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The Unlikelihood of Transnational Debate?

Maximilian Conrad
University of Iceland
Maximilian Conrad
University of Iceland
Open Panel

Abstract

The possibility of a European public sphere as an infrastructural requirement of European-level democracy is frequently questioned by reference to a presumed “community deficit” in the EU, i.e. by the lack of a thick sense of European collective identity. Others, notably Habermasian discourse theorists, contend that transnational debate as a cornerstone of EU democracy is possible because democratic debate does not necessitate any form of pre-political or pre-reflexive collective identity. But in order for transnational opinion and will formation to be possible in the EU, patterns of contention over the meaning and implications of EU issues has to appear in similar forms across countries. Empirically, European public sphere research is characterized by a need for further analysis in this area. This paper addresses this question by conducting a frame analysis of debates on EU constitution making in six Swedish and German daily newspapers in the period from Joschka Fischer’s finality speech in May 2000 until the relaunch of the constitutional project under the German Council Presidency in the first half of 2007. Our analysis shows that newspaper framing follows clearly discernible transnational patterns: while liberal and left newspapers tend to frame EU constitution making as a democratically laudable effort, conservative newspapers tend to focus on the project’s negative consequences for the nation state in general and for nation state democracy in particular. This finding is relevant because it underlines that contestation on such fundamental issues transcends national borders: EU constitution making is highly contested domestically, but patterns of contestation look strikingly similar also across borders. At least in the mass media, European thus appear to speak of the same thing when discussing EU constitution making.