Public Opinion, National Party Positions, and the European Commission: Contours of the Public Sphere in the European Union

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Public Opinion, National Party Positions, and the European Commission: Contours of the Public Sphere in the European Union

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Title: Public Opinion, National Party Positions, and the European Commission: Contours of the Public Sphere in the European Union
Author: Dan, Oana
Citation: Dan, Oana. 2012. Public Opinion, National Party Positions, and the European Commission: Contours of the Public Sphere in the European Union. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: As the realm of social life where public opinion forms, the public sphere has been the focus of much theoretical debate and empirical operationalization in political sociology. However, by conceptualizing the public sphere as a nationally circumscribed and normatively defined space that excludes governance institutions, much existing research provides a limited set of tools to define and assess the structure of a supranational public sphere. A deeply integrated supranational polity, the European Union (EU) provides a revealing terrain for tracing the structure of a public sphere emerging between national politics and supranational institutions. In this dissertation, I delineate the contours of the supranational public sphere in the EU by exploring the subjective meanings, national political influences, and institutional interpretation of public opinion about political integration in the EU. I answer the following questions: (1) How salient is EU political integration among Europeans, and what does this concept mean to them? (2) How does Europeans' awareness about EU political integration vary across policies, time and social strata? (3) How is public opinion on EU political integration shaped by national political discourse, as reflected in the positions of national parties? (4) How do officials at the European Commission (EC) measure and interpret public opinion data, and to what extent are these data used to construct an image of the European public and an EU public sphere? Based on quantitative survey data and on interviews with French and Romanian citizens, I show that political integration in the EU remains a distant and abstract concept to which citizens attribute personalized or nationalized meanings. Longitudinal panel models show that public opinion on EU policy often relies on cues from national party discourse. Moreover, interviews with EC staff revealed that, because of logistical and institutional constraints that stifle civil servants' analytical aspirations, public opinion data collected by the EC fail to define a European public and to construct a supranational communicative space for this public. The EU public sphere is a product of supranational polity, but its public is absent and its structure remains nationally embedded.
Citable link to this page: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:10330311
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