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Why Europe?

Narratives and Counter-narratives of European Integration

by Alina Bârgăoanu (Volume editor) Raluca Buturoiu (Volume editor) Loredana Radu (Volume editor)
Edited Collection 296 Pages

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Preface: From “What Europe” to “Why Europe”. Insights into the Consequences of EU Overlapping Crises (Alina Bârgăoanu / Raluca Buturoiu / Loredana Radu)
  • Section 1: Media Coverage of the European Union in Turmoil Contexts. Prevailing Frames and Competing Narratives
  • Is the Refugee Crisis Shaping Different Representations of the EU? Narratives of Europeanization in Pan-European vs. National Online Media (Flavia Alupei-Durach / Paul Dobrescu / Loredana Radu)
  • Representations of Europe in the Online Media Discourse about Migration. A Comparative Approach (Denisa-Adriana Oprea / Raluca Buturoiu)
  • The Communication Deficit of the EU from a Citizens’ Perspective. Young People’s Difficulties in Making Sense of Media Coverage on the EU (Christina Ortner)
  • Section 2: Perceptions of Europe. Are We Blaming the “Victim”?
  • European Identifications through Youth Mobility: The Case of Slovenian Students (Tea Golob / Matej Makarovič)
  • The Impact of Social and Cognitive Learning Experiences on European Identity Development among Young Europeans (Soetkin Verhaegen / Georgiana Udrea)
  • EU and the Refugee Crisis from the Romanian Perspective (Oana Ştefăniţă / Georgiana Udrea)
  • Narrating Europe in the Context of the Refugees Crisis. The Case of Romanian Youth (Alina Bârgăoanu / Loredana Radu / Georgiana Udrea)
  • The EU Failed, We Need More EU? The Public Perceptions of the EU and European Integration in the Context of Russian-Ukrainian Military Conflict and the ‘Migration Crisis’ (Joanna Fomina)
  • Members of the EU, but Feeling European? An Analysis of How Romanian Officials Assume Identities during the Refugee Crisis (Radu-Cristian Răileanu)
  • Section 3: Counter-narratives of European Integration: Populism, Extremism and Euro-denial
  • ‘Does the Economy Really Matter?’ People’s Evaluations of the Economy and the Success of Populist Parties in Europe (Elena Negrea-Busuioc / Nicoleta Corbu)
  • Mainstreaming Nationalism? The Case of the Law and Justice Party (PiS) (Andrada Nimu / Clara Volintiru)
  • Populism and Euroscepticism, the Case of the Italian Five Star Movement in 2013: An Analysis of Party Direct Communication and Media Coverage (Cristina Cremonesi)
  • Discursive Strategies Used by Romanian Politicians in the Context of the Refugee Crisis (Florenţa Toader)
  • Editors
  • Contributors

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Alina Bârgăoanu*, Raluca Buturoiu and Loredana Radu

From “What Europe” to “Why Europe”. Insights into the Consequences of EU Overlapping Crises

The European Union (EU) has been shattered by a series of multilayered crises for several years now. A cursory inventory of these crises would include, but not be limited to, the following: the euro; Greece; Ukraine; terrorism/internal security; migration/refugees; Schengen; Brexit; export crisis1; the fragility of the German banks; the rise of anti-establishment and populist movements. Are there any common characteristics of these crises? Yes. They all happen at the same time, or, better said, none of them has been completely solved since its outburst; they reinforce one another and present immense crossbreeding potential for refugees, terrorism and the crisis of the Mediterranean South; Ukraine and the geopolitical crisis created by the East-West Divide; euro crisis and Germany’s export crisis. They create the appearance of powerlessness in as far as both leaders and ordinary citizens are concerned. They occur along highly divisive, existential issues (security, both personal and border security) in equally divided, even polarized societies. Looking back (in anger) to the year 2010, when the first signs of the eurocrisis appeared in Greece, they happen in a crescendo, breeding the question: what could possibly be worse? Over an incredibly short period of time, the European Union has come a long way from an ever closer union to being engulfed in an ever bigger crisis. The awareness that the EU is facing an existential crisis has finally reached the doorstep of the most prominent European leaders; on the occasion of the recently completed EU summit in Bratislava, Angela Merkel declared that the EU is at a “critical point”, while Jean-Claude Juncker acknowledged precisely that the: “EU is facing an existential crisis”.

