Sunday, February 28, 2010

Is the German public sphere Europeanizing?

The online portal is widely regarded as one of the most comprehensive and most-consulted online media for Germans. For readers in and outside the country, the website is one of the crucial actors in the German public sphere. In his daily German-language European review Politikportal, for example, Stefan Happer regularly refers to as one of the most trusted and most prominent sources. Furthermore, the website has started to involve common citizens by allowing for comments (after subscribing, however).

Over the last few months, I had the impression that this important actor of the German public sphere has gradually developed a more and more European and international stance. Since a medium only changes its focus as long as the news are continuously read, I take this as a sign that the German public discussion as a whole is becoming more Europeanized and internationalized. A few years ago, Stefanie Sifft still found a "predominantly domestic orientation of public discourses" in the Member States (see here).

Now I counted the number of European articles on (Sunday, 28. February, 2 p.m. CET). Besides the earthquake in Chile, I don't have the impression that there are a lot of highly-relevant international topics, so it might well be an example for an average day in Germany.

I counted:
  • 20 articles overall (only counting major articles, not those that support another one)
  • six articles with non-German, non-European actors
  • four articles with non-German, European actors
  • one article with German actors abroad
  • seven articles with purely domestic issues
For me, this is a sign that public interest in Germany is growing beyond the domestic focus that Stefanie Sifft diagnosed in 2007 in "Segmented Europeanization". Globalization finally seems to reach the common people in every aspect of their lives.

After a disappointing campaign for the European Parliament Elections last year, I have the hope that we are slowly moving towards Europeanized national public spheres, even if it will take a long time until a truly European public sphere reaches the common people.

The Lega Nord goes beyond any political decency

Recently traveling to Italy I was shocked about the posters that the racist Lega Nord (Northern League, party for the promotion of an independent Italian north) put up in the regional election campaign. The campaign posters show a native American next to the words "They also underwent immigration - now they live in the reservations".

André Feldhof/CC-BY

In my opinion, notwithstanding the usual populist nature of the Lega Nord, this goes beyond any political decency and I hope that Italians will cry out against these posters and in favor of more integration of immigrants. On the first of March, a social initiative called Primo Marzo (first of March) organizes events and marches all across Italy for the cause of the migrants. I dearly hope that many Italians will participate in these demonstrations!

Update: Please also see the video on my travel blog, which puts the posters into the context of recent immigrant riots in Milan.
Update(2): This article in the Saturday edition of Le Monde is absolutely worth reading for everybody with an interest in Italy. English version:

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Minutes from Newropeans/Grillo meeting in Paris

Newropeans is a supranational citizen organization that wants to make the European Union more democratic. Rather than on societal problems, Newropeans mainly focuses on the institutional reform of the European Union. At the European elections 2009, the organization stood for elections in Germany, France and the Netherlands. However, they could bridge neither the threshold in Germany and France nor win a seat in the Netherlands (no threshold). Since then, not much has been heard of them.

Beppe Grillo is an Italian comedian, blogger and millionaire (see my post about him here), who believes that the future of democratic representation lies in the internet. In Italy, he has become quite popular among young people.

Newropeans and Beppe Grillo met in Paris on Saturday. It was the first time since the elections that they really raised their voice. Here are my comments to their livestream (or fast-forward to my analysis at the bottom of this post).

-Start at 14.30

-First twenty minutes: Grillo is poking fun at the world, entertaining the people. Laughs everywhere. The talk is in Italian and French. Most people in the audience seem to understand both. The panel is talking to an elite.

-Now he's talking about the development of his blog. 25 minutes into the talk. Still nothing tangible.

-Livestream viewers remain at about 20. Pretty stable.

-They got me via their Facebook communications. "Beppe Grillo, Franck Biancheri, Marco Travaglio en conférence-débat: La démocratie en danger: Italie-Europe, les citoyens résistent". So far, the discussion hasn't really mentioned where the danger to European democracy lies in the first place. Nor presented any solutions.

-Finally it's getting more tangible. They're talking about broadband internet access for citizens in Italy. Wish he wouldn't always scream like that.

-Grillo talks about the lack of objectivity in Italian media, naming Corriere della Serra as an example. The web offers a second entry into debate which is not restricted by media agendas.

-Grillo stopped talking. Time for questions.

-A citizen reassures Grillo of the solidarity of young Italians. Italy had a big public discussion when a university professor advised young Italians to better leave the country.

-Grillo talks about the potential of online campaigning. The web allowed the Swedish pirate party to gain support. It allows people to connect across different countries and continents.

-I wish he wouldn't scream like that.

-What happened? Viewers sprung up to 440.

-Over to Franck Biancheri, Newropeans president. Led the party into the European elections 2009; they stood for elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany.

-Biancheri talks about the young generation. Flexible, international, able to adapt to changes. A generation that wants to use its rights as European citizens.

-No other continent besides Europe in which cultures interact in a comparable way. Young citizens profit enormously, says Biancheri.

-Biancheri: The power places in Europe are not Berlin or Paris any more, but Brussels and Frankfurt. They are unaccounted for and don't reflect the opinions of the 500 Million citizens of Europe.

-The importance is to create a structure that allows a democracy from below, says Biancheri.

