Citizens, Europe and the media have new media made citizens more eurosceptical? 978-3-319-45251-7, 3319452517, 978-3-319-45252-4, 3319452525

The volume presents the most comprehensive survey to date of citizens’ use of media and attitudes towards the EU. It sho

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Citizens, Europe and the media have new media made citizens more eurosceptical?
 978-3-319-45251-7, 3319452517, 978-3-319-45252-4, 3319452525

Table of contents :
Front Matter ....Pages i-xi
Introduction (Nicolò Conti, Vincenzo Memoli)....Pages 1-6
Citizens’ Attitudes Towards the EU, Use of the Media (Nicolò Conti, Vincenzo Memoli)....Pages 7-25
The Impact of Media on Citizens’ Attitudes (Nicolò Conti, Vincenzo Memoli)....Pages 27-46
One or Many EUs? (Nicolò Conti, Vincenzo Memoli)....Pages 47-68
A Specific Profile: The Internet Users (Nicolò Conti, Vincenzo Memoli)....Pages 69-83
The Context of Opposition to and Support for the EU in the Member States (Nicolò Conti, Vincenzo Memoli)....Pages 85-95
Back Matter ....Pages 97-113

Citation preview

Citizens, Europe and the Media

Nicolò Conti • Vincenzo Memoli

Citizens, Europe and the Media Have New Media made Citizens more Eurosceptical?

Nicolò Conti Unitelma Sapienza University of Rome Rome, Italy

Vincenzo Memoli University of Catania Catania, Italy

ISBN 978-3-319-45251-7 DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-45252-4

ISBN 978-3-319-45252-4 (eBook)

Library of Congress Control Number: 2016957412 © The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2016 This work is subject to copyright. All rights are solely and exclusively licensed by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. The publisher, the authors and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, express or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. Cover illustration: Détail de la Tour Eiffel © nemesis2207/ Printed on acid-free paper This Palgrave Macmillan imprint is published by Springer Nature The registered company is Springer International Publishing AG The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland


1 Introduction Why Citizens, Media and the EU? Mapping Public Attitudes Towards the EU and the Use of the Media Structure of the Book

1 1 4 5

2 Citizens’ Attitudes Towards the EU, Use of the Media The Context of Public Attitudes Towards the EU Declining Support, Mounting Euroscepticism The Media and the EU The Conceptualisation and Operationalisation of Euroscepticism Analysing Citizens’ Euroscepticism Through Media Diets: Final Remarks Notes

7 7 9 15 18

3 The Impact of Media on Citizens’ Attitudes Introduction Measuring Public Euroscepticism Support for the EU in the Two Dimensions of Representation and Policy The Role of the Media Conclusion Notes

27 27 28

23 25

30 35 44 45




4 One or Many EUs? Introduction A Critical Juncture National Differences in Attitudes Towards the EU National Differences in Use of the Media The Relationship Between the Increase in Use of the Media and Attitudes Towards the EU Conclusion Notes

47 47 49 51 58

5 A Specific Profile: The Internet Users The Importance of Media Diets for Citizens’ Attitudes Towards the EU Use of the Internet and Social Media Among Europeans The Role of Social Media Social Media Users Are the Most Eurosceptical Final Remarks Notes

69 69 71 74 75 81 83

6 The Context of Opposition to and Support for the EU in the Member States An Increasingly Unpopular Project: The EU Process Under Stress Are New Media Drivers of Euroscepticism? Theory and Future Steps

85 85 88 92




63 66 68



Nicolò Conti is an associate professor of political science at the Unitelma Sapienza University of Rome. His main research focus is on parties, elites and the EU and on coalition governance. He has published articles in journals such as West European Politics, Acta Politica, International Political Science Review, South European Society and Politics, European Political Science, Perspectives on European Politics and Society, Contemporary Italian Politics, Italian Political Science Review. He has recently edited The Challenge of Coalition Government: The Italian Case (2015, with F. Marangoni) and Party Attitudes Towards the EU in the Member States. Parties for Europe, Parties Against Europe (2014). Vincenzo Memoli is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Catania. His main research interests are in the fields of democracy, media, public opinion and political behaviour. He is the author of Why Policy Representation Matters: The Consequences of Ideological Congruence Between Citizens and Their Governments (2015, with L. Curini and W. Joe). His work has appeared in journals such as the British Journal of Political Science, Governance, West European Politics, Democratization, Acta Politica, The International Journal of Press/Politics, International Political Science Review, Italian Political Science Review.



Fig. 2.1 Fig. 2.2 Fig. 2.3 Fig. 3.1

Fig. 4.1 Fig. 4.2 Fig. 4.3 Fig. 5.1

Fig. 5.2



Citizens’ perceptions about EU membership (mean of all EU member states) Citizens’ perceptions about EU membership by waves of enlargement Citizens’ use of the media (EU average) The marginal effect of national political information on representation as European political information varies (90% confidence interval) Country positions in representation and policy scope in 2014 Net difference in use of different types of media between 2011 and 2014 Country positions in representation and policy scope (2014) by change in the use of new media (2011–2014) The marginal effect of use of the Internet on representation as the use of online social networks varies (90% confidence interval) The marginal effect of political information through new media on representation as the use of online social networks varies (90% confidence interval)

11 13 19

42 56 62 65





Table Table Table Table Table

3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 4.1

Table 4.2 Table 5.1 Table 5.2 Table 5.3 Table 5.4



Factor analyses of citizens’ responses Influence of socio-demographic factors (EU 27) Model on representation Model on policy scope Attitudes towards the EU in the two dimensions of representation and policy scope: Country differences in 2011–2014 Use of media by country Use of new media in the EU (2011–2014 averages) Use of online media in the EU by some socio-demographic factors (2011–2014 averages) Model on representation Model on representation

32 34 39 40

52 61 72 73 76 80




Abstract This introduction presents the rationale of the volume, the main questions addressed and the structure of the contents. Keywords Citizens  Media  EU  Euroscepticism




Over the past decades, the problem of the attitudes of various political actors towards the process of European integration has attracted growing attention on the part of scholars. It has become clear that the pace of integration proposed from the top and some of its side effects—fiscal austerity, transnational redistribution, economic insecurity, internal migration—have become difficult to accept for significant constituencies in Europe. The medium- to long-term evolutionary trend of the European Union (EU) system of supranational governance (compounding a major expansion of its territorial sphere, the build-up of an increasingly articulated institutional system and the accumulation of broader policy competencies) has given rise to a multitude of problems concerning the EU legitimacy among the public (Hooghe and Marks 2009; Kriesi et al. 2008; Risse 2010). In this perspective, this volume investigates the impact of the media on citizens’ attitudes towards Europe. We consider this important because the information channelled through the media becomes part of the cognitive shortcuts adopted by citizens to understand reality, including the European actuality. In the © The Author(s) 2016 N. Conti, V. Memoli, Citizens, Europe and the Media, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-45252-4_1




past, empirical analyses of media representations of Europe have prioritised a descriptive approach, particularly how the EU and the integration process are discursively construed in the mass media. The survey of the EU member states that we present in the volume moves this a step forward. Through an explanatory approach, we investigate the impact of the media on citizens and produce a comprehensive account of how different media influence individual attitudes towards the EU. The novelty of our approach lies specifically in its focus on the ex post effects of media on consumers. We argue that nowadays the role of the media in shaping public support for and opposition to the process of European integration has become fundamental. In contrast, scholarly attention has mainly focused on the personal characteristics of citizens based on cognitive abilities, socio-economic interests, political leaning, feelings of identity and attachment to their nation to explain their attitudes towards the EU (Sanders et al. 2012a, 2012b). However, as long as the impact of the EU on daily life becomes increasingly tangible, citizens not only need to rely on pre-existing motivations in order to be able to assign credit and blame to the EU, they also need to gather information about its current policies and trajectory. This is normally done through media use, the main source citizens turn to for news about current events. The complexity of political life and its strong dependence on transnational forces and on multilevel governance challenge the cognitive capability of citizens to understand politics. In the complex and heavily interdependent European context, media may represent the cognitive shortcuts that citizens use to make sense of a fast-changing reality. As argued by Hooghe and Marks (2004), media cue citizens in their views about Europe rather substantially. Surprisingly, despite the media’s broad influence on popular understanding and perceptions about politics having become a firm point in the literature, their impact on attitudes towards the EU has been rather neglected in the empirical literature. Interest in media representations about the EU has actually grown together with the number of scholarly works recently published. However, these works investigate the ways media evaluate the EU and the process of European integration, or how contestation over Europe develops in the media (see Bayley and Williams 2012; Bijsmans and Altides 2007; de Wilde et al. 2013; Machill et al. 2006). But the direct impact of the media on popular support for the EU has only rarely been analysed empirically (see de Vreese 2007). Scholarly research in this field is actually quite rare, with the exception of only a limited number of works (de Vreese 2007; Hooghe and Marks 2004;