The results of these crises with these characteristics can be perceived at three levels at least. Outside, the European Union is not surrounded by a “ring of friends”, ← 7 | 8 → as its first security strategy dating back to 2003 promised, but by a ring of fire (Ukraine in the East, Middle East, with its hotspots in Syria and Libya, in the South; not to mention the new Europe created by Great Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, leaving its Western border, both physical and symbolical, in limbo). Inside, we are dealing with what John Peet and Anton La Guardia aptly called an “Unhappy Union” (Peet & La Guardia, 2014); with a fierce fight between Brussels and the national capitals; with ever widening gaps between North and South over debts and austerity, between East and West over migration and Russian assertiveness, between elites and citizens over pretty much everything. Third, the success story in economic integration that the EU has been so far is looked upon with caution, even suspicion, in other parts of the world (Mercosur, the Gulf Cooperation Council, ASEAN, East Africa).

The question that has been prompted by the first crisis confronting the EU in 2010 (the so-called Greece debt crisis) and that has been bred by all the subsequent ones is: What Europe/European Union are we talking about? With what kind of Union can we confront these overlapping crises? “More Europe” appeared to be the natural answer, only to discover that one can put almost everything under these simple two words: federation with subsequent variations – United States of Europe, a federation of nation states, a post-national Europe bound by constitutional patriotism (Habermas, 2006) –, supranational democracy, 2-, 3- or n-speed Europe more of an intergovernmental type, a loose confederation, an alliance of sovereign states, an informal UN, a “market-conforming democracy” looked upon with great suspicion by Habermas (2012), an “accidental empire with capital Berlin” (Beck, 2013).

The answer to the question “What Europe?” varied according to the crisis itself, changing the political map of the European Union and the meaning of “real Europe”. For example, in the context of the Greek and eurocrisis, “real Europe” meant the Eurozone (with possible ins and outs); in the context of the refugee crisis, “real Europe” meant the Schengen space of free movement, a space whose borders (which leave Romania and Bulgaria on the outside) need to be defended; in the context of the export crisis, “real Europe” is made up of the export-oriented, Germany-led countries in the North, to which some Central and Eastern European countries are aligned.

Over time, “more Europe” has started to acquire very different overtones: for some in the Western part of the European Union, Europe means less Romania and Bulgaria, possibly less Central and Eastern Europe as a whole; for others, “more Europe” means less Germany, or less France. Let us remember the slogan of the Italian party Forza Italia, “More Italy, Less Germany!” From these slightly ← 8 | 9 → different overtones, the question “What Europe” has undergone one more change. “More Europe”, less Europe, smaller Europe and what not? The dominant question in the minds of leaders and citizens alike, whether we like to admit it or not, has become more dramatic: Why Europe?

In this context, our volume, timely entitled “Why Europe? Narratives and Counter-narratives of European Integration”, tackles strategies for bridging the widening gap between Europe and the Europeans. “Why Europe” immediately leads to another question: what unites us as Europeans? We, the editors of this volume, agree that the least problem the EU has is a communication problem and that communication is ineffective against a rising sentiment of injustice and inequality among increasingly diverse national, social and political groupings across the EU, across countries and between them. At the same time, our strong background as communication scholars urges us to believe that “EU communication”, meaning communication of the EU, by the EU, for the EU is still very important. The European(ized) public sphere, adverse as it is right now in the most paradoxical manner to the very idea of the EU, is, above all, a form of social solidarity (Calhoun, 2003), a melting pot where common representations of what unites us as Europeans are shaped.

The main goals of this volume are: first, to explore new theoretical and empirical frameworks that might explain how current communication practices, including media frames and narratives, political discourse, and citizens’ perceptions, influence the development of a European(ized) public sphere, thus facilitating the process of European integration; second, to expand research on EU communication and European integration with particular focus on how media cover EU-related topics during harsh times (i.e., the refugee crisis); third, to investigate both citizens’ and elite’s perceptions and attitudes towards the European Union, and, thus, to provide integrated approaches on how Europe is regarded and “felt” at all levels; and third, to offer insights into recent trends of European integration, including strong counter-narratives such as populism, extremism and euro-denial. By accomplishing these specific yet interconnected goals, the chapters in this book contribute to illuminating why or why not Europe.

The book draws on interdisciplinary perspectives, in which political, sociological and communication studies interfere. It consists of three parts, following our intention to come up with meaningful explanations regarding the (most) recent debates surrounding current practices of EU communication and European integration.

