2. Europeanization ?
In the post-Soviet era, ‘Europeanization’ has been marked by an expansion of competencies and of territory by the European Union. The idea that shared communication is a prerequisite for the formation of a European democracy has been central to recurrent debate, both political and academic. We have gone through a number of attempts to engineer this aspect of a ‘public sphere’ into existence: from television co-productions supported by EU programmes such as MEDIA to the recent development of a so-called communication policy by the European Commission, intended to redress the ‘democratic deficit’.
This development has been paralleled by the related aspirations that began more than two decades ago as a European information space and has evolved into seeking to install a ‘knowledge society’ in line with the Lisbon agenda. Here, the driving forces have been those of global economic competitiveness and technological change, not least advances in the so-called digital economy. Alongside this, the European Union context is also marked by the uncertain growth of a European cultural space, with increasing prominence given to the Culture programmes of the Commission since 2000. While these might justly be seen as ‘Europeanizing’ trends, it remains the case the real driving force of a communicative space (and therefore of the conditions that might create a possible public service television) would be the creation of a common political space. At present, this is stalled. Everyone is waiting for the Irish to make a decision to unblock the political stalemate. But perhaps movement towards a new, if still limited, constitutional framework would simply start off a new round of argument.
I think we need to distinguish between demand and supply-led conceptions of the relationship between television and its audiences because these relate to top-down and bottom-up conceptions of the polity. To address this question is also to ask about the nature of television institutions and the kind of supply that might be made available – and why.
A completely supply-side driven Euro-public service model would not work. We agree that the public service is – and can be - only partially edifying. That being so, television’s relationships with its audiences – especially as the digital revolution unfolds and introduces greater complexity to the modes of distribution - does raise questions about the role of consumption in the process of Europe building. Which are the contents that might be thought most important for common consumption? News, though typically cited, is really most successful in its national mode of address. The Uefa Champions League and Eurovision produce large event-based transnational audiences but divergent loyalties still divide Europeans on tribal lines during these cultural competitions (which is far better than war, of course).
To date, there seems little evidence that there is strong cross-national demand for others’ programming within the EU. Of course, television programmes circulate; so do formats, which may be more important in bringing about a kind of cultural uniformity in games shows, talent competitions and reality TV. That said, the prevalent mode of consumption seems to be framed by national frameworks of supply and modes of address. The European space remains linguistically and culturally divided, irrespective of the rise of English as a lingua franca.
Citizen-building and social integration are seen as key, desirable outcomes in the briefing paper for this meeting. These are certainly top-down aspirations. That doesn’t make them bad or wrong. And many citizens might share them, although across all the member states the Eurobarometer’s surveys suggest that there is no consistency over time about how much citizens imagine themselves to be ‘Europeans’.
It is also the case that a European dimension to television can take many possible forms. Thus, in the course of citizen-building and seeking social solidarity, there are normative questions as well as practical ones to address, which have much to do with the vision of Europe that is espoused – welfare state or market; nations or federation; elite-led or democratic? And then there is the delicate question of the limits of that Europe: who belongs, who doesn’t? Who do the frontiers hold at bay? Why and on what criteria? Is it Realpolitik that decides membership or cultural affinity or religion – or a combination of these, depending on circumstance? Who, once resident in the EU, is allowed to become a European, irrespective of colour, creed or culture?
Arguments about the creation of a European communicative space, in which television might play a central role, have circulated for three decades, at least. This idea has been closely linked to the process of European integration. We can imagine this space in a number of ways:
A single comprehensive European public sphere on the model of that of the national state
An interrelated set of public spheres that conserves state-based difference but affords linkage at a European level
The circulation through designated distribution systems of ‘European’ public service content, however defined
A socio-cultural network with ICT-supported user patterns that converge on the European space.
This last point raises another question. Is television the right medium for today’s discussion, as despite its transnational circulation, for most purposes it remains predominantly a national medium?