With crises around its periphery, far-right movements strengthening their grip on national policies the EU is in dire need of a way to act cohesively and properly communicate its intentions. What should an information strategy for the EU look like? What narratives should the EU explore and how can they be fostered? These are the main questions this research project attempts to answer in cooperation with business operatives, practitioners, and academics.
The overall aim of the study is to understand the fractures between different EU narratives and discourses produced and received by various actors to identify errors in the way the EU communicates and how the EU frames its policies and initiatives. How can the substance of the content be adapted to vulnerable or euro-sceptic groups to support EU policies? Which instruments will enhance the communication between producing and receiving groups? How can existing channels be refined or new channels of communication be developed for deployment in constructing narratives?
(1) Narrative Production
The project’s first phase looks at the main producers of a EU narrative. The production of this idea is fostered through a group’s representative. Representatives of a group build up the group’s idea inasmuch as the group builds them. The idea also has to be actively received by people. Hence, someone who is legitimately licensed to do so must utter the discourse according to the legitimate forms and in front of legitimate receivers. For example, the spokesperson of the EEAS represents the EEAS by holding a scripted press conference. Answering questions from journalists, the spokesperson constructs the idea journalists have of the EEAS’s work.
What actors are in a position to produce and foster an idea of the EU? The EU’s institutions, including the EU parliament, the EU Commission, EU Council and their members are primary actors in the production of any European idea. At the peak of the EU, the actions they take and not take, communication with the media and people and its lack, the notions and frames that are used directly reflect on the values they produce. Second, national politics. In the way they frame the actions or lack thereof in a certain way, heads of state, governments and ministries, national parliaments, political parties, and other state institutions present a filter through which information is selected and thus enhances values or ideas of the EU. Third, civil society groups, churches, think tanks, universities, and other non-state actors, produce an image and idea of the EU that could be analysed.
The analysis of narrative production therefore entails several tasks:
- Identifying the main producers of the EU narrative.
- Understanding how and through what authority they produce this narrative.
- Analysing the values and ideas they purport.
(2) Narrative Reception
The receiving groups have to recognize and acknowledge the meaning of the discourse disseminated by the group’s representative. According to their social status and the places where they come into contact with the EU, different groups exhibit a different perception of the EU. For example, students by partaking in an Erasmus exchange programme foster ideas about Europe.
However, this section mainly focuses on how various voter groups perceive the EU. A statistical analysis of European voter survey data can enhance our understanding of how different voter segments perceive the EU’s values and ideas. Particular focus will be put on euro-sceptic segments of society.
Main tasks are the following:
- Define the main receiving groups of the EU narrative.
- Gather and analyse data using statistical analysis to distil the perception of values and ideas on the EU in different segments of society.
(3) Media Analysis
The media is the platform where the production and the perceptions of EU narratives clash. Because of the media’s corporate nature it must cater to certain segments of society, acknowledging their values and origins, therefore leading to a fragmentation and widening of narratives. Also, the media’s inability to gather first hand information leads it into a reliance on official government sources. Therefore, the analysis of newspaper articles both transmitting information and reproducing official and unofficial discourses constitute the primary material for analysis and will be used as such.
The analysis of media is done showcasing various EU events (such as policies) spanning over several years to analyse how values are transmitted and understood. According to their clientele and their access, various media outlets report differently on controversial EU policies. This response over a spectrum of media articles in different countries will be the focus of analysis.
Questions that will be answered in this section include, but are not limited to:
- How do different media outlets frame their articles on a specific event?
- What values does this frame purport?
- What are the differences over time – do the transmitted values change?
- How can emerging fractures between narrative producing and receiving groups be understood over time?
Jean Christopher Mittelstaedt is the project leader and co-founder of WeBuildEurope.eu. Jean Christophe graduated with a Bachelor of Laws in International Politics from Peking University, Beijing, China. After obtaining a Master in Human Rights and Humanitarian Action from Sciences Po Paris, he now pursues a DPhil in Politics at the University of Oxford, where he focuses on Chinese ideology, the legislative process, and Partybuilding. He is also the founder of OB|OR Austria Consulting, which specializes in political and risk analysis for companies that invest within China and along the Silk road in Central Asia and Eastern Europe. He is a contributing member of the European-Chinese Law Association and the Austrian-Chinese Business Association.
Sarra Ben Hamida is WeBuildEurope’s editor-in-chief. She is responsible for the management and publication of the rolling-basis content and of the edition of research output. Sarra has a dual bachelor degree in Political Science and Literature with Sciences Po and Université Panthéon Sorbonne. Sarra worked as a journalist for the magazine Mouvement specialized in contemporary and performative arts, as a project coordinator for the Tunisian NGO TAMSS (Tunisian association for management and social stability) and as a project manager support intern with the Catholic Relief Services in Lebanon. She graduated from the master of International Security at Sciences Po in 2016.