| Hellenic Foundation for European & Foreign Policy

An overview of national media debates on Europe in the post war period

Europe arrives late and is always overshowed by the European Union

The media of most European countries were not interested in the idea of Europe nor in issues of European importance until the late 1980s. This is one of the main findings of a recent comparative study on national media debates covering thirteen countries. The study was conducted by a consortium of nine research centres and Universities from both western and central eastern Europe and has been funded by the European Commission.

In a comparative report that has just appeared, Michal Krzyzanowski and Ruth Wodak from Lancaster University state that European issues became important in national media debates only after the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and in relation to the ever enlarging and deepening European Union. Thus, any ideas or conceptions of Europe as a geographical or historical entity or as a distinct culture were in reality overshadowed by reports and debates on the European Union.

This was the case in Austria, Britain, Germany (both East and West until 1989), Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Serbia (and former Yugoslavia), Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden. The only exception to the rule was France: Europe was at the heart of French media debates since the 1950s already.

Interest in European issues and events increased as the countries got more involved in the EU integration process. EU membership gradually replaced Cold War concerns with European security. Peace, democracy and prosperity remained important buzzwords in media debates throughout the post war period.

“There is an important similarity between southern European countries” notes Anna Triandafyllidou from ELIAMEP in Athens, Greece. “The media debates on Europe in Greece and Spain stress political stability as an important feature of ‘belonging to Europe’. This has no doubt to do with the authoritarian regime experiences of the two countries in the post war era”. Moreover, in both countries Europe or the EU for that matter are non-issues until the 1990s.

“Media debates on Europe were triggered by important events” writes Michal Krzyzanowski. “However it must be borne in mind that those debates referred to nationally specific events, not to events that we would define today as pan-European, such as the 1968 protest movement in Paris and Prague”.

Media debates on European issues or on European values are largely absent from the countries whose (western) “Europeanness” is taken for granted such as Austria, Britain, Germany, Sweden or Italy. French exceptionalism however is once again confirmed: debates on European issues and values thrive in the French “heart” of the continent. Debates on what Europe is or what it stands for were also prominent in the national media of Central Eastern European countries such as Poland or Slovenia, who reclaimed their “belonging to Europe” after 1989.

The study concludes that there is always a national filter applied on media debates: Europe is important only when it matters for national developments. As Malmborg and Stråth (2001: 6) put it: “Europe has only existed as an invention of states”. The analysis of the Greek media debates confirms this view. In the mid 1990s, the Greek media discourse emphasizes that the “national interest” (such as the controversy over the naming of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) should remain independent from European views that fail to recognize the historical specificity and traumatic national experiences of Greece in the Balkans. However, in recent years, media debates stress European values with a universal appeal such as peace, democracy, prosperity, human rights, and to a lesser extent social solidarity. In the value debates, Greek media portray Europe as part of the national self.

Michal Krzyzanowski and Ruth Wodak (2006), A comparative report on European media research, University of Lancaster, unpublished project report, University of Lancaster, March 2006.
Mikael af Malmborg and Bo Stråth (2002) (eds) The National Meanings of Europe. Oxford: Berg.

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