Lubbers and Scheepers 2010) and of a recent interest for the media impact on voters’ behaviour in the European elections (van Spanje and de Vreese 2014). Furthermore, the other studies that have adopted an approach similar to ours in the volume are less developed in scope, or they need to be updated to the most recent developments about citizens’ stances and use of the media. Finally, these studies often consider the influence of the media within broad explanatory models, whereas we place the media at the core of our research design (while other factors are considered only for the purpose of controlling the robustness of our hypotheses and results). Unfortunately, due to the inadequate attention hitherto paid by the literature, knowledge of the impact of the media on public opposition to and support for the EU is confined to some limited, often obsolete, analyses that do not really reflect the current situation. This is a gap we intend to fill with our book, through fresh analyses of recent data and of all EU member states. Filling this gap in the literature is even more urgent today, as support for the EU process has declined sharply in Europe, while the advent of new media has drastically expanded the information outlets available to citizens. The volume integrates these two recent phenomena and analyses their connections in a systematic way. This is done in various steps. First, trends in public support for the EU and in the use of (traditional and new) media are examined. Second, through use of explanatory analyses based on multivariate modelling, Euroscepticism is explained from the point of view of media impact on citizens’ attitudes towards the EU. Third, a clustering of countries based on media use and citizens’ attitudes towards the EU is defined. Fourth, we differentiate the impact of various media sources (including the Internet and social media) on citizens’ views on the EU. The results of our investigation show that the media have a definite, but differentiated, impact on citizens’ attitudes. A broad use of media positively influences support for the EU, as it refines citizens’ cognitive capabilities and understanding of the European reality. However, prevalent use of online media serves to channel more critical attitudes and disaffection for the EU. This is particularly true when citizens make extensive use of social media, especially if these are used to get politically involved. The new media often take a critical posture on many issues; in the book we prove that this is also true with respect to Europe and that their extensive use, especially in certain countries and cohorts of citizens, has contributed to making the European public more inclined to Euroscepticism. We also consider recent time developments to examine whether there is a dynamic aspect to the phenomenon under analysis.



The volume presents the most comprehensive survey to date of citizens’ use of media and attitudes towards the EU. This makes the volume relevant for specialists of the EU and students of media and public opinion. At the same time, the research that we present should be of interest to anyone whose work or research has an emphasis on Europe’s present and future developments. The EU is increasingly subject to many forms of critique and opposition to its policies, but also against its institutions, decision-making mode and basis for existence. Many citizens have started to question the usefulness of their own country’s membership within the EU. Hence, nowadays the EU process shows an unfinished yet contested character. The recent Eurosceptic turn in public opinion, together with the populist slant in political representation across Europe, makes the future of the EU more uncertain. In this context, we show that the new media may prove particularly insidious for EU legitimation among the public. If the lack of popular backing for the EU is already problematic today, it may constitute an even more pressing emergency in the future. As media are an important component of the fabric of society and the new media perform an increasingly important function, it is therefore important to understand their impact on public perceptions about the EU.






The volume aims to map citizens’ attitudes towards the EU in light of their media consumption. On the one hand, we examine citizens’ positions on two main components of the EU as a political system, namely, its representation structure and policy competences. On the other hand, we examine how these positions change in relation to the different media diets of individuals. This is done through empirical analysis of the entire EU, but we also take a close look at variations by country. Similarly to other recent works that have adopted a public sphere approach for the study of Euroscepticism—which we consider an urgent European phenomenon—we focus on the public character of the political conflict over the EU. Whereas most available studies in the field adopt an approach based either on public opinion or the media, we examine the connections between these two fundamental actors of the public sphere. Public support and trust in the capacity of EU institutions and collective leadership to effectively resolve problems have seriously declined over the last few years




among citizens. We show that this is at least partly dependent on citizens’ exposure to different media outlets. Since the media impact on political contestation of European integration relies heavily on the different developments of the national media systems, the fragmentation of media systems in the EU is a fundamental aspect that we take into consideration in our analyses. Although our selected targets of contestation of the EU—representation and policy— are similar across the member states, our drivers of contestation vary. Thus, our mapping is attentive to country-specific variations in media consumption in the different European countries. In particular, we show that it is exactly where the use of online media has expanded the most in recent times that public Euroscepticism has increased most significantly. The main contribution of this work to the existing literature consists of an accurate mapping of mass-mediated citizens’ attitudes towards the EU. Our research design allows for observing convergence and divergence in public attitudes across member states, as well as across different uses of the available media outlets. We believe that understanding the extent to which commonalities and differences exist among member states, as well as among various media consumers, is extremely important for the future of the EU. Whereas divergent patterns of attitudes would require from the EU a greater effort to meet the demands of citizens in order to guarantee its legitimacy and continued existence, convergence would provide more unitary collective goals in the integration process that the EU could more coherently target. Hence, the accurate investigation of the current tensions between citizens, media and the EU governance system can be useful to providing advice on remedial actions that could be adopted at the national or European level to make these relationships less tense and to appease the discontent of public opinion. In this perspective, we show in particular that improving the online communication tools of advocates of the European integration process has become an urgent problem. Moreover, we demonstrate that for the EU to be able to reach out to those segments of the public that are most active online is also necessary in order to secure its legitimacy with this emerging component of public opinion.




The research that we present in the volume is based on an intensive analysis of the Eurobarometer data collected by TNS Opinion on behalf of the European Commission to gauge the views of European citizens on



various aspects of the integration process. These fresh data represent a source of information that is recent and keenly awaited by the academic community, which we have analysed to produce the most updated portrait of the European public on attitudes towards the EU. For this purpose, we have structured the volume as follows. In Chapter 2, we discuss the research problem, namely the relationship between citizens’ attitudes towards the EU and their use of the media, with particular attention to the context of the economic crisis that has contributed to making popular consensus for European integration more problematic. In the chapter, we define the main concepts of our research and we present the methodology that we have adopted. Moreover, we introduce the first results of some descriptive analyses on citizens’ attitudes and on their use of the media. In Chapter 3, our analysis is aimed at demonstrating that different media diets influence citizens’ attitudes towards the EU. We show that while a predominant use of traditional media favours pro-European attitudes, a prevalent use of new media results in more Eurosceptical attitudes among citizens. In Chapter 4, we focus our analysis on country variations. First, we examine country differences with respect to attitudes towards the EU. Second, we inspect country variations in the use of the media. Third, we consider how the relationship between attitudes towards the EU and the use of media varies across different countries. In Chapter 5, the analysis focuses on Internet users. With the advent of online media, the communicative spaces available and their usage by the public have become more fragmented. We examine popular attitudes towards the EU, considering various possibilities in the online media diets of citizens; more specifically, we do this in light of the frequent use of the Internet and social media. In Chapter 6, the main results of the analyses that were carried in the volume are discussed and summarised. The findings of our empirical research are here inserted in a broader theoretical perspective that allows us to explore new venues in the study of citizens, media and Euroscepticism. We expect that our work will open a new perspective in the study of European integration and its relationship with the citizenry, one that would place greater emphasis on the role played by contemporary media in the creation of segments of support and opposition for the EU.


Citizens’ Attitudes Towards the EU, Use of the Media

Abstract This chapter discusses the relationship between citizens’ attitudes towards the EU and their use of the media in the context of the economic crisis. It presents the methodology adopted in the volume and the first results of some descriptive analyses on citizens’ attitudes and their use of the media. Keywords Crisis  Citizens  Euroscepticism  Media use






