Can Europe really exist without a truly European media?

Article published on Nov. 3, 2003
From the magazine
Article published on Nov. 3, 2003
On the link between democracy, a public forum, public opinion and a collective European identity.

The European institutions have often been subject to criticism concerning, at best, their lack of transparency and, at worst, their undemocratic and opaque character. The question of EU democratisation is one of the issues that must be addressed in order for the Union to become a genuine political structure that is capable of managing public affairs to the satisfaction of Europe as a whole. And yet, if this process of democratisation has to come in the form of greater transparency within the institutions themselves, by way of improved communication, increased legibility of actions, and greater legitimacy within the decision-making process that is already in place (e.g. a more significant role for the Parliament), then it must also come in the form of the creation of a truly European, democratic public space. Sadly, it is precisely the creation of this kind of democratic public forum that seems to be the hardest thing to achieve. As is the case with internal Union reforms, this kind of forum could only ever be achieved with the help of treaties and institutional reforms.

Europe needs a bona fide forum for public debate with the capacity to address a range of political, economic, social and cultural issues. Rather like the role already played by national public forums, it would provide an independent public space at a European level. Of course it would need to be equipped with its own institutions (these exist already), but it would also need its own political experts, debates, and its specific challenges, which would differ from national issues dealt with at a European level. It is only with the development of this kind of European public forum that the idea of European democracy could ever really come into play.

In this light, the existence of a European media, a media that focuses its investigation on European public issues (just as we already have local and national press) would act as a corner stone of this pan-European public forum. For if we want to see the birth of an independent European public forum, then we must also provide its media, the information systems that are able to improve the legibility of relevant European issues and discuss, explain, and communicate them to the European public.

A likely bi-product of a European media would be the gradual emergence of European public opinion. Being informed about European actions and debates, and receiving explanations about them from the media, would prompt a collective sense of awareness among Europeans. This would also mark the fulfilment of the European project and the formation of its own public forum. By the same token, through its voice of majority, this European public opinion would ensure democracy within the public forum and thus be representative of the ideological convictions of European voters. The role of the media is therefore essential because it acts as a conduit and spur for European public opinion.

Taking this one step further and, once again, using the existing model for constructing a collective identity at a national level, one could hope that the diffusion of the European media would not only contribute to the formation of a public democratic forum, and indirectly cultivate public opinion, but that it would also foster a feeling of belonging and a sense of European identity. This European media would be both the mouthpiece of European public opinion and (in a pedagogical sense) a means of constructing a truly European collective identity. In this way, Europeans from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic would feel united by their sense of common destiny.