-Those who want to change something see the space for political action diminish in the nation-states and competences move to Brussels. The political debate has to follow to Brussels, according to the Newropeans president.

-Different electoral structures in the nation-states. Germany: 4000 signatures to put up a list for elections. Netherlands: Only very few. Italy: A lot of signatures. The electors in Italy and Germany don't seem to be equal, says Biancheri and wants to create a single electoral procedure in Europe.

-Grillo is back on. Criticizes the fact that there is no common European vision in Brussels.

-Grillo puts on a red hat resembling the hat of the Ku Klux Klan, and disappears from stage.

-Over to Marco Travaglio, Italian journalist.

-Firefox keeps on shutting down.

-Viewers are up at 600.

-Travaglio recommends an Italian blog,

-Back to Biancheri. He says that 80% of all French media are financed by the state.

-"Nothing is going on in the world [seen through the eyes of the French media]. Except an old lady run over in Southern France, a little dog somewhere in France..."

-Recruitment process in French media: "You take young people that aren't really up to the scratch. Fooling someone who doesn't understand is easy. Fooling someone who knows the subject is already more difficult."

-Journalist selection has to follow more specific criteria, he says.

-European journalism: A much bigger difficulty, since the policy area is more difficult to understand.

-Independent European journalists are necessary. The European institutions spend a lot of money to obtain only positive coverage about Brussels politics, says Biancheri.

-The "Erasmus generation" will need to move the EU out of the impasse. "The only language is translation ... We have a lot of young people who speak the five, six biggest languages in Europe. And we have the highest literacy rate in the world."

-My Firefox keeps on failing me. No chance to see the end of the video.

Overall, what I saw was an analysis of the French and Italian media democracy with media that they depicted as controlled by the government. They see the blogosphere as a way to bypass these limitations and create a second arena for public discussion. Projecting it to the European level, they said that a common European discourse had to be created via the virtue of translation, but they didn't really go into detail.

I would have liked to see some more concrete proposals for a democracy from below through the means of social media. Some polarizations could have been left out.

The idea of a common electoral system is interesting and definitely necessary to create a true European democracy. But there are a lot of legal obstacles. And then, public discussion about the EP candidates has to cross the linguistic borders of the nation-states. It will be interesting to see if Newropeans can make any concrete proposals for the piecemeal achievement of a common electoral system.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Bye bye Moravcsik: Neofunctionalism is still on

Adapting to an unprecedented outcome at the first Lisbon vote in Ireland by calling another vote. Electing the Commission President with the Nice treaty, his Commissioners with the Lisbon treaty. Filling up the ranks of the EP with 18 phantom MEPs, unprovided for in any legal EU documents. Zapatero's plans for a (supernational) European Systemic Risk Board (ESRB). Possibly bailing out Greece with EU money, unforseen by any existing regulation.

All these are examples in which the EU reaches beyond the scope that was defined in the treaty framework or in secondary legislation. EU critics could say the EU exceeds its competencies. But you can also see it in a different way. The EU is again adapting to problems without precedence by taking bold actions without precedence.

Sound familiar? Exactly, that's the theory of Neofunctionalism, defined by Ernest B. Haas. As the first Commission under the EEC-Treaty of 1957 encountered problems that transcended individual DG portfolios and individual member states, a need for European integration in other fields became apparent. Hence, an economic and atomic cooperation evolved into the semi-sovereign construction that we have today.

Much has changed since the first years of Neofunctionalism; after a wave of EU enthusiasm under Delors in the late 80s, European integration can be rightfully described as stagnating throughout the last decade. There are no indications that the EU is moving closer to the citizens after Lisbon; the electoral mobility caused by the EP elections last year soon gave way to confusion again.

Yet, there are signs that neofunctionalism is back. The new faces installed by the Lisbon treaty, Van Rompuy's new methods, the federalist proposal by a national prime minister (Zapatero) and the increased power of a supranational vis-à-vis an intergovernmental institution are indicating a changing climate between the institutions. A change towards the f-word. Needless to say that many of the problems facing the EU today have become supranational as well. Climate mitigation, regulation of financial flows, sustainable energy provision, protection of intellectual property, the conclusion of the Doha round and food security to name but a few.

Therefore, it is not completely illusionary to expect another spillover with regard to financial regulation and climate mitigation. Especially regarding the latter, every single citizen can make a difference. A combined effort in private reduction of waste and emissions can make a tremendous difference with regard to reaching the 20/20 goal. Thus, a healthy integration process should involve citizens through social media and through established forms of pluralism.

Social media allow the EU to create a common feeling of belongingness, a space for personal fulfilment and identification. Desertec has been doing this by calling for donations, setting up a Facebook group, installing a blog and demanding people's opinions about the project. The EU could do the same thing without a lot of additional cost. What it takes is for the Commission to really start using web 2.0 - and for the heads of government to send Moravcsik to the dungeons.

Please also see the discussion in the comments section, in which Professor Moravcsik reacted to the points expressed in this post

Update: In a recent statement, Commission President José Manuel Barroso takes the position that a de facto change of the institutional relationship between the member states and the EU instititutions has to take place, if Europe wants to maintain its place in the world.