Recently, citizens’ attitudes towards the European Union (EU) in many member states have become problematic. For a long time, citizens delegated decision on issues of European integration to political elites on the basis of a broad permissive consensus (Lindberg and Scheingold 1970). Delegation in this field went rather uncontested until citizens perceived the integration of Europe as either bringing mainly benefits to the national economy by creation of new market opportunities or as a very distant process having no direct impact on their lives. Popular feelings have gradually changed along with the two processes of deepening and widening the EU. The EU governance system has become more authoritative in many fields and the EU member states more constrained in implementing a growing number of decisions taken at the European level. The Single European Act in 1986 and the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 expanded the © The Author(s) 2016 N. Conti, V. Memoli, Citizens, Europe and the Media, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-45252-4_2




policy areas falling within the EU competence and also expanded the range of questions decided by qualified majority voting in which the member states have lost their veto power. The monetary integration launched with the Maastricht Treaty marked another step in the deepening process; the Eurozone countries in particular had to adapt their economic policies substantially to the rules introduced by the single currency. Many of the EU decisions have important redistributive effects both across and within the member states (Follesdal and Hix 2006). These include tight discipline on the state economy with important repercussions on different areas, such as taxation, public spending and social policy (Scharpf 1999, 2002), but also the fact that financial help to other national economies has become an obligation (e.g. through the European Financial Stability Facility and the European Stability Mechanism, which provide financial assistance and rescue from default to countries of the euro area in need). At the same time, through several waves of enlargement, the EU has become a more diverse community, which has created new opportunities but also unprecedented competitive pressures on the member states and on their economies. To mention just a few challenges, the economic imbalances within the EU have become greater, economic migration within the EU has increased, relocation of industry to EU countries with cheaper labour costs has become more common, the EU cohesion policy had to be reformed to provide support to the most disadvantaged regions of the new member states, and offering citizens meaningful forms of democratic participation has become even more difficult in the wider EU. It is evident that public perceptions of the utilitarian gains of EU membership may have changed consequent to the new set of challenges and opportunities, particularly in the context of the economic crisis that has only added to the constraining effects of the EU on state finances and on the national economy. Trust in European institutions and support for the integration process have steadily declined along with the above-mentioned processes (Guerra and Serricchio 2014). This is also reflected in the waning turnout in European elections (around a 20% decline in 2014 from the first elections of the European parliament in 1979). Even those countries that traditionally were more optimistic on European integration have experienced important declines in their popular backing of the EU, particularly where the economic crisis hit the domestic scene more severely (Clements et al. 2014; Conti and Memoli 2015; Serricchio et al. 2013). The introduction of a common currency in a wide area affected by strong economic and institutional asymmetries has put at risk the viability of the Eurozone




itself and has created winners and losers within the area. Additionally, the strictness of the austerity measures put in place by the EU against the Euro crisis has certainly changed the public’s awareness of the costs and benefits stemming from the integration process. Disenchantment about the EU has taken various forms, including growth in the protest vote and escalation of the radical parties that have included Euroscepticism in their rhetoric. The change in popular attitudes has also occurred because the narratives used by politicians, the media and political commentators about Europe have become more noticeable, but at the same time they have contributed to representing the EU as one of the driving factors in the increase in income inequality (Kuhn et al. 2016). It can be observed that most of the countries on the “winner side” of the Euro crisis have seen the rise of radical right parties, while most of those on the “loser side” have seen the rise of radical left (or ideological maverick) protest parties that have placed opposition to the EU at the core of their platforms (Offe and Preuß 2016). In the end, after many years of prevailing permissive consensus, opposition to Europe has developed into a main dimension of party competition and citizens have started to vote for Eurosceptical parties more than ever before. As a reflection of the mounting discontent and in order to incorporate the divisions in the EU that have developed within society, the political discourse in general has developed more critical tones. Some authors have started to refer to this phenomenon as one of mainstreaming Euroscepticism to indicate a pessimistic stance on the EU that has become the norm even among the most established political actors (Brack and Startin 2015). In this chapter, we present the first results of our descriptive analyses on citizens’ attitudes towards the EU and their use of the media. We also discuss possible interactions between one’s stance on the EU and her media diet. We are particularly interested in the impact that exposure to new media may produce on citizens’ views about the EU. Next, after having reviewed the literature on Euroscepticism, we clarify our contribution to this literature and the methodology that we have adopted to study citizens’ attitudes towards the EU.

DECLINING SUPPORT, MOUNTING EUROSCEPTICISM Since the Maastricht Treaty, several referendums have been held on the most relevant aspects of the EU process, including membership. Many of these referendums gave negative results that have led the integration



process to a standstill and led the EU to either engage in complicated negotiations on concessions and dropouts with the referendum countries or force decisions despite their unpopularity. As to the referendums with negative responses, it would be enough to mention the following: the first (of two) on ratification of the Maastricht Treaty in Denmark in 19921; the first (of two) on ratification of the Treaty of Nice in Ireland in 2001; two about joining the Euro in Denmark (2000) and Sweden (2003); two on the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe in France and the Netherlands (both in 2005); the first (of two) on ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon in Ireland in 2008; that regarding the bailout conditions in the Greek government-debt crisis in Greece in 2015 and, at the time of writing, a referendum (with a very uncertain outcome) on the membership of the United Kingdom in the EU is scheduled for 2016. Hence, we find clear evidence of the fact that when projects about deepening integration (or about its policy) have been subject to public scrutiny, they have often been stopped by citizens’ opposition. Beyond the specific contents of the above referendums that, in most cases, concern important steps towards deepening integration and new commitment for the member states, the broad phenomenon of popular disillusionment with the EU is exemplified in Fig. 2.1. Here we show data on public opinion based on the Eurobarometer surveys, a cross-national longitudinal study widely used in scholarly research designed to compare and gauge trends within the EU member states on a broad range of topical issues relating to the EU. The surveys have been conducted since 1972 on behalf of the European Commission and are among the largest public opinion data sets available in the world. Here we analyse citizens’ responses about perceived benefits of their own country’s membership in the EU. This is a question that implies a retrospective assessment while not implying any new commitment for the country within the EU (as was the case with most of the cited referendums). Hence, it is a question that concerns one’s support for the current EU (and for its past), more than for further developments in the future. From the data, it appears evident that citizens’ attitudes towards the EU have become more pessimistic over time, especially after the outbreak of the economic crisis. To be more precise, optimism about the membership of one’s own country prevailed from the early 1970s until the mid-1990s. From the first wave of the survey in 1972 until 1997, the share of respondents who considered their own country’s membership a positive thing persistently remained over 50%. Optimism was strongest between 1987 and 1992, corresponding to the end of the Cold






Citizens’ perceptions about EU membership (mean of all EU member states)


R 2 = 0.3277

y = –0.0141x 2 + 56.069x – 55558



(Note: Percentage of respondents who considered EEC/EU membership of their own country a positive thing. Source: Own elaboration with data of Eurobarometer [different years].)

Fig. 2.1

45 1972










War and the years immediately following the fall of the Berlin wall. At that time, the unification of Europe was seen as a promising project—maybe as destiny—by a large majority of citizens. Then, after a dramatic negative peak in the years after the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 and following the establishment of the European Monetary Union—also due to the presence of a more lukewarm public opinion in the accession countries of Austria, Finland and Sweden—citizens’ assessment of their own country’s membership in the EU has constantly remained quite critical. While there was a timid improvement after the accession of new member states (mainly from Central and Eastern Europe) in 2004, a more dramatic decline occurred again after the outbreak of the economic crisis and, even more, with the start of the Euro crisis.2 As we can notice in Fig. 2.2, the scale of the phenomenon is large and it includes not only those countries that have suffered the most from the effects of the economic and Euro crises (three of them belong to the 1981–1986 wave of enlargement) where disappointment could be linked to a situation of exceptional distress. It also includes countries where the effects of the crises were not as severe (most founding members and the 1995 enlargement group). At the beginning of our time series, the group of founding member states (Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Italy and the Netherlands) showed a high level (69.3%) of respondents who believed their own country’s membership in the European Economic Community (EEC) was a positive thing. This figure reached a peak (77.6%) in 1991, but since then it has severely declined (it was 57.7% in 2011). Within this cluster, Italy is part of the group of countries suffering most from the crises—although, differently from in the other Southern Eurozone countries or from Ireland, in Italy the effects of the crises were not as disruptive until the second half of 2011, well after the steep decline in the trend line. The countries of the 1973 enlargement (Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom) have always maintained lower levels of positive answers than those expressed by the group of founding members. However, these countries, too, reached a peak in 1991 (65.3%), only to decline later on, particularly in the last 5 years of the analysed period (48% in 2011). The Southern member states that joined the EEC in the 1980s (Greece, Portugal and Spain), after a few years of reluctance at first, have always held throughout the period levels of positive responses similar to the group of founding member states. It is here that the decline of the last few years has proved the most critical (44% in 2011). Instead, the countries of the 1995 enlargement (Austria,








01/07/1986 1973




01/03/1991 1981–1986

01/05/1999 1995

01/03/1998 01/11/1995









Citizens’ perceptions about EU membership by waves of enlargement

Founding members


01/09/2008 01/05/2006





Post-2004 enlargements




(Note: Percentage of respondents who considered EEC/EU membership of their own country a positive thing. Source: Own elaboration with data of Eurobarometer [different years].)

