The key to creating a common European identity is a working openness in the media which would give citizens the opportunity to take part in the political process and consequently identify themselves as united citizens. Apart from certain exceptions, including ARTE, Euronews and Euractiv, hardly any multilingual, cross-national European media exist. Newspaper projects, such as the weekly Guardian Europe founded by Helmut Schmidt, or The European, were quickly abandoned. The costly and long-winded translation process, grave cultural differences in journalistic style, waning readership and the strict workings of national advertising markets dealt these projects a deathblow. Interestingly, even though the number of journalists in Brussels continues to grow (there were 133 German correspondents in 2003, compared to 40 in 1991), national themes have continued to dominate everyday reporting. European issues, reported from a European perspective, only emerge if big events occur such as the introduction of the euro.
Thomas Meyer, political scientist and author of the book Die Identität Europas, feels that the reason for this comes from EU politics itself. “The media focuses strongly on conflict and individuals. If these factors were addressed more, the media could pay more attention to European affairs. At the moment, however, European topics are complicated, anonymous and alien. Important issues such as simplicity and identification with the individuals and topics reported on remain untouched. Since the mainstream media is not contributing to the creation of a European public space, it is up to the people to make themselves heard vis-à-vis the political power of Brussels.
In movements which span several countries, such as Attac (which mobilises the anti-EU Constitution camp across Europe) and civil society meetings like the European Social Forum, a continental openness is manifesting itself for the first time. The medium for this ‘Eurogeneration’ is the Internet. Anyone can make any number of contributions, even if they have limited money and time, and therefore become ‘journalists’ themselves. Indymedia for example, is an international network which could help to establish a European public sphere. The goal of such movements is, in the first instance, to integrate alternative media and media organisations with each other and, by so doing, present ideas outside the realm of mainstream media. Instead of editorial staff, there is a so-called ‘moderation collective’, which organises the flow of news as clearly as possible. Everyone has the opportunity to publish an article. The model has had worldwide success and Indymedia is represented in 40 European countries alone. That the EU has become a topic commonly treated by Indymedia is demonstrated by the German homepage of the site on Easter Monday: under the title ‘EU – further action day in Brussels’, the article reported on the demonstration in Brussels against the planned services regulations. Public Internet platforms such as the German-speaking ‘Europa-Digital’ survive thanks to their readership also acting as (mostly voluntary) authors.
EU institutions are increasingly turning to this method of participative journalism. Margot Wallström, Commissioner for Information and Media, publishes refreshing anecdotes from her political life as well as humorous occurrences in her web-log – On World Womens’ Day on the 8th March she posted the following comment: ‘Rightly the small daughter of my friend asks: So are all the other days men’s days then?’
Clearly there are already a number of successful examples of participative journalism furthering the cause of a European public sphere and which, by their very nature, began predominantly on the internet. Of course the network has its weaknesses – the language variety can quickly become a language barrier, for example, and this ‘new’ medium is mainly directed at young people. One significant advantage that the Worldwide Web offers is its capacity to accommodate new ideas and spontaneous individual initiatives. It can only be hoped that these tentative beginnings of a European openness will be strengthened by cyberspace and the possibilities it gives to the public.