In an unexpected radio talk on France Inter, the French public radio, several journalists, experts and two MEPs tackled the theme of time allocated in French media on the questions of European affairs. Such thematic is crucial in order to understand the lack of interest of European citizens on European politics. Should the French and European media be blamed for the lack of interest in European politics? Or, should it be on the European citizens? Once again, a nuanced argument is required.
Yes, they do – Blame it on the Media
The most obvious example was the debate between the candidates for the position of the President of the European Commission. In France, the public channel of France Televisions did not broadcast the debate live taking place on April 28th, 2014, while twenty European channels did. The President of Sauvons l’Europe, Fabien Chevalier, claimed that “french television treats Europe as little as possible” (in French, “La télévision française traite l’Europe a minima”). The lack of mediatization of European politics has contributed to a certain degree of alienation of European politics among French citizens. Europe has become a foreign affair; when it is in fact, as argued by Stéphane Leneuf, an actuality of proximity. European questions have progressively become more neighborhood than foreign questions. This brings back to the overarching question asked at the beginning of the show: Is it possible to talk about Europe without being as sad as an empty fridge?
— Thomas Chauvineau (@TChauvineau) July 15, 2014
Such decision by French public network of not broadcasting the first European debate for the President of the Commission clearly send a signal that European politics do not matter. The media need to get a part of the blame in the widening gap between Europeans and Brussels. For so long, Europeans have complained of the foreign and opaque nature of European politics. Now that democracy is slowly being incorporated into the European politic, the media do not play its role of mitigator.
Additionally, members of the media tend to argue that talking Europe is too complex in the short period of time allocated. They argue that nobody is interested about institutional transformation and bargaining power taking place at the European level. It is undeniable that explaining vertical and horizontal integrations can be difficult and certainly dry. Nevertheless, this is part of a European reality. One can argue that institutional and political questions about the French Fifth Republic are extremely complex too. Media do tackle these national questions, why not the European ones? European subjects are just an addition of a second level of analysis; and they do matter on daily basis.
No, they don’t – Blame it on the Europeans
European citizens have the instruments, meaning internet, to do their own research (this was the response by France Televisions for not broadcasting live on TV the debate claiming that it was available online). As it has become predominant trend in France, citizens have lost the real meaning of citizen, which entails rights and duties. In France, French citizens feel more entitled about their rights that actually fulfilling their duties; one of them being voting and being informed. In the 21st century, and in one of the richest and most developed continents in the world, it is difficulty acceptable to have a low informed electorate. If European citizens can find a way to watch online a soccer game, they should be able to find a way to watch the debate between the five candidates to the Commission’s Presidency. Additionally, the rise of populism in France send a double signal: first, the rise of a lazy citizenry. It is always easier to claim that European politics are complex and foreign than trying to understand and learn. Second, the fear of globalization, or what French people call mondialisation. The EU is a clear representation and in some degree, a child of globalization. It embodies a new type of socio-politico-economico actor. French citizens have always been very cautious and fearful of globalization. They view Europe as a threat to their regional and national identities in the same ways globalization supposedly does it. Such fear is unfounded as European Member States are in fact fighting to protect such regional identities. One of the most obvious examples is in the current negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), wherein geographical food names has become an issue of contentions between the US and the EU.
Speed and Humans
Two fascinating point emerged from the discussion: first, the speed of politics; second, bringing Europe to a human level. As argued by a guest, the gap between national and European politics in terms of speed is considerable. National politics tend to be quick and embedded into short-termism, while European politics are much slower and complex moving from the Commission, to the Council, to the Parliament and so on. National politics have instead become some short of a game under constant scrutiny and polls rating. National politics are in some degree a spectacle; European politics are not (or at least not yet).
Second, the message ought to be that Europe is not a foreign affair. Over 50% of laws impacting Europeans’ daily life come from ‘Brussels.’ It is important to have a greater discussion at the national level about these laws. So far, at least in France, the main political narrative by the French political class, all political parties included, is based along two lines: either, Brussels made us to do it; or, we were able to protect French interests from Brussels. French politicians have yet to continuously demonstrate that European and French interests are intertwined. Such acceptance will not be a sort of political suicide as believed, but rather the acceptance of a fait accompli. Considering the global forces of the 21st century and the domestic condition of France, Europe is France’s best asset for striving in the complex waters of the 21st century.
In a recent comment, I argued that one of the greatest challenges facing the Juncker Commission will be to reconnect Europe with the European citizenry. A large segment of European citizens feels that the gap between their daily life and Brussels is too wide to care. European citizens considers that Brussels is a cold technocratic and bureaucratic place. In some degree, it is true. However, European politics deeply matter and do influence daily life. As underscored in Juncker’ speech before the European Parliament (read here a review of the speech) important issues will be addressed during his mandate like the TTIP, GMOs, energy policy, digital policies, environmental policies, fundamental rights, immigration policies, economic and fiscal convergences and so on. Well, each of these issues will affect Europeans’ daily life. The argument of Euroskeptic MEPs, like the ones from the Front National, is that European decisions are endangering national sovereignty. The best response to such ignorant statement: try to defend them without the EU.(Copyright 2014 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).