The European public sphere - a sphere without an audience? Citizens' participation in the European Constitution debate
In the course of the European integration process more and more political power is transferred from the national levels to the European level. As a consequence of and in need of public legitimization the question about a European public space becomes evident. The PhD project focuses on the audience level of a European public sphere. It asks whether, via which media and under which criteria of relevance the EU-citizens participate in European public discourses. This is to be examined within the European Constitutional debate in Germany, France and Italy. The public sphere is considered a crucial element of democracy. It fulfils certain functions such as enabling mutual observation between policy-makers and citizens, legitimizing political decisions, promoting collective will formation and integrating members of society. At the European level scholars discuss whether a public sphere exists or not, and if so, how it materializes. Considering different theoretical approaches it is argued that a European public sphere has to be thought of as a pluralistic network of transnational publics which exists as soon as the same issues are discussed simultaneously and under the same criteria of relevance. Such a network is tied by transnational discourses and generated by the communicative interactions of speakers, media and audiences. According to John Dewey, public spheres emerge as soon as citizens realize the impact of political decisions on their lives and enter public deliberation. Applied to the European context, it is not only the creation and mass mediated distribution of European issues, but the audience’s communicative actions based on the perception of the reporting of EU topics that is fundamental for the establishment of public spheres after all. The theoretical reflections about the structure and processes of the European public space, as well as the audience’s role in constituting it, are exemplified by empirically researching the EU Constitutional debate. The study aims to reconstruct the functioning of this transnational dis- course at the audience level, but also at the media and communicator levels. It examines whether a diffusion of arguments and rhetoric references across and between the national public arenas takes place. The study includes qualitative in-depth interviews with citizens, journalists and political actors as well as analyses of survey data such as Euro- barometer and data about media users. The interviews have been conducted during the ratification process of the EU constitution. Hence, the effects of the negative Referenda in France and the Netherlands have become evident.