Book Review: Euroscepticism, Democracy and the Media

Manuela Caiani and Simona Guerra (eds.), Euroscepticism, Democracy and the Media. Communicating Europe, Contesting Europe (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017). 284 pp., £52.99 (e-book), ISBN: 9781137596437.

Weakening financial and economic equilibrium, rising political relevance of the immigration issue, the resonating anti-EU rhetoric of populist parties, and more recently the outcome of the UK referendum shed light on the ‘crises’ that hit European democracies and, specifically, European Union institutions from different angles. As a result, at the national level discontent towards European integration foments political conflict while gaining more and more salience. Within this context, old (i.e. newspapers) and new tools of communication (i.e. websites and social networks) bridge political actors’ positions towards the EU and shape the public debate over the EU legitimacy.
This book, edited by Manuela Caiani and Simona Guerra, offers an in-depth evaluation of the multi-layered concept of Euroscepticism considering citizens’ changing attitudes (both pro and con) towards EU politics and the role played by traditional and digital media in framing EU polity, politics, and policies. The all-encompassing approach adopted in this book, as stated in the introduction, aims to investigate political parties’ and civil society’s contingent and qualified or outright and unqualified contestation of the European democracy.

The volume consists of 12 original contributions covering the existing literature on Euroscepticism, democracy, and the media. These contributions analyse the extent to which mass media portray the EU in the political and public debate of different member states, such as the UK, France, Italy, Denmark, Greece, Poland, Germany, Spain, and the Netherlands. The book is organised in three parts. In the first section, the authors review the current academic debate on the themes and offer new theoretical suggestions. The second part focuses on the role played by traditional media in shaping and fuelling the so-called ‘spiral of Euroscepticism’ in comparison to online platforms, such as the internet and social networks. The third part analyses the extent to which new media channel Eurosceptic political conflict to civil society. In the introduction, Manuela Caiani and Simona Guerra provide a well-articulated review of studies on Euroscepticism and the impact that media can have in influencing public opinions and attitudes. Contestation towards the EU may occur differently across ‘actors, tactics, and forms’.

There is no unique definition of Euroscepticism, rather, it is a nuanced phenomenon that originates from domestic political conflict. Although scholars tend to focus mainly on party-based Euroscepticism, citizens’ emotions play a crucial role in affecting the process of EU integration, as the result of the Brexit referendum demonstrated (Simona Guerra, chapter two). Under these theoretical premises, media can be seen as an obstacle or a facilitator to EU integration and European democracy. However, the dividing line cannot be reduced to a mere dichotomy between new and old means of communication. Media do not represent only an important political channel to inform and shape public opinions. They can, in fact, be dynamic actors in negatively framing the EU, and their bias produces direct effects in terms of public discontent (Galpin and Trenz chapter three). Significant events, such as the Eurozone crisis, increased the degree of Euroscepticism that has also become mainstream in quality newspaper (Bijsmans, chapter four).
On the demand side, in the emblematic cases of the UK and the Netherlands, evidence has also shown that newspaper readership is related to the common perception of journalists’ political bias on the left-right spectrum, as well as to the position they adopt in favour or against the EU (Leruth, Kutiyski, Krouwel and Startin, chapter five).

Intensity in the use of news or social media also affects public preferences towards the EU. New media tend to capture more attention from young people while emphasising Euroscepticism, while traditional media tend to frame the EU in positive terms. Consequently, media framing effects can be seen in citizens’ Eurosceptic or supportive attitudes towards the EU (Conti and Memoli, chapter six). Similarly, despite context-related differences, voters’ news diets and party preferences relate to their positions towards the EU. Again, social media represent the main facilitators of EU discontent (Mosca and Quaranta, chapter seven). The internet in particular is the arena where extreme-right’s anti-EU rhetoric spreads cross-nationally while fuelling political discontent (Pavan and Caiani, chapter eight). Twitter networks show a clear distinction between Europhile and Eurosceptic camps. Social network analysis highlights that Europhile networks interact more transnationally than Eurosceptic ones (Heft, Wittwer, Pfetschnineth, chapter nine). In contrast to ‘hard’ Euroscepticism, the austerity policies’ effect produces a ‘soft’ EU discontent. This can be seen in the claims of movement parties such as Syriza and Podemos that support the idea of ‘another Europe’ rather than being completely against it (della Porta, Kouki, Fernández, chapter ten). Moreover, technologies may be used to develop a new model of citizenship and political representation that transcends national borders. A long-term and sophisticated EU ‘u-government’ model would be shaped by a mixed reality technology (Fanoulis and Peña-Ríos, chapter eleven). As further argued in the conclusion, moving beyond Eurosceptic parties’ strategies is an essential starting point to better understanding the different shades in which EU discontent manifests itself (chapter twelve). Empirical evidence shows a nuanced Euroscepticism and provides substantive arguments for further investigating this highly-contested phenomenon through a bottom-up approach.

Finally, in so-called “times of crisis” this book outlines the state of the art on the theoretical and empirical implications that sit behind different Eurosceptic labels. A positive connotation of EU contestation is adopted and, often, shared as a dominant frame across countries and actors like citizens, social or political movements, and the extreme right. The book proposes new and interesting stimuli to the study of dissent towards the process of European integration. It also highlights the double-sided role media play as agents and arena for political conflict. By so doing, it represents a valuable starting point for further studies on European politics and political communication.

Ornella Urso, Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa

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