Conference, Europäische Akademie, Berlin Grunewald, 28th-30th November 2003

International, interdisciplinary Conference
for PhD students and young academics on:

The European Public Sphere

Organizing team: Cornelia Dereje, Jan-Henrik Meyer, Michael Brüggemann
with the support of the Berlin Graduate School of Social Sciences
the DFG-Graduate Programme "The New Europe" at Humboldt-University, Berlin
and the European Academy Berlin


Introduction: Topic of the conference

During the past two decades European integration has made great progress. Yet this progress came at the price of a growing democratic deficit, as many critics highlighted. The main charges were that European decision-making was not transparent, information for the general public was scarce, and the opportunities for citizen's participation were lacking, while at the same time the influence of the EU on people's everyday lives was constantly growing. Thus a major aspect of the EU's democratic deficit can be attributed to the lack of a public sphere, for it is the role of a public sphere to inform the citizens, to ensure scrutiny and to act as a forum for civic participation.

As we are heading for a European constitution the question of a European public sphere has become ever more urgent: Is there something like a European public sphere? How does it manifest itself? How does it work? How does it contribute to European democracy? Various research projects have been started to inquire into the European public sphere. Moreover, all over Europe a growing number of PhD students and young academics from the disciplines of communications, sociology, political science and history are working on this topic. The goal of the proposed conference is to convene for the first time all those who are interested in the European public sphere for an international and interdisciplinary exchange.

In order to inquire into the European public sphere, its emergence, its core characteristics, and most of all, how and if it fulfils its role in European democracy, it is crucial to have a clear concept. We propose to divide the current approaches into two perspectives:

1. The vertical perspective: Publics referring to the EU in one or many nation-states. These publics serve as a forum for the emergence of public opinion and participation, which may be characterised by top-down or bottom-up processes.

2. The horizontal perspective: A European public sphere through the transnational interconnection and the interweaving of networks of communication.


1. The vertical perspective: Publics referring to the EU

The vertical perspective is mainly interested in processes of building public opinion. Public opinion may be dominated by vertical top-down processes. Governments' spin-doctoring, PR-activities by the EU or government agencies serves this purpose. Alternatively, however, civic participation may be strong in the formation of public opinion in a vertical bottom-up process. Inquiring into the European public sphere from this perspective, researchers focus on how public opinion on European politics emerges and who participates in the shaping of public opinion. Normatively, the quality of a European public sphere from a vertical perspective is assessed according to how open the access to the public sphere is, and how broad is the participation of civil society organisations. These criteria are considered to strengthen the legitimacy of a democratic European polity.
Empirically, the formation of public opinion on EU policy-making does not necessarily have to take place everywhere in Europe at the same time, but may be limited to a few national publics.
The vertical perspective has been a guideline for many case studies of national public debates on EU-policies. These may range from the national perception of e.g. Eastern enlargement to "anti-European" campaigns by Eurosceptic movements. Public debates on how EU policies interfere with regional self-determination have been examined. Research from the vertical perspective thus focuses on changing patterns of protest and participation in the EU multilevel polity.


2. The horizontal perspective: A transnational European public sphere

A European public sphere consisting of transnational media like the Financial Times is limited to very elite publics. However, national publics are not completely sealed off from one another. Rather, there are manifold similarities and exchanges of information between national media from different countries. Therefore it is possible to inquire into a European public sphere through the research on national media. This perspective may be called horizontal, for it compares national publics trying to elicit European commonalities, which are the result of horizontal exchanges between national public spheres. The process of the transnational interconnection and interweaving of communication in an emergent "European sphere of communication" greatly interests the adherents of this perspective. While examining the perception of European policy-making, they are more generally interested in the "intensification of communication" within Europe. The horizontal perspective rests on the assumption that a shared polity will bring about intensified and increasingly more similar patterns of communication. Rather than looking for actors participating in a European public sphere, emphasis is placed on the diffusion of topics, frames and patterns of perception, which are fundamental for thinking about the EU in an ever more similar way, and for identifying with Europe.


Details of the conference

For the first time we want to convene the young researchers who are working on this topic in various European countries. During the conference participants will be able to discuss their approaches and present their (preliminary) results, so as to gain insights and inspiration for their own research. Our goal is to enable the international and interdisciplinary exchange between this group of researchers, which we hope will eventually lead to an enduring scientific network on European integration and the question of a shared public sphere. A mailing list will be set up in the planning and preparation phase of the project, which will help with the communication.

Input by "Experts":
We will invite scholars from various disciplines, who specialise in questions of the European public sphere.

Place and date:
European Academy Berlin,
Nov. 28th-30th, 2003

ca. 30 young academics / PhD students from the disciplines of Political Science, Sociology, Communications, and History; four academic experts.


Publication of the results:
It is planned to publish the contributions to and the results of the conference.

Accommodation and Meeting Site:

Europäische Akademie Berlin
Bismarckallee 46/48
D-14193 Berlin

Tel.: ++ 49 (0)30 - 89 59 51 -0
Fax: ++ 49 (0)30 - 89 59 51 -95
E-mail: eab @

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