Towards the Europeanisation of Public Opinion? Local Influence
On 15 February 2003, at the same hour, millions rallied to oppose war in Iraq in the streets of Barcelona, Paris, London, Rome, Berlin and many other cities across Europe. ‘The simultaneity of these overwhelming demonstrations —the largest since the end of the Second World War— may well, in hindsight, go down in history as a sign of the birth of a European public sphere’, Jürgen Habermas said. However, a European public sphere has never existed. There is a problem of distance between the EU and its citizens since the first steps of the European integration process. But that did not matter at all until the ‘non’ and ‘nee’ were spoken against the Treaty that aimed to establish a Constitution for Europe in mid-2005. French and Dutch rejections to the European Constitution made European institutions react and produce an effort to reduce the gap with the European citizens. One of the initiatives, launched by the European Commission, was the Plan-D for Democracy, Dialogue and Debate, also known as Three-D Plan, which main objective is ‘to stimulate a wider debate between the European Union’s democratic institutions and citizens’. The Committee of the Regions, the European organism representative at regional and local levels, claimed the necessity to update the strategy and ‘go local’. Thus, another ‘D’ was added to Plan-D: ‘Decentralisation’. The White paper on a European Communication Policy by the European Commission on February 2006 suggested that ‘the EU institutions and bodies participating in the Inter-institutional Group on Information should help decentralise EU communication –“going local”– and encourage Member States to be more active in informing citizens about EU affairs’. The report on this document presented by the European Parliament confirmed the point of departure of my thesis by saying that ‘there is no consolidated European public sphere at present but very lively national public spheres’. As obviously Habermas’ first definition on the public sphere could not be applied to a transnational and ongoing process, with different levels of integration (which is the case for the EU); he contributed himself by talking about ‘network of public spheres’. This thesis focuses on the fourth ‘D’ of the Plan-D and how the existing European integration councillorships in some Catalan municipalities work as a network of public spheres and promote citizens voting in European elections. By comparing elections results, this research will demonstrate that, despite turnout trends at European elections shows the decreasing participation tendency, in those municipalities with European Integration councillorships, participation is higher than the Catalan average. Combining theories on public sphere with political science theory on Europeanisation – usually applied to the effects of the EU on Member States – it will be claimed that we are evolving towards the Europeanisation of public opinion, which should be understood as the EU slowly becoming an issue about which people debate, because of the influence of the network of public spheres.