Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

EU leadership to actively engage citizens to address societal issues

At the European level, the biggest challenge for democracy is lack of citizen participation. EU-funded research has provided new insights on the role of media discourse in civic participation in European politics.
EU leadership to actively engage citizens to address societal issues
For most of the history of European integration, citizens were not called upon to form their opinions on a European issue. This made the work of European decision-makers less complicated, but also means that many were not fully aware of how such issues and related decisions impacted their lives. This situation changed at the turn of the last millennium. Political entrepreneurs (e.g. anti-establishment politicians, trade unionists) began to spotlight perceived problem areas, leading to the first instances of mass demonstrations regarding EU politics.

The ENGAGING EU CITIZENS project aimed at improving our understanding of what process leads to the politicisation of European issues.

Initially, the research team developed a model to describe how issues are politicised in national politics. The model combined insights from media effect research and collective action theory, both of which confirm that negative framing is more powerful in its ability to mobilise than positive framing. They then produced a coding tree to analyse media debates relevant to specific cases: the European Haider case; the case of the EU Services Directive (dubbed the Bolkestein directive); and the Greek Euro crisis.

ENGAGING EU CITIZENS established a correlation between certain highly emotionally loaded statements in the media and ensuing mobilisation of citizens for or against EU decision-making. Further, it found that highly emotionally loaded political statements activate people, and may also increase the likelihood of their being engaged in political action.

If EU leadership wants citizens to think positively about the EU and their decisions, they have to garner support in much the same way they do in national politics. Stimulating debate will also make it more difficult for political entrepreneurs to rally against EU-level decisions and win citizens over to the opposition. The kind of emotion fuelled in public debates on national issues can thus be used to address societal problems at a European level.

Related information

Keywords

EU leadership, media discourse, political entrepreneurs, ENGAGING EU CITIZENS, politicisation
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