Fig. 2.2

30.0 %

35.0 %

40.0 %

45.0 %

50.0 %

55.0 %

60.0 %

65.0 %

70.0 %

75.0 %





Finland, Sweden) have always held comparatively low levels of popular enthusiasm about their own membership in the EU (it was only 36.7% in 1995 but increased to 44.3% in 2011). Finally, the countries that show a negative peak in support for their own country’s membership, or those simply characterised by low levels of fervour throughout the period, are both old member states (which shows that a long experience of membership is not so positively perceived by citizens) and new member states (despite their having a pro-European stance during the entire accession period; see Neumayer 2008). In the group of post-2004 enlargement countries, the positive answers have declined by 10% in just a few years (from 54% in 2004 to 44% in 2011). The limited popular backing of the EU is an important phenomenon that raises many issues. The EU is a polity in the making that has evolved from a pure common market into a political union. The name change in 1992 (from European Economic Community to European Union) formalised this transition. The level of integration attained in the European continent has no comparison worldwide. This is certainly the case for policy although some of the original goals of deeper integration—such as better amalgamation of the economic and fiscal policies of the member states or regarding areas such as judicial, foreign and defence policy— have remained largely unachieved.3 Today, the EU is a layer of the European multilevel governance system (Hooghe and Marks 2001; Piattoni 2010) consisting of increasing power and capacity to constrain the member states. The debate whether the EU is also evolving into a state-like polity remains open. What is certain is that in the presence of such an extraordinary political power, it would be important for the EU polity to be able to rely on citizens’ democratic support, especially since the basic normative principles of the EU refer to citizenship and democracy. The Maastricht Treaty and the following treaties have attempted to introduce the notions of popular involvement and of specific citizens’ entitlements through the concept of a European citizenship (Hansen and Williams 1999). Subsequent European treaties have also attempted to balance the legitimacy crisis within the EU by reinforcing the co-decision procedure, meaning that the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers jointly adopt legislation; this gives the parliament (the only directed elected institution within the EU) a greater role than ever before within European decision-making. However, the EU remains difficult to understand by citizens; the executive and legislative power dynamics are unclear to most and




definitely arduous to understand if compared to the way democracy works in their home countries. The recent institutional arrangements have not solved the problem of the democratic deficit of the EU while the massive abstentionism in the European parliament elections does not favour the legitimacy of either the European Parliament or the broad EU decision-making process. Some scholars (see Karp et al. 2003) have associated the lack of support for the EU with the scarce accountability and responsiveness of the EU itself and to a consequent inability of citizens to influence its decisions. The critical aspects of the unpopularity and reduced accountability of the EU to its citizens have certainly become macroscopic over the years. In the end, the EU not only appears caught in a context of crises, it may even become one of the victims of such crises if in the future it is faced with a mounting uncompromising opposition. It is true that in the absence of a more direct involvement and backing by citizens, the EU has emphasised a different kind of legitimacy based on its capacity to deliver benefits to the member states through regulation (Majone 1999). As a matter of fact, the EU institutional system cannot be equated to that of any other liberal democracy based on citizens’ scrutiny (Weiler et al. 1995). The EU has instead found its main legitimacy in the capacity to make Pareto-optimal decisions able to improve the well-being of all its members. The Rome Treaty of 1957 establishing the EEC expressed its purposes as ensuring the economic and social progress of the participating countries and ameliorating the living and working conditions of their peoples. Despite so many steps having been made in the integration process, from the EU’s early days until today, the fact that nowadays this process faces large popular resistance shows that the output legitimacy of the EU is not so recognised by its citizens and that the permissive consensus condition has consequentially vanished from the contemporary scene. Ultimately, it appears that advanced policy coordination at the EU level has not worked in favour of a full assimilation of citizens to the EU process, which can represent a major democratic challenge and a serious obstacle in the road towards the integration of Europe.




The media represent for citizens a main source of political information, one that can ease their access to and increase their knowledge of and interest in politics (Norris 2000a). In this process, the type of medium



used by citizens can make a big difference. Many works show that attitudes towards politics change substantially depending on individual media diets (see Avery 2009; Bailard 2012; Norris 2011). For example, citizens’ exposure to (and preference for) different media outlets is associated with varying levels of interest in politics, political trust and voting behaviour (de Vreese and Semetko 2002; van Spanjie and de Vreese 2014). Examining the influence of the media on citizens’ attitudes towards politics, particularly to the EU, appears particularly relevant given today’s reality. The digitalisation of communications and the advent of the Internet have produced a colossal change in the media diets of citizens. The new media, which we define as those that make use of a computer to be distributed and displayed, have certainly changed the style of political information. In this respect, some stress the role of the new media in creating a participatory democracy with more equal distribution of power and influence among actors while others condemn the manipulating and radicalising effects of online communication on democracy. Beyond these opposing views on the role of the new media is the fact that, especially in Europe, the online media sphere has come of age during the difficult years of the big crisis and of mounting decline in proEuropean attitudes by the public. Some argue that the context of widespread insecurity has negatively influenced both the style and content of the new media and that in such a pessimistic context they have become instrumental in the amplification of citizens’ fears, discontent and grievances. For example, scholars have documented a negative bias regarding news of the EU in the online media (Michailidou et al. 2014). Eurosceptic evaluations have been found to dominate in online debates and a majority of the evaluations made on the EU—particularly by citizens who leave comments—are mostly negative (de Wilde et al. 2014). When compared to the traditional media, the online media certainly appear more sensitive to readers’ feedback and more inclined to cater to audience preferences (Welbers et al. 2015). Hence, the broad attitude of the new media may well reflect the general decline in popular support for the EU that we have discussed in the previous section. In more general terms, a negative bias in political news coverage by the media is normally visible, but it may prove particularly severe in the case of the EU. Research shows that bad news is considered more newsworthy by the media and that media negativity correlates with distance to the event covered. Attention to distant events outside a familiar context




is more easily drawn when the events convey drama and conflict, when their close repercussions can be emphasised and a sense of anxiety can be induced in the public, when corruption of particular actors can be denounced, when the events being covered appeal to the public’s fears rather than to reason and they encourage feelings of scepticism. While proximity in local news creates demand for good news, due to the perceived distance of the European arena it is easy to expect that EU news may hold a negative bias, something that regularly happens in the case of foreign news (de Vreese and Kandyla 2009; de Wilde 2012; Entman 2004). It is evident that the EU can be an easy target of all those negativities. Conflict and drama can be reported through stories of tense relationships among the member states, or between member states and the EU institutions. The EU’s (negative) redistributing powers and constraining effects on the member states are real and they may be used to antagonise the public. A layer of governance that suffers from a democratic deficit like the EU easily becomes a target for accusations of elite misconduct and of a corrupt power hostile to the interests of the people. Finally, stories of EU (or other national governments’) conspiracy against one’s national interests, or against one’s financial situation, are often used in the Eurosceptical propaganda to induce paranoia and a sense of socio-economic panic in the public. In the presence of a high potential for a negative bias against the EU, Europe has become increasingly politicised in the media (de Wilde and Zürn 2012; Hutter and Grande 2014; Statham and Trenz 2015). First, EU issues have become more salient as their visibility in political competition and their discussion in the public domain have increased substantially. Second, there has been an expansion of the actors involved in public debates on European integration: while in its formative phase the EU process was dominated by executive elites, currently not only does the government address European integration, but the opposition also participates in public debates over Europe. Third, polarisation regarding the EU has been augmented as its greater salience in public discourse has been accompanied by differing positions of the actors who form opposing camps on the issue of European integration. We know from the literature that Euroscepticism has become part of the politics of opposition, so it can be stronger among opposition parties, particularly among those radical parties that are permanently excluded from government (de Vries and Edwards 2009; Taggart 1998). The opportunity represented by the emergence of an EU dimension of politicisation



within society has been exploited by radical groups that have become very active in spreading anti-EU propaganda. The increased visibility of EU politics in the media is not necessarily bound to encourage the development of politically engaged EU citizens. Instead, the negativity spiral that affects the EU could represent an obstacle for the development of a post-national layer of identity, especially in the context of the economic crisis when, on account of increased EU policy constraints upon national governments, popular dissatisfaction can take on the tone of a nationalistic defence. Moving from these premises, the volume carefully assesses the impact of media (particularly new media) consumption on citizens’ attitudes towards the EU. The openness of the online media, whose control has been taken away from traditional media actors (journalists, established parties and media corporations), may have worked as catalyst for the diffusion of anti-EU sentiments. Our research shows that online communication is indeed making European citizens more antagonistic to the EU and that this has been a crucial factor in the recent spread of Euroscepticism across the continent. The rapid increase in the use of online media by European citizens (over an 8% increase in just 3 years and more than two-thirds of the EU population using the Internet; see Fig. 2.3) certainly makes the problem particularly urgent and relevant for this study.

