference, College of Europe, Bruges, Belgium (06.09.2010).
Koopmans, Ruud (2009): "Winners and Losers of Europeanisation - How European Integration Strenghtens the Influence of National Governments in Public Debates". Presentation at the Freie Universität Berlin (22.06.2009) and at the conference "Europa auf dem Prüfstand: Demokratie, Öffentlichkeits- und Identitätsdefizit der EU", University of Zurich, Switzerland (12.02.2009).