What is Communicating Europe?
Communicating Europe really started as an idea, or rather a reflection, after watching the BBC Great Debate in June 2016 between representatives of different UK-based political parties regarding whether to leave the EU, or to stay inside and make it stronger. The reflection I had at the time was that, for all the importance of the issues being discussed and indeed the importance of EU membership more generally, here were several politicians speaking past each other on these issues, all with very different understandings of what the EU is, how it functions, what it does, and why it does it. What is the EU? What are its values? Is it an oppressive, distant bureaucracy, crushing the sovereignty of its composite members? Is it a neoliberal economic project, seeking instead to extract whatever financial value there may be from its workers, to the detriment of their welfare, quality of life and happiness? Is it instead a compromise between states, flawed or otherwise, that nevertheless stands for certain fundamental principles such as the rule of law, equality, human rights and social democracy? Is it none of these things? Or perhaps is it a complex amalgamation of all these things?
Communicating about the EU
The EU fundamentally changes, depending on who you speak to, and what they say. The same individuals may even speak differently about the EU depending on their audience. We are all familiar with the political actors who support the EU and its project in Brussels, taking full part in its activities and policy-making, who then decry it in domestic politics. The trade unionist who talks of making stands against the onslaught on workers’ rights by a removed technocracy in public speeches to delegates, who realises the importance of compromise and shared responsibilities when attending closed stakeholder meetings. We know of traditional media, becoming increasingly balkanized in their communications to their target audience, dividing themselves into camps that could almost be considered ‘EUrophiles’ and ‘EUrophobes’. So too are we aware of new ways of communicating about Europe, far from the language and rules traditional media. Online citizen campaigning about Europe, academics engaging in ‘public intellectualism’ through short YouTube videos or symposiums, and somewhat more shady, unknown entities going beyond expressing views or opinions on the EU based on the facts as they see them, instead seeking to deliberately mislead through the creation of extreme narratives and ‘false facts’. The various ways and means of talking about the EU and its actions, policies, values and value are becoming increasingly complex, emotive, and yet, incorporating a greater number of actors than ever before. How can we understand what is happening?
About the Research Group
Communicating Europe is the attempt to explore these fascinating interactions between different actors and audiences in far more detail. Coordinated by Dr Benjamin Farrand at Newcastle University, Dr Isabel Camisão at the University of Coimbra, Dr Katjana Gattermann at the University of Amsterdam, and Professor Catherine de Vries at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, this UACES Research Network seeks to bring an interdisciplinary perspective to bear on the questions of who talks about the EU; how; why; and with what effect, bringing insights from international relations, law, sociology, politics and communication. Through its activities in workshops and panels at international conferences, Communicating Europe will create a larger network of researchers considering how the EU is communicated, what influences the mode and content of communications, how it relates to broader trends, and how, if at all, these communications should be regulated by legal systems. This first blog post, as the reader is no doubt aware, does not shed any particular light on any of the issues raised – it instead constitutes a statement of intent, a beginning of a conversation, and perhaps, a call to action. Communicating Europe welcomes any and all academics, whether established Professors or Early Career Researchers just beginning a PhD to become involved. We will be publishing information shortly regarding our initial UACES conference panels on these topics, and a call for papers for an opening event to take place in late May or early June 2019. We look forward to working with all of you. If you are interested in finding out more, do not hesitate to contact firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to our mailing list.
Benjamin Farrand, on behalf of Communicating Europe.