THE CONCEPTUALISATION AND OPERATIONALISATION OF EUROSCEPTICISM In light of a large presence of critical voices within public opinion, it is important to analyse the nature and motivations of citizens’ Euroscepticism. Opposition towards the EU has become a distinctive feature of political contestation on the European continent and, more broadly, of the EU process. Euroscepticism has been described by Usherwood and Startin (2013) as a phenomenon of embedded, pervasive and enduring active opposition with a negative narrative on the EU. This kind of opposition can be broad and outright, or contingent on specific aspects of the integration process; it can be constructively in favour of a change to the status quo, or it can be destructively focused on EU disintegration. Sometimes this opposition can take forms that are apparently implausible. As an example, dissatisfaction may target too much integration, but it may also occur when integration is perceived as too limited in scope. For instance, some criticise




100 95 90 85 80 75 70 65 60 55 50 2011

2014 Traditional media

Fig. 2.3

New media

Citizens’ use of the media (EU average)

(Note: Share of citizens who access the relevant media at least once a week. Traditional media include television, radio, press. New media include the Internet and online social networks. Source: Own elaboration with data of Eurobarometer 76.3 [2011]; 82.3 [2014].)

the EU for not being active enough in social policy (the idea of a social Europe; see Ferrera et al. 2000) and in such cases it is possible to find a negative assessment of the EU trajectory in the presence of a broad proEuropean stance. Moreover, when citizens make their assessments about the EU, they can have a more idealistic or a more pragmatic approach. Some are characterised by a principled approach to the integration of Europe and so they make judgements in more idealistic terms, while others emphasise



pragmatism and calculations based on cost–benefit analyses. Thus, opposition to the EU can be aspirational and reflect a principled resistance to the integration process, but it can also be contingent on evaluation of the EU’s partial impact on interests. Sometimes it is possible for different actors to disentangle the broad position on the EU process from the assessment of more contingent aspects of EU policy and current trajectory, but the two may also overlap when one holds a principled approach to issues of European integration. The picture is indeed very complex, and two decades after the seminal work of Taggart (1998), there is no agreement in the literature on how Euroscepticism should be defined and measured. Several definitions have been proposed reflecting research on the stance of various actors, such as parties, elites, public opinion and the media. Some authors have focused on possible categorical definitions of the concept, such as the notorious “soft” and “hard” partition provided by Taggart and Szczerbiak (2002b). The former category defines opposition to specific policies in the absence of opposition to EU integration or to EU membership; the latter defines a principled opposition to the EU, to European integration and its further developments, or to the membership of one’s own country. In the effort to specify Euroscepticism, Fitzgibbon (2013) added to Taggart and Szczerbiak’s classification a subcategory of soft Euroscepticism named “Euroalternativism” that indicates pro-systemic opposition by those who propose alternative policies and institutional reforms to create a different Europe. Kopecky and Mudde (2002) understand Euroscepticism as one of four ideal types of attitudes towards the EU. Their definition rests on two criteria, support for or opposition to European integration as an ideal and to the EU as a set of institutions. Eurosceptics would be those who support the ideal of integration but oppose the ways in which this ideal is transformed in the current trajectory of the EU, while those who oppose both the ideal and its institutions are defined as Eurorejects. Another attempt to separate principled from contingent opposition to the EU is the one of Lubbers and Scheepers (2005), who separated political from instrumental Euroscepticism: the former type concerns underlying opposition to the delegation of policy competence to the EU, while the latter refers to qualified negative assessment of the benefits stemming from membership in the EU of one’s own country. Flood and Usherwood (2005) introduced the notion of a range of stances scaled from the most positive to the most negative. Accordingly,




one’s stance on the EU can be “maximalist” (most supportive), “reformist” (improvement of the status quo), “gradualist” (integration at a slow pace), “minimalist” (acceptance of the EU but opposition to further integration), “revisionist” (back to a pre-treaty situation) or “rejectionist” (against both the EU and its policies). It would be problematic to determine a clear cut-off point in Flood and Usherwood’s classification to discriminate Euroscepticism from pro-Europeanism. In order to maintain symmetry within their scale, the former three categories could be considered pro-European and the latter three Eurosceptical, but the validity of this breakdown could be questioned (e.g. one could support integration at a slow pace to favour its consolidation, or to obstruct it). Guerra (2013) proposed the category of “Euroneutrality” to indicate lack of interest and possible apathy about the issue of European integration, an ambivalent stance that also needs to be considered and not confused with other categories of more purposeful Euroscepticism. However, Euroneutrality is a category of limited application. It has mainly been conceived for application to public opinion surveys (where it could be associated with the “don’t know” answers), while for other sources, such as party programmatic supply, silence on given issues could be strategic and may not reveal a lack of interest (according to saliency theory, parties tend to focus on issues they own; see Budge and Farlie 1983). The definition of Euroscepticism through various categories has generated a plethora of proposals, not necessarily alternative to each other and sometimes difficult to apply to real-life cases. De Vries and Edwards (2009) have followed a different reasoning (similar to Ray 1999, 2007) and have avoided locking attitudes towards the EU into pre-established categories. Instead, they have developed the idea that these attitudes occupy a continuum of stances between extreme (positive and negative) positions. From the conceptual point of view, their proposition appears to be the most flexible one and apt to capture the various nuances of Euroscepticism regarded as a moving target. It can easily be applied to different times and cases, and the size of the continuum will be larger or smaller depending on the context. Considering attitudes towards the EU as a continuum of stances allows the accurate assessment of those mixed views and maverick positions in between the most unambiguous categories of Euroscepticism (while their measurement would be more difficult through definitions that are based on mutually exclusive categories). The problem of mixed views is indeed relevant, as the diverse and apparently contradictory nature of attitudes has been documented in cross-national and cross-temporal studies



(Henjak et al. 2012). Unsurprisingly, positions on the EU are often combined as they reflect the rich European menu stemming from integration in different fields; moreover, attitudes can emerge in complex amalgams— which are often country or time specific—and difficult to incorporate into broad, ex ante categories. Also in operational terms, de Vries and Edwards’s definition is the most workable one. It does not require simultaneous information on all those dimensions referred to by other categorical definitions, such as one’s broad and policy-specific stance on the EU, assessment of one’s own country’s membership or assessment of the EU impact on individual and national interests. Lacking all this information, one should refrain from making use of the above categories of Euroscepticism that are by definition multidimensional and based on the matched assessment of all these aspects. On the contrary, de Vries and Edwards’s definition of Euroscepticism is versatile: depending on the level of depth of the analyses, it can be applied to unidimensional or multidimensional research designs, as the continuum could be measured with respect to a single broad dimension (such as the membership of one’s country), or to a combination of dimensions (pertaining, e.g. to policy, institutions or identity values). As a continuum only implies discreet measurement, it is therefore suitable for research that applies quantitative data. Of course, de Vries and Edwards’s proposal of a continuum of stances on the EU can also present some pitfalls. The main one is relativism, as its application to narrow contexts may reduce its overall significance and make it too reliant on specific context. Its comparability and replicability greatly depend on the way the continuum is built. A continuum can easily be adjusted to the most specific contexts, but consequent to successive adjustments an incessant stretching of the continuum may produce, in the end, partial findings with only internal validity difficult to consider for broad generalisations. For example, in contexts with polarised positions on the EU, we may find a longer continuum and a larger spread of stances while in more consensual contexts this spread could be reduced. Problems of comparability could arise when the points in the continuum are scaled differently or its end points are disparate across cases. If past attempts to define Euroscepticism through classifications have marked an effort to create (not without difficulty) categories that are valid and can travel across different (country) contexts, any definition based on the notion of a continuum of stances makes comparability dependent on the soundness of the operationalisation process.




In their work, de Vries and Edwards (2009) have addressed the problem of the generalisation of findings, making use of two large comparative data sets, the Eurobarometer for public opinion and the Chapel Hill Expert Survey data for party positions.4 When building their continuum, they imported the measurements adopted by these two data sets. This is a valuable way to conduct research in the field, as it allows (1) broad generalisation of the findings, thanks to the crossnational scope of the data on which research is based, and (2) replicability, thanks to reliance on two data sets widely used and recognised by the academic community that are also publicly available. At this point, rather than choosing an arbitrary cut-off, it becomes simple and rather straightforward to define Eurosceptical attitudes as those showing lower scores in the relevant items of these data sets. Otherwise, one could refer to the mean position within a country, a group of countries or all EU member states (depending on the scope of the analysis) and then consider Eurosceptical attitudes to be those falling below this standard.5 In either case, the definition and measurement of the continuum is simple and can be universally recognised and compared. In our volume, we build on de Vries and Edwards’s proposition, and we define Euroscepticism as a continuum of stances on European integration ranging from extreme opposition to great support. For the analyses, we rely on the Eurobarometer data because they allow the largest possible generalisation of results, thanks to (1) the large country scope (all EU member states), (2) the cross-temporal nature of the study and (3) the full replicability of the analyses at either the EU level or the national level. Moreover, we build our continuum of stances based on a multidimensional design rooted in two measures, one reflecting the popular stance with respect to the EU institutions and another to EU policy.6 All these methodological aspects will be discussed in detail in Chapter 3.

