The 2019 European Parliament (EP) elections will be the first with pan-European constituencies and parties.
For the first time, it will be possible to study pan-European cross-border political communications before, during and after an election.
Political communication is a well-established research area, but up until now, it has been studied on national levels. Through the study of pan-European cross-border political communications, I propose to start closing the gap that has opened up in political communications research based on this new level of political co-operation.
Europeanisation and the European public space research began during the Coal and Steel Union, and much insights and knowledge have been gained. But interesting enough for a practitioner like myself, this research and the knowledge has not reached our ranks. I will also look at how the knowledge about Europeanisation and its communicative uses can be implemented.
In their anthology, Hix and Lord1 argue that the party groups in the EP and the extra-parliamentary party groups function as pan-European parties. But the citizen has voted on national parties; not on the groups nor the extra-parliamentary groups. 2019 this will change and the European voter will, for the first time, be able to vote directly on European parties in one European constituency.
All research is comparative in one way or another. In my research for this proposal I have found little about cross-border election communication i.e. the type of communications I look to study here. This implies that there is little or nothing to compare with since this is the first pan-European elections with dedicated cross-border constituencies, parties and campaigning.
This study will be a “before, during and after.” I will identify a number messages and “follow” those through the election – how they are localised, how they are communicated; tools, channels, target groups, spokes persons etc., how the electorate respond to them, if there is a tension between EU and national levels and how this is managed. This analysis will be done through text analysis and interviews. I will conduct interviews with party communications representatives and strategists to understand how their communications develop and how they address different issues and constituencies in countries and transnational level.
For benchmark I will use the communications around the Euro introduction, previous EP elections communication and commercial marketing campaigns.
Consuming, and acting on, mass messages is based on interest. As we can see in the chart provided by Eurostat2 and IDEA3 interest in in elections is diminishing, manifested in increasingly lower election participation. So how can election participation be made interesting, engaging and above all actionable? Will pan-European political parties change the voting inertia that seems to have gripped the EU or will voters feel an even bigger distance between “us” and “them”?
Other difficulties are the sheer number of individuals that needs to be measured. For the purposes of this thesis I will use the numbers provided by the EP, Eurostat and IDEA which provide a comprehensive analysis of the EP elections, providing an amount of information which is close to impossible to gather for an individual. 4
Baran and Dennis (Baran, 2015)5 discuss the difficulties of measuring effects of mass communications since a mass audience consists of individuals. A difficulty magnified with 27 in the upcoming European elections. For data, I will use data collected by the EP as well as data compiled by the central statistics offices in the 27 MS. By looking at identified messages and how they are reacted to, only, I will try to get a more manageable content quantity.
Transnational audiences increase the information level and viewpoints. They may even enable holding supra-national powers more effectively to account, but they do not suffice to constitute a democratic sovereign. To enable citizens addressing the same political issues and exposing them to the same information, arguments and counter-arguments, one audience is necessary. Developing this require common themes, shared interpretative frames and inclusive fora. Only through these can the preconditions necessary for a rational opinion-forming process among those affected be created. In particular, this is required for the proper legitimation and justification of the basic ruling principles of society — of the constitutional essentials. Since such a discussion revolves around deictic norms or principles which we consider “European” (e.g. democracy, rule of law, equality, solidarity), there are prospects for consensus. Whether election discussions can bring about an identity strong enough to make possible collective action is the decisive point for the EU to develop beyond a regulatory regime in legitimacy terms.
EP decisions’ legitimacy remains largely questioned by the citizens at large, if heard of. Or if not questioned, they’re uninterested. Will a pan-European constituency change this or will it only further the distance between the EP and its voters? If a European identity is created, and that this identity is borne the EU citizen at large by one must also take into account that “the people” doesn’t see their reality and act the way the EU Elite hope and assume. Something the EP election 2014 proved when the electorate voted in the hitherto most nationalistic parliament ever.
A common sphere requires a Lingua Franca of culture, norms and at best, language. For trans?border political communications to be even vaguely effective messages must work at a level of the lowest common denominator that transcends borders.
Traditionally political communications and media theory have thought of public spheres as national. This perspective is rapidly becoming deficient, as the EU gets more and more supranational powers. The development of a European public sphere is held back by lacking cultural substrate required for a collective will formation. Forging a collective identity, presupposes certain social underpinnings is presently lacking in the EU. Can there be a public sphere without a collective identity? A collective identity above primary group levels and a collective “we-feeling” are needed in order for the EU citizens to acknowledge the “sacrifices” imposed on us in the name of the greater European good. At a minimum, the members must recognise each other as members of the same group. Taking this into account as well as the absence of a European collective, and a Euro Citizen, what will it mean for an election legitimacy?
The European public sphere has a particular set-up with segmented, transnational nature of the audience. EU citizens have two things in common: citizenship and civic infrastructures. It is on this the European Parliament base its political discourse and legitimation work.
