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The Politicization of the European Union: From Constitutional Dreams to Euro-Zone Nightmares

Paul Statham

Today, the politicization of European Union seems obvious and its advance inevitable. From a vantage point when Euro-zone monetary policy is publicly debated and challenged over the debt crises in Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Italy, it seems strange that less than a decade ago a primary concern of European elites was a lack of attention by citizens and parties for the integration project. Politicization requires the expansion of debates from closed elite-dominated policy arenas to wider publics. At the same time a focus on contentious European issues has a potential to enhance the Europeanization of national public spheres, as domestic public debates include more references to actors, issues and decisions from other European countries and from the EU-level. In this way, politicization occurs through a combination of the Europeanization of national public spheres, on one side, and public contestation over European issues and decisions, on the other. Public debates carried by mass media are the important location where the politicization of Europe takes place and can be studied. While not the only forum or form of public debate, the mass media is crucial because it is where the general public can gain access to information about executive decision-making, and the stances of political actors who challenge decisions. In this article, we examine the factors that are conducive to EU politicization and aim to contribute to theory and understanding of how this process is underway. To study the public dimension of the EU’s politicization, we take the hitherto most prominent case, which is also recognised as a catalyst and a critical event, in determining the overall degree and form of EU politicization: the public debates over the Constitutional Treaty.

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