ANALYSING CITIZENS’ EUROSCEPTICISM THROUGH MEDIA DIETS: FINAL REMARKS In this chapter, we have introduced the main research problem that is analysed in the volume, namely, how citizens’ attitudes towards the EU are impacted by their use of the media. First, we have discussed the



context in which our analysis is conducted, one deeply characterised by the impact of the economic and Euro crises as well as by enduring problems associated with a lack of democratic accountability of the EU, despite a situation of advanced integration of the European continent. The existing literature has characterised the actual context as a negative one for popularity of the EU because the constraining nature of its policy may be perceived more negatively by citizens due to the widespread climate of insecurity. Additionally, the undemocratic nature of the EU may be perceived more effectively in this phase along with its decisions. Finally, the EU may be perceived as ineffective as it was not useful in preventing such crises, and some think that with its Eurozone architecture it may even have contributed to their creation. In this negative context, we have shown that citizens’ feelings about their own country’s membership have indeed deteriorated. To be precise, the trend of decline in pro-European attitudes is certainly more long term as in many countries it dates back to the 1990s, a period of intense integration in view of the monetary union. However, this decline of Europhilia has become even more evident in recent times. In this context, the media may have served as a catalyst of public fears and discontent with the EU. In particular, the new media may have played this role more assertively because they are more sensitive to audience preferences and readers’ feedback. The most recent literature has documented a spate of negativity towards the EU in the online media, which appear characterised by some of the most adverse conditions for communication on the EU. They are away from the control of traditional media actors while, at the same time, they are permeable to alternative non-traditional actors and to peer-to-peer communication by citizens. On those more ordinary actors that dominate the online media, the negativity bias against the EU may play a strong role. In turn, a communication on the Internet mainly characterised by pessimism about the EU may generate more Eurosceptical feelings among users. The problem is particularly important because the usage of new media among European citizens is rapidly growing and in the near future may even equal that of traditional media. Therefore, understanding the direction of the relationship between use of the new media and attitudes towards the EU seems critical. We turn to this kind of analysis in the next chapter.




NOTES 1. It is important to note that in the same year, France also held a referendum where ratification of the Maastricht Treaty was approved by only a slim majority of votes (51.1%). 2. After 2011, the question regarding the membership of one’s own country in the EU was discontinued by the survey. 3. See the original pillarisation of the EU introduced by the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 that planned a growing cooperation effort also in the two pillars of Foreign and Security Policy and Justice and Home Affairs, then followed by the communitarisation effort introduced by the Lisbon Treaty of 2007. 4. For information on the Chapel Hill data set, see Bakker et al. (2015). 5. One may also consider Eurosceptical subjects those with at least one standard deviation below the mean stance of the reference population, as the two authors do in their work. 6. The choice of a multidimensional measurement of the attitudes towards the EU is dictated by the discontinuation in the Eurobarometer survey, since 2012, of the question on the membership of one’s own country, together with an interest in the assessment of more specific (as opposed to broad) individual stances on the EU.


The Impact of Media on Citizens’ Attitudes

Abstract In this chapter, we present our causal model on public levels of opposition to and support for the EU based on citizens’ use of media, together with some results at the EU aggregate level. We show that the media plays an influence on citizens’ opinions on the EU, particularly the new media promotes more critical attitudes and channel disaffection for the EU. The new media often takes a critical posture on many issues and the same is true with respect to Europe. We demonstrate that their use makes citizens more inclined to Euroscepticism. Keywords Citizens  Media use  New media  Euroscepticism

INTRODUCTION The process of deepening European integration has brought, as a reflection and probably as unattended consequence, a peak in Eurosceptical stances in the member states. Undeniably, some of the major steps that have been undertaken to make the European continent more united have also generated costs upon the member states that are now more clearly perceived by citizens. In this chapter, we analyse the reasons behind citizens’ attitudes towards the European Union (EU) focusing in particular on the role of the media. Starting from the assumption that the media influence in many ways the stance of public opinion, we will assess with accuracy how much their use increases (or reduces) Euroscepticism among citizens. Thus, we © The Author(s) 2016 N. Conti, V. Memoli, Citizens, Europe and the Media, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-45252-4_3




consider media and their use as explanatory variables, whereas public attitudes towards the EU constitute our dependent variable. This research strategy represents an innovation in the field, as most studies focusing on the relationships between media and the EU normally describe media attitudes towards the EU or the way media discursively represent Europe,1 while our analysis considers their use by and impact on citizens’ attitudes. Through the analysis of all EU member states and of traditional and new media, our effort is aimed at filling this gap in the literature and illustrating a situation that is as close as possible to reality. In the chapter, we show that the use of media influences citizens’ attitudes towards the EU. However, we show that, while the predominant use of traditional media favours pro-European attitudes, a prevalent use of new media determines more Eurosceptical attitudes among citizens. It will be necessary to take this aspect into consideration in the future, as the increased use of new media—especially among the younger generations— may create the conditions for widespread pessimistic views among European citizens and an (even more) reduced popular legitimacy of the EU in tomorrow’s Europe.

MEASURING PUBLIC EUROSCEPTICISM The use of the concept of Euroscepticism has become very popular in the literature to refer to any form of opposition or reluctance towards the EU or to the broad process of European integration. Consequent to the processes of deepening integration entailed by a sequence of treaties since the early 1990s—from the Maastricht Treaty that marked the launch of the monetary union to the Lisbon Treaty that modified the institutional functioning of the EU—the sentiments of public opinion in the member states have become more diverse and critical. A deeper integration has imposed, among other things, greater policy coordination at the EU level and a tight discipline on domestic finances, together with reduced national sovereignty. At the same time, other competitive pressures within the EU have challenged many member states. In particular, the process of widening contributed to create widespread malaise in some countries; for example, recent waves of enlargement changed the status of some of the old member states from one of net recipient to one of net contributor to the EU budget. Immigration from the new member states and cheap labour coming from Central and Eastern to Western Europe have also created anxieties in the Western region of the EU. It is evident that public



perceptions of the utilitarian gains of EU membership may have changed consequentially, particularly in the context of the economic crisis. Public attitudes towards the EU were less problematic in the past when the integration process was not as advanced and EU membership not as wide as it is today. For example, in the past some classical studies (Inglehart 1971; Lindberg and Scheingold 1970) described public opinion as not very informed on, nor very interested in, European integration but still broadly favourable and keen to delegate to elites all decisions on how to activate further integration. As it was discussed in the previous chapter, this situation was defined by scholars as one of permissive consensus, exactly depicting a context where elites could take decisions on the future of Europe in isolation from public scrutiny and they could be confident that their choice would not result in voters’ sanction. We have also seen that things have changed at a later stage of the integration process, but the literature has only gradually developed the conceptual and methodological tools that are necessary in order to fully grasp the decisive shift in citizens’ attitudes that has followed. At least until the 1990s, most studies on public opinion and the EU mainly focused on measures of underlying support for EU integration (Gabel 1994; Inglehart 1997) that were probably not sensitive enough to capture the mounting malaise of citizens with respect to specific aspects of EU integration. Even when the evidence of Euroscepticism among citizens became more tangible, especially in some of the member states,2 optimism tended to characterise scholarship that, for the largest part, described the most critical situations as temporary and mainly linked to transitory situations at home, such as problems related to patterns of popularity of the incumbent (Benoit 1997). In actual fact, a tendency to growing Euroscepticism has always been present at least during the past 20 years. Citizens have become increasingly unhappy with the outcomes of European integration, and, although new sentiments of attachment to Europe have developed (Bruter 2005; Carey 2002; Duchesne and Frognier 2008; Hermann et al. 2004), attachment to their own nation has remained stable, or it has even grown (Citrin and Sides 2004; Herb and Kaplan 1999). This is a potential obstacle for the development of a post-national layer of identity, especially in the context of the economic crisis when, on account of increased European policy constraints upon national governments, popular dissatisfaction more easily can take the colour of a nationalistic/identity defence (Hooghe and Marks 2009). Particularly with the advent of the economic crisis, attachment to Europe has declined within public opinion, while the EU is increasingly negatively perceived, especially in those countries with high public deficit and where



the austerity measures have been more severe (Roth et al. 2011). As a matter of fact, it is not a mere coincidence that during the same period the sense of national belonging has also strengthened among citizens (Polyakova and Fligstein 2016). Many indicators show a growing problem concerning the popularity of the EU among citizens. However, when one tries to integrate these different indicators to come up with some solid measurement of opposition to the EU, a number of conceptual and methodological problems emerge. Indeed, scholars who have analysed Euroscepticism in the past show that this concept is difficult to define and not easy to measure empirically. As it was discussed in Chapter 1, some authors refer to Euroscepticism in terms of levels of broad support for the EU and for the own country membership, while others argue that support can be broad or specific depending on whether one refers to EU legitimacy, or rather to support for specific policies of the EU, in a similar way as it was theorised by Easton (1965, 1975) with reference to the national system. In this perspective, it is important to distinguish between these two different forms of support, as they could prove independent from each other and respond to different motivations pertaining, for example, to interests or to attachment to a political community (Bellucci et al. 2012; Kopecky and Mudde 2002; Memoli and Vassallo 2009). Considering that Euroscepticism is a complex phenomenon (Beaudonnet and Di Mauro 2012; Boomgarden et al.2011; Hobolt and Brouard 2010), the first step in our analysis consists of the attempt to define its main dimensions. This is done in the next section. Then, in the following sections, we examine how some factors—especially the use of the media—influence citizens’ attitudes exactly with respect to those dimensions of the EU process that our analysis revealed as relevant.