The first section, titled Media Coverage of the European Union in Turmoil Contexts. Prevailing Frames and Competing Narratives, explores the main trends used ← 9 | 10 → by the media in order to cover EU-related topics. This part is built around media frames and narratives of Europeanization, media representations of the EU, and a long-debated concept known as the communication deficit of the EU. Specifically, Alupei-Durach, Dobrescu and Radu seek to explore the nature and consequences of the relationship between media frames and narratives, regarded as the foundation stones for the mediated discourse on European topics. This chapter confirms that there is a general shift from rather positive media accounts of Europeanization to downright “disruptive discourse of de-sacralization and crisis”. Furthermore, it suggests that there is a relative high degree of uniformity between national and pan-European media, in what regards the way they narrate and frame the EU with reference to the refugee crisis. Therefore, this consensus could be seen as an “alarm bell”, announcing that the severity of the refugee crisis might be treated in similar manners, irrespective of the type of media (i.e., national or pan-European).

The second contribution in this section also draws on social constructivist approaches, namely on social representations theory and aims at investigating how Europe (i.e., both the European continent and the European Union) is represented in the online news articles on migration crisis. Comparing Romanian and French online news articles, Oprea and Buturoiu analyze the main themes in relation to Europe, and the main actions and characteristics Europe is associated with. Results at this level confirm that during hard times Europe has not only to redefine its role, but also to struggle for survival. Or, as the authors put it straight “Europe seems to be unable to get over certain inertia suitable to an epoch or to a world order which is absolutely lost”.

The third chapter in this section focuses on the communication deficit of the EU from the citizens’ perspective. Ortner investigates the difficulties that the young people face when trying to make sense of media coverage on EU-related topics. The author identifies five issues that Austrian youth deals with when coming closer to EU communication practices, namely inattention, incomprehension, disorientation, manipulability and mistrust. As suggested, all these negative attitudes seem to have multiple causes, among which there are some scarcities to be considered: the lack of willingness to deal with the EU, the lack of political knowledge, the lack of media literacy, and the lack of trust in the EU. The EU is seen as the main entity responsible for finding a solution towards reducing the communication gap between what it sends and what citizens receive. This means that, in order to begin reducing the communication (i.e., also democratic) deficit, the EU must take into consideration the venerable yet very important rules of communication. ← 10 | 11 →

The second section of this volume, titled Perceptions of Europe. Are We Blaming the “Victim”?, aims at providing a comprehensive understanding of the attitudes both citizens and elites develop towards the EU in times of multiple crises. The first two contributions in this section share the idea of European identity and identification, in contexts facilitating the emergence and development of such feelings (i.e., youth and Erasmus mobility); the next three focus on public perceptions of the EU and European integration in contexts characterized by severe crises (i.e., the refugee crisis and the Russian-Ukrainian military conflict), while the last one targets the way in which Romanian officials assume identities during the refugee crisis.

With reference to the process of European identification, Golob and Makarovič concentrate on how Slovenian students use the “European passport” in order to get accustomed to the “uncertain social reality” in a smooth way. Field results confirm the fact that “the Europe-wide social fields emerge”, even in times of severe crises, when the collective identifications and attachment to the specific supranational entity are causing serious doubts. In other words, even in “shuffled” times, the EU is still regarded through the lenses of chance and opportunity (i.e., with regard to the instrumental components of European identity) (Bruter, 2009; Ruiz Jiménez, Gorniak, Kosic, Kiss & Kandulla, 2004).

Similar conclusions are presented by Verhaegen and Udrea in their chapter titled The Impact of Social and Cognitive Learning Experiences on European Identity Development among Young Europeans. General findings prove the fact that, due to its socially-embedded nature, the Erasmus mobility might be regarded as a rather robust factor fostering the emergence and development of a European identity among young people. These results represent a valid proof of the volatility in what regards the EU-related feelings and attitudes.

Ștefăniță and Udrea address and analyze Romanian people’s perceptions on the migrant flows. Namely, they seek to discover how people perceive the effects of the migration crisis, their views on EU’s response to the crisis and the solutions found to overcome the crisis. Not surprisingly, the refugee crisis is regarded as an “existential test for the European Union”, being a disturbing event towards the stability of the Union. The majority agree with the idea that this most recent crisis the EU is facing could be the last one, in the sense that it could lead to the “disintegration of the EU”. Romanian people in general are still optimistic and expect positive outcomes as members of the EU. Nevertheless, while young people are looking for possible positive outcomes embedded by the crisis, showing support and compassion towards the refugees, senior citizens seem to be more vehement in emphasizing the risks and dangers associated to the refugee crisis. ← 11 | 12 → This particular result should be considered since this perceptual gap (mainly attributed to visions associated with age) could lead to further divides (besides the classic ones between the rich and the poor, the west and the east) across the EU.

