An Integrated Public Sphere? Comparing the Degree of Integration in the German and the European Public Sphere
There is widespread agreement in the research literature that the European Union lacks an integrated or cohesive public sphere where the exchange of opinions and arguments between politicians from all member states and their citizens provides a source of legitimacy for political decisions. The national public spheres of the individual member states are in this context often referred to as the ideal that a European Public Sphere needs to aspire to, but is not likely to ever achieve. However, this vision is backed up by little empirical knowledge on the actual degree of integration in national public spheres. The thesis shall bridge this gap by adapting the normative and empirical criteria developed in the growing research field on the European public sphere to an inquiry into the integration of national public spheres. Based on the conceptualisation of the transnationalisation of public spheres developed by Hartmut Wessler et al. (2008), a fourdimensional model of the integration of the public sphere has been developed as a theoretical basis for this research. According to this model, the integration of the public sphere can occur on these four dimensions: monitoring governance, similarity of discourse, discursive integration and collective identification. The concrete degree of regional integration of the German public sphere shall then be ascertained using a large-scale content analysis combining quantitative and qualitative elements on both national and regional mass media. The case of the German national public sphere seems to be especially fruitful for developing a standard of comparison (for the European public sphere) because its federal political structure comes comparatively close to a multi-level governance structure such as the one of the EU. In Germany, regional structures and regional politics are more important than in many other European member states, so that a fragmentation of the national public sphere along regional lines is on the one hand more likely and on the other hand would be more hazardous to the cohesion of the national political community. The findings shall then be used to re-evaluate the normative and empirical standards often employed in the discussion of the European public sphere.