EU has not produced a collective identity; nor can it draw on the shared norms and values that are necessary to sustain a community. This reading of the EU — as one of identity struggles — contradicts with the creation of a EU public sphere based on the Treaties’ “ever closer Europe.” The 2005 French, Dutch, and Irish refusals to ratify the EU Constitution sent shock waves through the Union. A few years later the Euro went through the mill. We see Eastern MS increasingly unwilling to follow EU’s lead on many questions. There are rising tensions at EUs external borders. We’re only seeing the beginning of Brexit, and many MS are having increasingly vocal EU critics. Recently there has been Spain and the Catalan question. The Austrian election results are shaking many, results that promise to be repeated in Hungary. Italy, Sweden and Germany are weighed down by large influx of refugees which affects EU… for an onlooker it feels like there are two Europa: one wanting to centralise, and one putting more emphasis on nation states while (for now) remaining in the Union. How this state of affairs affect audiences during an election is one question I will study. Will this election be an opportunity initiate a true debate about the EU and what EU we want in the future? This is another question I will study.
In order to assess the function, the structure, scope and usefulness of EU political communications during the 2019 elections, at this time I propose following research questions:
· Transnational political parties are tools in achieving an ever-closer Union as described in the Treaties. However, tensions in EU are palatable so a large question will be how pan-European parties will manage this tension. Will these parties be considered as a road to increased transparency or will they be considered only as another top-heavy addition to an organisation that already many feels is out of touch?
· What is the setup of pan-European political communications? In addressing this research question, I aim at creating a general understanding of how pan-European political communications are organised, and if there are differences between the political parties and, if so, why.
· What are the relevant actors, systems and trends in political EU transnational communications? It is of paramount interest to identify the ecosystem and its different actors.
· How transnational political communications differ from mono-national communications? What and where are the main differences and what should a communicator consider when developing trans-national communications?
· What, if any, are the strategic challenges and differences when developing trans-national communications?
· It is likely that European parties will have what can be considered conflicting messaging between European and national levels. How will this be managed from a communications point of view and explained to the voters. How are political parties ensuring voter loyalty?
· How are messages localised? Messages not only need to be translated, they also need to be localised. This creates a tension between the transnational and national messaging and how it is framed. I will study how the parties localise their messaging, and how they manage the tension between languages, cultures, transnational and national.
· Will European elections have the same impact on voter mobility as national referenda? Referenda are known to induce voter mobility; will EU elections have the same impact on the electorate?
· even if the actual voting in European elections will be administered on national basis, will they enhance voter mobility based on their messaging?
The literature review to this proposal have been extensive. I have tried to find examples of studies about pan-European communications, but they have been scarce. The closest I have come are studies on communications around introducing the Euro e.g. Kuhn 20056, Berezin 20007, Plaza 19998 but even if the discourse is about elections to the European Parliament, the examples are national
Current political communication discourse is mostly national. Based on existing literature on political strategic communication (e.g. McNair 20129, Stayner 200810, Trent, Fridenberg and Denton 201111), I will start developing a framework suitable for analysing trans-border pan-European political communications.
There’s a quite interesting discourse about culture and messages going on in research about online classes and distance learning. It involves ideas of how different cultures, i.e., nations, practice communication and perceive time. In high-context cultures, interactional utterances must provide a whole context for what is being said, while in low-context cultures utterances are more focused and direct. 12 Differences like that will affect message localisation and I will look at how.
How to map and define the European public sphere is another large research area. Not the least because it covers institutions, media and the civil society as such.13 But even these studies are national, or at best comparisons of two or more national systems. 14 It will be interesting to see if the messages are being developed according to the thinking of the European Parliament “we are not working with target groups, all are European citizens so all are alike” or if the messages will be adapted to different target groups.
The thesis will result in a body a work on transnational political communications. I have identified a number of gaps in the current body of work; first of all that there is seemingly little research on cross-border political communications and I hope to contribute to closing that gap.
My writing will be a part of the body of work in a new area of political communications research, and contribute to filling a gap in previous political communications research.
I will aim at start building new scholarship in strategy development for cross-border communications.
1 Political parties in the European Union Simon Hix, Christopher Lord – Macmillan – 1997
5 Baran, Stanley J., and Dennis K. Davis. Mass Communication Theory: Foundations, Ferment, and Future. Cengage Learning, 2015.
6 The Communication Policy of the European Central Bank – Britta Kuhn Intereconomics – 01 / 2005
8 The Euro as a Political Communication Process: Quality Requirements – Vicente Plaza Journal of Consumer Policy – 06 / 1999
9 McNair, Brian. An Introduction to Political Communication. London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2012. Print.
10 Stanyer, James. Modern Political Communication: Mediated Politics in Uncertain times. Cambridge: Polity, 2008. Print
11 Trent, Judith S., Robert V. Friedenberg, and Jr Robert E. Denton. Political Campaign Communication: Principles and Practices. Plymouth: Rowman and Littlefield, 2011. Print
12 Hofstede, G. (2001). Culture’s consequences: Comparing values, behaviors, institutions, and organizations across nations(2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications
13 Media and communication in Europe Agnieszka Ste?pin?ska – Logos – 2014
14 Mapping the European Public Sphere: Institutions, Media and Civil Society Emanuela Bozzini, Cristiano Bee – Ashgate Publishing Group – 2010