The next contribution in the second section approaches people’s perceptions on the present state and future of the EU in the context of the refugee crisis. Namely, Bârgăoanu, Radu and Udrea, in their chapter suggestively titled Narrating Europe in the Context of the Refugees Crisis. The Case of Romanian Youth, investigate how young and educated Romanian citizens perceive and depict the future of the European project as reshaped by the refugee and migrant crisis. Not surprisingly, their main findings suggest that young people tend to lose EU-rooted enthusiasm during hard times (i.e., when relating to European perceptions and attitudes in times of multiple crises). Nevertheless, despite the general negative perceptions and ambivalent attitudes, there is still place for hope, in the sense that some rather strong voices put forward an optimistic view: the EU is perceived as the “savior”, it must and should have solutions to all problems (i.e., the refugee crisis included).

Also referring to public perceptions of the EU, Fomina’s interest is towards analyzing Polish public perceptions regarding the events linked to the security dimension of EU integration (i.e., the “hybrid war in Ukraine”) and how the EU’s responses find an echo in public perceptions of the EU within Central European countries, namely Poland. Research results reveal “the ambiguous nature” of the perceptions of the EU in the abovementioned insecure context. Specifically, Polish public opinion gravitates around criticism, which is not always regarded as negative. Instead, greater criticism might be associated with a call for greater cooperation, “concerted action and common policy positions”. Therefore, the criticism of the EU should not be labelled as Euroskepticism, and, even more optimistically, it could be interpreted as a sign of a developing European identity (i.e., “European citizens criticize the EU because they feel stronger affiliation with it, they are more engaged”).

The next chapter in this section is dedicated to an analysis of how Romanian officials construct identities during the refugee crisis. Specifically, Răileanu looks at how both the Romanian president and the Prime Minister construct and project their identities when offering official press discourses on topics related to the refugee crisis. Main results show that Romanian officials tend to project the national identity more frequently than the European one. This predictable finding is in line with the events characterizing the analyzed time span, in the sense that, people in general have the tendency to take a step back when dealing with turbulences. In other words, if things go well, we are together, if not, we are thinking about it. ← 12 | 13 →

The third section of this book, Counter-narratives of European Integration: Populism, Extremism and Euro-denial, focuses on new perspectives to the concept of populism, which poses per se additional challenges to the very idea of European solidarity. Mainly due to the (most) recent crises which the EU was shaken by, the opposing views towards the EU have become a sort of “chlorophyl” nurturing extremist actors, and the “feeding process” augments with every missed step in action and communication belonging to the EU institutions. This section examines if and how people’s perceptions of the evolution of national and European economies are related to the electoral success of populist parties across Europe; the way nationalist and extremist parties gather momentum across Europe, benefiting from the growing wave of Euroskepticism (according to analyses from parties in Poland and Italy); the way populism differs from other trends like the personalization or professionalization of political communication, and then finds a “warm place” within the online political discourse.

The first contribution from the third section, suggestively titled “Does the Economy Really Matter?” People’s Evaluations of the Economy and the Success of Populist Parties in Europe, examines if Europeans’ perceptions of the evolution of economy correlate with the success of populist parties during electoral times. By far, one of the most important results in this chapter is that “the economic factor alone cannot account for the dynamics of populist growth”. Notably, since the rise of populism varies significantly across European countries, it would be a mistake to “solely or primarily” attribute the success of populist parties to the impact of the perceived economic situation. However, results show an interesting pattern, indicating that “the way in which people evaluate the state of the EU economy form one election to the next seems to be a good indicator for the success of the populist parties in different countries across Europe”.

Biographical notes

Alina Bârgăoanu (Volume editor) Raluca Buturoiu (Volume editor) Loredana Radu (Volume editor)

Alina Bârgăoanu is a Communication Scholar and Dean of the College of Communication and Public Relations (National University of Political Studies and Public Administration, Bucharest). She is the President of the Management Board at the European Institute of Romania, President of the ECREA Temporary Working Group «Communication and the European Public Sphere» and «EU Communication and the European Public Sphere» Jean Monnet chair holder. Raluca Buturoiu is an Assistant Lecturer at the College of Communication and Public Relations (National University of Political Studies and Public Administration). She holds a PhD in Communication Sciences, with a thesis about mass communication effects. Her research interests cover communication theories, agenda-setting, framing and the (European) public sphere. Loredana Radu is an Associate Professor and Head of the Communication Department at the College of Communication and Public Relations (National University of Political Studies and Public Administration). She is the Director of the Center for EU Communication Studies and coordinator of the Jean Monnet teaching module «Patterns of Europeanization in Central and Eastern Europe».

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