Tuesday

12th Nov 2019

Opinion

Looking on the bright side of the euro crisis

  • The crisis has prompted a real European debate in which the controversial and strong views of real people are expressed (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

As the European Parliament elections approach many cite the lack of a European public sphere as the reason for the disinterest in European politics and the inevitable low voters’ turnout.

But is this really so? Or is the pretence of a non-existent European democracy just an excuse for national politicians to keep the nationally focused political system alive?

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

A certain European public sphere already exists. It exists in the networks of culture, art, sports, movies, pop music, fashion and, of course, the economy - often already as part of a global public sphere.

Just think of the Champions League, the Eurovision Song Contest, the Venice Biennale, the Berlin International Film Festival, the Milan fashion show, all the everyday economic and trade relations, European company mergers, European civil society networks and millions of people travelling to and living in other European countries.

But beyond all this, we are currently living through a golden age in the development of a European public sphere. The main reason for this is the euro crisis, accompanied by fundamental doubts about the European idea. Europe is suffering from a severe identity crisis.

But no matter how difficult and messy the crisis management has been (and the crisis is far from over) it has also had a positive side-effect.

The crisis was a catalyst for the development of a European public sphere in the sense meant by German philosopher Jürgen Habermas - communication flows that are filtered, synthesised and condensed into specifically-themed public opinion.

The crisis has affected most of Europe at about the same time and, by sharing one currency union, the eurozone member states have been forced to find common, often painful, solutions.

This also means that the same issues are being discussed across Europe at the same time, and so communication flows are synthesised and public opinion formed on topics such as austerity, youth unemployment, tax avoidance, savings banks and data surveillance.

This is not a cosy public sphere. But these are real debates in which the controversial and strong views of real people are expressed, rather than merely propaganda for or against Europe.

Media and technology

Granted, these issues are still mainly discussed in national media and languages, but the agenda-setting and the reasoning run in parallel and, depending on the political orientation, are also similar and coordinated.

We should welcome these national debates about European politics as an intermediate step to the development of a supranational European public sphere.

In addition to the euro crisis, there are two other catalysts that promote a European public sphere: the revolution of the media industry, and new technologies.

Old and new media companies are looking for and testing new business models to earn money with media content in the digital age. This includes pay walls, new forms of online and mobile advertising, data harvesting and the curation of user-generated content.

And, in turn, the extension of geographical markets is considered a serious economic option to increase revenues by expanding readership, not least because printing and distribution costs are marginal in the digital age.

This is reinforced by social media such as Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Reddit, which already now function as supra national platforms, and thus are a natural breeding ground for a European, and even global, public sphere.

The quest to exploit the European media market can thus become another catalyst for the development of a European demos.

So far, attempts to establish European media products have been hampered in the first place because there are obvious language barriers.

English works as a media language only for a small group of media consumers. The language problem could, however, become increasingly irrelevant in just a few years as new technologies make instant quality translation of media content possible.

With the rapid further improvement of translation technologies, it may soon be possible to read the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" directly in Spanish, or the "Guardian" in French. Or new European media could be established, designed as pan-European, and curated and marketed online as well as in the language of the reader.

The upheaval in the media landscape and new technologies could bring about the establishment of European media formats that synthesise topic-specific bundled European public opinions.

For media and technology, one can be optimistic that the market, and technological creativity, will prevail.

But we also need genuine European politics which both requires and produces a European demos.

The writer is Director of the Mercator Centre Berlin and Director of Strategy of Stiftung Mercator. He is also a founding member of the European Council on Foreign Relations

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

EU warns Switzerland after anti-migrant vote

Swiss voters have backed a call to cap migration from EU countries - a move which could trigger the exclusion of the Alpine country from the EU internal market.

Magazine

The rise of anti-EU parties and the crisis of confidence

There was relative economic calm in 2013 after the euro's existential crisis of the previous year, but a different type of crisis started to emerge: rising anti-EU sentiment and collapsing political confidence.

Israeli labelling ruling lets consumers make choice

Beyond the Israel-specific dimension of this decision, the EU court places ethics back at the heart of European consumer choices and reminds us that our daily, mundane purchases may have considerable and unforeseen geopolitical implications, particularly as regards occupied territories.

Cleaning up both the EU and Western Balkans

There has been little substantial analysis, since the Macron veto, of why so much money and effort in the Balkans has failed to result in the political and economic transformation needed to prepare candidates for full membership.

News in Brief

  1. Three new commissioner-designates pass legal scrutiny
  2. ECJ: EU countries must label Israeli settlement products
  3. Belgian asylum centre set on fire
  4. Xi Jingping in Athens promises new investment
  5. Farage's Brexit Party will not stand in Tory-held seats
  6. British founder of Syrian 'White Helmets' found dead
  7. Eight member states ask for EU aviation tax
  8. EU allocates €55m humanitarian aid to Sudan

'A game of roulette' - life as a journalist now in Turkey

Turkey has more journalists behind bars than any other country in the world. The authorities seem to equate journalism with terrorism: everyone has the right to express themselves, but, in their eyes, legitimate journalism is a threat to security.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  3. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  4. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  5. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  7. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  11. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work

Latest News

  1. Pro-Israeli group scores own goal on EU retail labels
  2. New commissioners clear 'conflict of interests' hurdle
  3. Israeli labelling ruling lets consumers make choice
  4. What does Macron really want on Western Balkans?
  5. Far-right Vox celebrates, as Spain left without majority
  6. EU 'climate bank' won't rule out carbon capture
  7. New hearings for the von der Leyen commission This WEEK
  8. Bosnia wants explanation for Macron's 'time-bomb' remark

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us