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The whisper game, or how narratives travel across a multilevel polity

Open Panel

Abstract

EU institutions and European transnational elites have been very active in (re)producing narratives about the Union’s historical purpose and role in the world. In a complex polity such as the EU, narratives are crucial for giving collective sense to common action. Accordingly, the study of EU discourses, myths and narratives have received increased attention within European studies. However, a much more neglected are of investigation is whether EU’s institutionalised narratives do resonate in public domestic settings within each of the member states. Given the rising level of contestedness that European affairs are experiencing across European societies, but in particular in some member states, there are good reasons to suspect that EU narratives do not always travel well across all levels of the European polity. This paper aims to set the theoretical and analytical framework for analysing the degree of (mis)match of political narratives about Europe in EU institutions and in public domestic settings. The proposed research strategy pays special attention to elites’ political communication about the EU at national level, with the aim of analysing whether the basic tenets of EU institutional narratives are present when justifying EU policy decisions before domestic audiences. This research agenda will be illustrated with a study of the EU’s narratives in the field of foreign and security policy. In specific, it will be argued that there is an identifiable EU-domestic discursive gap, which can be expressed in the following manner: at the EU elite level, policy developments in the area of foreign and security policy tend to be justified in terms of ontological security (e.g. EU’s unity of purpose, internal-external coherence, international actorness); whereas political communication and public debates at national level revolve around physical security considerations (protection against external threats and risks).