The main studies on citizens’ Euroscepticism support the idea that attitudes towards the EU are multidimensional; for this reason, scholars analyse attitudes unpacking them in several components (Bellucci et al. 2012; Scheuer 2005). The complex visions of the EU that have emerged in the empirical research highlight in particular different aspects related to identity, representation and public policy (Bellucci et al. 2012, 138–139). It is possible to interpret this tripartition as articulation of support along



(1) feelings of identification to and attachment for a political community (identity), (2) sentiments towards representative institutions at the EU level (representation) and (3) judgements on governance of collective goods and interests by the EU (policy). The need to go beyond broad underlying attitudes towards the EU to capture different positions towards more specific aspects of the integration process has now become a firm point in the literature. Starting from these premises and before assuming that the above dimensions really are distinct in the minds of citizens, through the analysis of pooled Eurobarometer data (2011–2014) we have examined citizens’ responses to several questions. Our goal was to verify with recent data whether, beyond theory, citizens really distinguish different dimensions of the EU process. If this is the case, then their answers should vary in a way consistent with some partition of different aspects of European integration. With this goal in mind, we ran a test that allowed us to corroborate if, in today’s Europe and with respect to the whole EU population, a multidimensional model can be empirically valid to measure citizens’ attitudes towards the EU. From the operational point of view, in order to carry on this test, we built on existing theory and selected issues related to problems of representation and policy. Unfortunately, Eurobarometer data do not allow the same kind of analytical depth for issues of identity (some relevant questions were asked in 2014 but not in the past waves; therefore, they are of limited use).3 At this point, we ran our test processing two factor analyses4 (shown in Table 3.1) based on a sample of the whole EU population and aggregating the data of four different years. Thanks to the two factor analyses, it was possible to establish that the European citizens (either consciously or unconsciously) really distinguish between these two dimensions given that the variables that we selected to define each dimension (confidence in the EU and its institutions, satisfaction with democracy in the EU and EU competence in different policy fields) co-vary in a way that is consistent with our assumption of distinctiveness of representation from policy. Moreover, the variance explained by each of the two dimensions is rather high. This is confirmation of the fact that the multidimensional nature of the EU process not only exists in theory or in factual reality, it is also understood by citizens who manifestly perceive it in consistent ways. Before moving to a measurement of the influence of media on citizens’ stances—a problem that is central to our analysis—we decided to test the influence of other factors, whose role has been discussed many times in the literature. This is a first step in our analysis that allows us to move from a



Table 3.1

Factor analyses of citizens’ responses Representation

Confidence in EUa Confidence in European Parliamentb Confidence in European Commission Confidence in European Central Bank Satisfaction with democracy in the EUc Single currencyd Common foreign policye Common defence policyf Eigenvalue Explained variance Reliability analysis (Cronbach’s alpha value) N

Policy scope

0.779 0.892 0.901 0.828 0.686

3.369 67.4 0.877 74,148

0.682 0.822 0.791 1.766 59.0 0.647 94,146

Note: a For confidence in EU the question is: “I would like to ask you a question about how much trust you have in certain media and institutions. For each of the following media and institutions, please tell me if you tend to trust it or tend not to trust it”. b For confidence in European Parliament, European Commission and European Central Bank the question is: “And please tell me if you tend to trust or tend not to trust these European institutions.” c For satisfaction with democracy in the EU the question is: “On the whole, are you very satisfied, fairly satisfied, not very satisfied or not at all satisfied with the way democracy works in the EU.” d For Single currency the question is: “What is your opinion on each of the following statements? Please tell me for each statement, whether you are for it or against it. A European economic and monetary union with one single currency, the euro”. e For common foreign policy the question is: “What is your opinion on each of the following statements? Please tell me for each statement, whether you are for it or against it—A common European policy on migration (N).” f For common defence policy the question is: “What is your opinion on each of the following statements? Please tell me for each statement, whether you are for it or against it—A common defence and security policy among EU Member States.” Source: Own elaboration with data of Eurobarometer 82.3 (2014); 80.1 (2013); 78.1 (2012); 76.3 (2011).

purely descriptive to an explanatory research design. Indeed, in the attempt to show what kind of influence media play on citizens, we considered it important to connect our study to the broader research agenda on attitudes towards the EU. Our effort was mainly addressed to first isolate some independent variables (different from media impact) that could then be used as control variables in models that emphasise the role of the media. From the methodological point of view, to introduce strong control variables in the analyses is a way to maximise the robustness of the results. Thus, before testing the impact of media, we decided to test other theories on citizens’ attitudes. Those factors considered influential by other scholars and whose



validity is also confirmed by our analysis can be used, at a later stage, as control variables in more complex models introducing the role of the media. With this aim in mind, we first built two indices of representation5 and policy scope6 made of the factor scores of each of the two latent factors in Table 3.1. At this point, through analysis of variance, it was possible to analyse variations in citizens’ responses along these two indices based on personal and motivational factors of the respondents. In particular, the independent variables in our model refer to factors pertaining to sociodemographic and cognitive characteristics of the respondents, as well as to their assessment of the state of the economy. These variables have been selected to reflect different theories that have become rather established in the literature to explain citizens’ attitudes towards the EU. Two sociodemographic variables (gender and age) reflect the arguments in the literature that women show less supportive attitudes (the “EU gender gap,” see Liebert 1999) and that the older generations are more supportive than the younger ones (Boomgaarden et al. 2011). One variable (education) relates to the cognitive mobilisation theory that points to individual educational resources as drivers of opinion formation on the EU (Inglehart 1970). Those who are less educated are more pessimistic about the EU; moreover, they are more sensitive to the messages forwarded by the media (Chong and Druckman 2007, 121), particularly those representing the EU as a threat (to wealth, to the national welfare, to the national legal system and way of life, etc.; see on this Schuck and de Vreese 2006). Two variables pertain to individual calculations about the economic costs and benefits of European integration, as economic motivations are relevant for citizens’ attitudes towards politics (Gomez and Wilson 2006) and institutions (Chanley et al. 2001; Newton 2007) in general and towards the EU in particular given the economic and trade coordination focus of the EU from its early days (Gabel 1998). These two variables refer to the perceived current/future state of the European economy (sociotropic utilitarianism; McLaren 2006). We tested the influence of the above independent variables in a model considering the representation and policy scope indices as dependent variables (Table 3.2).7 We found that education is a main determinant of citizens’ attitudes. Specifically, the higher the level of education the more citizens support the EU in both dimensions of representation and policy scope. In particular, those citizens with higher education and those who are still studying are more supportive (with values higher than the average) in both dimensions, while the opposite is true for those only having received education until the age of 15 (or below). It is evident that education not



Table 3.2

Influence of socio-demographic factors (EU 27) 2011



Policy scope


Policy scope





0.048 −0.021

0.042 −0.022

0.028 0.040

0.092 0.045

−0.464 0.253 −0.252 −0.049 0.206

−0.155 0.041 −0.107 0.031 0.051

−0.128 0.281 −0.326 −0.043 0.243

−0.189 0.161 −0.055 0.058 0.125

0.178 0.020 −0.025 −0.010

0.041 0.020 0.011 −0.011

0.203 0.071 −0.004 0.007

0.154 0.048 0.075 0.055

−0.115 0.514

−0.057 0.249

−0.261 0.497

−0.072 0.271

−0.086 0.477

−0.056 0.271

−0.101 0.490

−0.004 0.283

Average Gender Male Female Education No full-time education Still studying Up to 15 16–19 20+ Age 15–24 25–39 40–54 55+ European economy Bad Good Expected European economy Worse/same Better

