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EU Affairs in the Public Sphere: A Cautiously Optimistic Assessment

Patrick Bijsmans

The apparent absence of a European public sphere has become an important topic in studies on the EU and itsdemocratic credentials. Analyses range from overly pessimistic assessments that refute the development of sucha space, to more optimistic evaluations that allocate a central role to national media. Based on a qualitativeanalysis of two cases (the debates about the Constitutional Treaty and about EU air quality legislation) inGermany and the Netherlands, this paper will also provide a cautiously optimistic account. Yet, it will neverthelesspinpoint two important shortcomings: a temporal mismatch in terms of when EU affairs are being discussed in themedia and a content-related mismatch related to discrepancies between what goes on in Brussels and how themedia cover EU affairs. Even though the two cases were discussed in a different way in the media (involvingdifferent actors and a different focus), the mismatches occurred in both cases. In other words, while publicdebates about EU affairs are by no means unlikely, their nature may not always be conducive for the democraticcontrol of EU policy- and decision-making. Data will be drawn from my PhD project and covers the period2000-2005.

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