Contesting European Union in a Changing Climate: Framing and Story Lines as (Counter-)Narratives of Supranational Governance
Climate change is a highly political issue and a powerful source of images and narratives, both in favor and against political cooperation at the supranational and global level. Against this background, an emerging literature investigates the party political dimension of climate governance and its role as a mobilizing issue particularly for nationalist right-wing parties. The article seeks to build on these insights and connect them with the broader issue of discursive justification of European integration: Does the framing of climate change in political discourse provide new narratives for and against supranational cooperation in the EU? Addressing this question, narratives are conceptualized as discursive connections between references to (1) agents depicted as heroes, villains or victims, (2) causalities proposed as the operating logic of story lines, framed in terms of competition, exploitation, deception or domination, and (3) normative evaluations of events in terms of ethical values, identity-based symbols and moral criteria.
Operationalized through a three-tiered framing analysis of parliamentary speech based on these components and using methods of mixed-method QCA, the paper investigates public discourse on climate change (policy) by nationalist-right and green parties in two cases: first, in Germany, where mainstream parties of the governing coalition interact with highly climate skeptical and strongly progressive challengers, particularly B90/Greens and the Euroskeptic AfD; and second, to deliberations in the European Parliament, where both Eurosceptic and Green parties are strongly represented and directly involved in decision-making about future EU climate governance.
Comparing the consistency and coherence of both narratives, the paper demonstrates that nationalist right parties appear to be more successful in creating an overarching story of climate change policy as a threat to political freedom and current ways of life than green parties arguing in favor of more stringent policy. In this sense, discourse advocating climate action is framed mostly in systemic terms and based on arguments of normative obligation, while being linked to suggestions about political leadership and economic opportunity. This contrasts with more immediate, practical and colorful storylines of nationalist parties, including depictions of detached and corrupt elites, representations of the climate movement as fanatical, quasi-religious sects, and the idealizations of traditional lifestyles against intrusions of decision-makers driven by alarmism and insecurity. While both forms of discourse stop short of providing a full-fledged narrative of European integration based on climate governance, it appears that elements of it are used more effectively by populist challenges through references to stereotypical characters, emotions and dramatization, as well as simplifications to deal with the complexity of climate governance. In its concluding section, the paper discusses the implications of this finding for political advocacy for and against climate policy in the EU, and potential implications for the future development of narratives about European integration in the public sphere.