Source: Own elaboration with data of Eurobarometer 82.3 (2014); 76.3 (2011).

only contributes to creating a positive image of the EU process among citizens, it probably also provides the cognitive tools that are useful to understand the role and competences of the EU and to generate at the individual level realistic expectations about what the EU can deliver. Age does not correlate with attitudes in the expected way, as the most positive feelings are displayed by the cohort between 15 and 24 years old. Finally, those who perceive the (actual and future) state of the European economy more positively are also more optimistic about the EU process, while those who hold more negative perceptions on the economy are also more pessimistic about the EU, particularly with respect to the policy dimension. We find only limited evidence of more cautious attitudes from women compared with men. In the end, some of the most recognised determinants that explain individual attitudes towards the EU have confirmed an influence (although



not always of the same kind as hypothesised by past research) in our analysis. Their influence holds transversely across two different dimensions of the EU process, such as representation and policy. However, it could very well be that these variables do not explain the whole phenomenon of citizens’ attitudes towards the EU. In particular, theory has largely neglected the role of media in building citizens’ opinion on the EU. For this reason, in the following section we first review the literature on the impact of the media on citizens’ attitudes towards politics in general. Then, we adapt this literature to our research problem in order to understand how media influence citizens’ political engagement on the EU. We do this by generating theoretically informed and empirically testable hypotheses that are then examined through the application of some multivariate analyses.




The determinants of citizens’ attitudes towards the EU are manifold, in the previous section we have examined some of the most recognised ones whose influence we have confirmed with our analysis. In this section, we insert the role of media in the explanatory models. We know from past research that media influence the political thoughts of citizens; for example, they determine the way problems are represented in the public sphere (framing), and they push citizens to prioritise some issues instead of others (agenda-setting) (Nelson et al. 1997). However, there is no agreement in the literature on the nature of their impact. Some authors maintain that their role in the political process is a virtuous and constructive one because they contribute to bringing citizens closer to the democratic institutions; moreover, they stimulate interest in and disseminate knowledge about politics among the public which is, in turn, more motivated to participate (Dalton 1996; Norris 2000a; Scheufele et al. 2006). Along with this optimistic perspective, media have been defined as “watchdogs” that encourage public opinion and voters to monitor the acts of their representatives on the one side (Besley and Prat 2006) and the representatives to be more accountable to citizens and conscious of the consequences of political corruption on the other (Camaj 2013). However, other authors contend that media can also play a role that is more “vicious” (Cappella and Jamieson 1997), as they encourage social tensions and public cynicism towards politics (Cappella and Jamieson 1997) along with disillusionment, suspicion and distrust towards political institutions (Robinson 1976). As it was mentioned in the previous chapter, some authors contend



that a negative bias in news coverage depends on the distance of the events covered. While in local news proximity creates demand for good news, a negative bias applies to foreign news where criteria for news selection such as familiarity, personalisation or cultural proximity are less readily available (de Vreese and Kandyla 2009; Entman 2004). In this perspective, a negative bias could also apply against the EU because of its distance from the context that is closest and most familiar to citizens. From both optimistic and pessimistic perspectives, media appear relevant actors in the process of formation of citizens’ attitudes towards the political system in general (Floss 2010) and the EU specifically (Hooghe and Teepe 2007; Trenz 2008). For this reason, it is surprising that their impact on citizens’ views about the EU has not been systematically assessed before. In the absence of a specific causal theory on the chain-linking citizens, media and the EU, we speculate on some arguments that have been raised in the literature and that are relevant for our survey. Moreover, we integrate and systematise arguments on patterns of causality in a comprehensive, unitary picture that could serve as a foundation for the development of a general theory of the impact of media on citizens’ attitudes towards the EU. We start with an initial reflection about the fact that, with different approaches and with only few exceptions (especially among the British media), in many member states traditional media have been found to forward a broad positive image of the integration process together with more specific support (if not open celebration) for the EU (Bayley and Williams 2012). Starting from these premises and building on the above argument, in our analysis we move the unit of analysis from media to citizens, and we test to what extent usage of the media has a positive impact on public attitudes. Particularly, we are interested in use of media to gather information about politics. After some seminal works on the effects of political news on public opinion (Iyengar et al. 1982; Page et al.1987)— mostly on the assessment of the presidential performance and on the policy preferences of the American citizens—an abundant literature has focused on the influence of mass communication on citizens. Since, some authors have started to stress the potential of media to also influence citizens’ attitudes towards the EU. In the limited number of studies that are available (Bruter 2009; de Vreese and Boomgaarden 2006; de Vreese and Semetko 2002, 2004), it is shown that there is an influence; this influence tends to be of a specifically positive kind when the EU and the integration process are not represented as either a threat or leading to an uncertain future (de Vreese and Boomgaarden 2005; Norris 2000b; Schuck and de Vreese 2006). By



building on arguments of media influence on citizens’ attitudes and of optimistic posture of traditional media on the EU, we can now generate a working hypothesis that can be tested by means of empirical analysis: Hypothesis 1: To acquire political information predominantly through traditional media makes citizens more pro-European. However, within the diverse world of contemporary mass communication, some authors highlight the prevalent critical posture of the new media. In recent times, the use of the web has grown enormously together with its capacity to influence the political discourse (Lawrence et al. 2010), as well as the way citizens learn about politics (Kleinberg and Lau 2009). Internet media have increasingly gained importance as channels for communication used by parties, politicians and citizens during election campaigns and beyond (Vergeer 2015). Although online media have not replaced the traditional media entirely (Gaskins and Jerit 2012), their use has spread within society at a very fast pace, especially among the younger generations.8 Young citizens are less and less attracted by the traditional media; for this reason they are also the ones most exposed to political information channelled through the web. However, this type of information is generally characterised by a tendency to exacerbate confrontation and to create a climate of fierce criticism towards the political system. The Internet is an ideal place for sharing information and organising participation and political contestation in both conventional and non-conventional ways (Michailidou and Trenz 2010). However, in some cases it can play as a vehicle of political disaffection and apathy (Aarts and Semetko 2003). With respect to the EU process, several authors stressed the tendency of Internet media to nourish different types of anti-European populism (de Wilde et al. 2013) and to emphasise Eurosceptical contents (de Wilde and Trenz 2012).9 Consequentially, we can formulate a conjecture about a supposed negative influence of Internet media on attitudes towards the EU: Hypothesis 2: To acquire political information predominantly through Internet media makes citizens more Eurosceptical. Making use of Eurobarometer pooled data, we tested the two hypotheses on a representative sample of citizens from all the EU member states.10 In the analyses that we present in this section, the dependent variables are the two indices of representation and policy scope that have emerged from the descriptive analysis in the previous section. We consider Euroscepticism not as a category but rather as a continuum of stances, from negative to positive, where Eurosceptical positions are those holding a negative sign. We are aware of the fact that this kind of measurement



brings under the label of Euroscepticism many attitudes along a continuum of stances, from soft to hard, as well as many different motivations. Indeed, we measure the tendency of citizens to locate either towards the pro-European or the Eurosceptical pole of attitudes without differentiating between different degrees of pessimism or optimism. Although this strategy does not allow one to produce a discreet measurement of all stances along the continuum, we maintain it is an acceptable approximation of popular attitudes that allows us to understand with respect to what aspects of the integration process Euroscepticism has mainly emerged within society. In order to test our working hypotheses we made use of two linear regression models (Tables 3.3 and 3.4), one considering the representation index as dependent variable and the other one the policy scope, respectively. The independent variables that we have inserted into the two models are the following11: • An index of national political information via traditional media that aggregates those respondents who declare that they gather information on national politics from TV, radio and newspapers, predominantly. • An index of European political information via traditional media that aggregates those respondents who declare that they gather information on European politics from TV, radio and newspapers, predominantly. • An index of national political information via new media that aggregates those respondents who declare that they gather information on national politics from the web and online social networks, predominantly. • An index of European political information via new media that aggregates those respondents who declare that they gather information on European politics from the web and online social networks, predominantly. In conformity with the analyses carried out in the previous section that show the influence of individual and attitudinal variables on people’s stances on the EU, we introduced in our explanatory models those same factors (age, education, gender, current and future evaluations of the state of the economy) as control variables. Moreover, in order to avoid possible problems of heteroscedasticity, we employed cluster-robust standard errors (see Arellano 2003; Stock and Watson 2008; Wooldridge 2009).


Table 3.3

Model on representation

National political information traditional media European political information traditional media National political information traditional media × European political information traditional media National political information new media European political information new media National political information new media × European political information new media Education (no full-time education) Still studying