The Constitutional Treaty debates as revelatory mechanisms: Insights for public sphere research and re-launch attempts
The purpose of this paper is to examine the media debates concerning ratification of the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe (TCE) from the perspective of public sphere research and in view of the decision by the 2007 Brussels European Council to initiate a new intergovernmental conference after the Dutch and French ‘No’ votes on the TCE. The main empirical basis for the paper are the results of an extensive media content analysis of ratification debates in six countries, which has been conducted by the members of the ConstEPS project at the Jean Monnet Chair at the University of Bremen. I will argue that their findings are largely consistent with previous research, but that they highlight for the first time the particular problems affecting the quality and Europeanization of public debates in new EU member states from Central and Eastern Europe. New media coverage of the EU is affected by problems of a lack of professionalisation, training, resources and independence among journalists, a lack of interest in institutional and identity issues combined with a lack of knowledge about the EU, and concerns about a lack of say and status within the EU. Given these problems a genuine mini-Treaty would have been a feasible option, while a full-scale re-launch of a constitutionalisation process would be premature for the foreseeable future. The June European Council has agreed, however, on a Maxi-Treaty, which is likely to lead to new calls for referenda and subsequent frustration as these calls are likely to be ignored. The only solution to the ‘fait accomplit’ syndrome in European integration is to create more opportunity structures for European-wide voting on political representatives and issues.
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