Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

Is there now a European Public Sphere?

The lack of a clear public sphere or demos across the EU has long been used as a stick to beat down any suggestion that there could one day be proper pan-European democracy, as well as to decry the EU’s supposed lack of legitimacy. (Here’s an article on the EU demos from 2005, and one on the public sphere from me from 2007.)

However, while the eurocrisis of the last few years has certainly led to a rise in euroscepticism and eurosceptic parties across the EU, the always insightful Ronny Patz rightly points out that a side-effect has been a rise in pan-European debate about issues (notably the economy and migration) which now few can deny have cross-border implications:

“It’s been mostly discussed that the crisis will strengthen Eurosceptic parties, but these discussions show that we may be heading into what could become a pan-European debate about persons and about policies, in which traditional and new forces participate alike.”

In my books, that can only be a good thing. Yes – even if it means more eurosceptics, because I’ve argued many times that vocal euroscepticism and strong criticism is essential if the EU is ever going to have any hope of being a success.

This debate may have often been couched in terms of resentment that such things are cross-border rather than simply national concerns, but not always – and the acknowledgement of this is in itself significant for an organisation that in large part exists due to the recognition that some issues are bigger than nations. First step, denial; second step, resentment; third step, acceptance; fourth step, constructive engagement to try and make things better, rather than merely bitching about it?


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  7. As far as I can see the original, fundamental criticisms on the “demos” issue have never been addressed. See vintage 1962 De Gaulle (full quotes here:
    “Are the French people, the German people, the Italian people, the Dutch people, the Belgian people, the Luxembourgish people, ready to submit to laws voted by foreign MPs? If those laws went against their deep will? But, it is not true. There is no way today to ensure that a majority could coerce a foreign majority, could coerce a recalcitrant nation.”

    Or Philippe Séguin:
    “[F]or there to be a democracy there must be a feeling of community belonging strong enough that the minority accepts the law of the majority! And the nation is precisely that by which this feeling exists. But a nation cannot be invented, nor decreed, any more than can sovereignty.”

    A nation, born of centuries of history and culture, is not such a common thing! Just look around the world where ethnic, “tribal” or religious warfare is the norm to see how precious a good nationhood is.

    The crisis has shown just to what extent these original criticisms were valid. There may be enough “community feeling” to regulate on obscure (or even not-so-obscure) market issues. There is definitely not enough community feeling at all on any distributional issue: Germans in particular are intensely hostile to their macroeconomic policy being dictated by a foreign majority and all EU nations are hostile to seeing their tax-money given away to foreigners. This is also why multinational unions like Canada and Belgium seem to be in perpetual disintegration.

    This inability to coerce nations is very often seen: unenforced deficit limits, Italy/Denmark/France contesting Schengen, Germany siding with China on solar panels and contesting EU criticism of its energy subsidies.. The EU, unlike the American Feds, has no army to enforce its policy. At best you get the connivance of national elites submitting to EU ones, at worst you get economic blackmail by the ECB, as it now holds a regalian core-State power..

    The crisis may have made us more aware of the goings-on in Southern economics or German constitutional law, but there has been no European solidarity, virtually no “European” debate among citizens, only (interpretations of) national interests. I see no solution beside break-up or so-called “muddling through” by accepting decades-long economic dysfunction and mass unemployment.

    I’m pretty optimistic about the non-euro EU though, assuming the euro doesn’t tank the whole thing. Outside of the UK everyone seems to be basically OK with the setup, budgets largely remaining national, EU law mandating economic borderlessness (“neoliberalism”), and some regulation via QMV (recently seen on medical devices, tobacco and banker pay).

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  9. There’s been a rise, certainly, but it’s from a very small base, isn’t it?

    After all, from 1% to 2% is a 100% increase … but still very small.

    Of course, we don’t know, because we have absolutely no measurements of this. Hence the idea of having a sort of ‘Bloggingportal Index’ to measure the health of the EU online public sphere by crunching various numbers in the Bloggingportal database. It’s in the specs for the reboot … but classified as a ‘Nice to Have’.

  10. Pingback: The current crisis as a catalyst for a European public sphere? | Nils Müller