Mathew Lowry


You can go for months without a good post on the EU public sphere, and then a whole bunch come along at once.

Buses queuing at the stop
Nothing for ages, and then all at once (Image: Tony Kyriacou/Rex Features, via NewScientist)

As I prepare for this Saturday’s meeting of those BloggingPortal Editors who can be bothered to attend a discussion on rebooting it, I thought I’d do a quick blogtour of those I noticed recently:

Network anatomy of the EU online public sphere (me, 30/12/13)
Introduced some basic aspects of network theory and how they apply to EU conversations.

Mapping the EU digital public sphere(s) (Tony Lockett, 30/12/13)
Literally hours later, a (more interesting) post about network theory, with an example of how simple online tools like Bluenod can help map the discussion, from one of the few (only?) EUrocrats who blogs in any depth on the subject.

As such online maps are generally TwitterHashtag-based they map chatter, rather than the in-depth thinking that Hashtag Europe would provide by mapping longform content. However, the point I conclude my post with is relevant here: the nodes in the network are people, not web servers, so maps like Bluenod very usefully identify participants in topical online networks, even if not all of them can write more than 140 characters at a time.

The genesis of a European Public Sphere: Economic crisis and Lampedusa, European elections and cross-border migration (Ronny Patz, 5/1/14)

The ever-optimistic Ronny sees a more and more “proof that we have entered into a phase where cross-boder migration, economic situations and political rent-seeking generate debates within countries and across the Union“.

My initial reaction was that he of course had a point – there’s no question we see more coverage of EU issues – but that:

  • my gut feeling is that this rise is from a very small base – it’s something an EU specialist might notice, but is probably not yet enough to make a real impact;
  • but this remains just a gut feeling because we can’t measure it – this is all completely anecdotal and based on what media individual observers like Ronny and I happen to notice that day. Gut feelings may be enough for some, but it’s no surprise that calculating a ‘Bloggingportal Index’ from the Hashtag Europe database is part of the reboot specifications.

Ronny’s post sparked two reactions:

Is there now a European Public Sphere? (Nosemonkey, 6/1/14)
JCM sees these first green shoots as positioning us somewhere in the middle of a process which seems modeled on Kübler-Ross’s 5 steps of grief:

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?

The current crisis as a catalyst for a European public sphere? (Nils Müller, 12/1/14)
A thoughtful word of caution from someone who analysed Ronny’s examples and found they:

“are not really exam­ples of the emer­gence of a com­mon Euro­pean pub­lic sphere but rather of a Euro­peaniza­tion of national pub­lic spheres…

and that they:

“fram­e Euro­pean inte­gra­tion as a dan­ger to national pros­per­ity, under­stand­ing other Euro­peans as a threat.”

He concludes that even if Ronny is right, this might not help:

“an emerg­ing Euro­pean pub­lic sphere might not even lead to a fur­ther democ­ra­ti­za­tion of Euro­pean Union insti­tu­tions, as one could argue that those seem more and more removed from gen­eral pub­lic dis­course”

This last point I don’t quite follow, mainly because he links to “The Crises of Democratic Capitalism“, a New Left Review paper I haven’t had a chance to plough through read yet.

I remain convinced that an active and accessible EU online public sphere will help make EU discussions less removed from public discourse.

Making it accessible means overcoming barriers of language and context, and mapping it by topic. After all, most people are interested in something – a topic-driven map, along the lines of Hashtag Europe, will help connect the dots.

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  1. Thank you very much for this overview, I´ll definitely check the links I don’t know yet. Just one sentence about Streeck´s argument. He argues that politics no longer feels accountable to its “demos“ but more and more to its lenders, putting the ability to pay their debts about the well-being of the people, effectively ignoring public opinion.

  2. This point is only the last point in a longer argument stating how economic interests were driving big policy decision since the 1970ies, alwyas focusing on finding new ways of financing an increasing amount of (state) consumption. Starting from higher taxes, via private debt to, finally, state debt, creating a second group “monitoring” the activities of a state, its creditors.

    It does make a lot of sense to me, especially if you consider Anthony Giddens’ argument that the actual power positions within European policy (he calls EU2, including mainly Angela Merkel, Mario Draghi and Christine Lagarde and possibly Francois Hollande) are not democratically legitimated for these positions and are, at best, only observed through a national lense.

    I have not read the article you provided yet, but I doubt that findings about the American congress can be easily transferred to European Union politics…

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