Academic journal article Journal of Media Research

Unconditional Trust? Public Opinion towards the EU in Romania

Academic journal article Journal of Media Research

Unconditional Trust? Public Opinion towards the EU in Romania

Article excerpt

Introduction

There are few moments in the history of the European Union when public opinion towards the European Union has ever attracted more scholarly interest. And this happens due to several facts, which could be easily categorized under what Jurgen Habermas called "the crisis of the European Union". Technically, the EU has been facing various types of crises since 2005, when two "veterans" of European integration - the Netherlands and France - voted "No" in the referenda for the Constitutional Treaty. The failed constitutionalization of the EU has obliged the European leaders to re-think the design of a much-dreamed "European Constitution". But this has been mainly through "informal incrementalism and semipermanent reform, rather than explicit public endorsement and a 'constitutional moment" (Christiansen and Reh 2009, 2).

What started as an economic crisis back in 2007, turned into a never-ending quest for the lost logic of European integration, which - as it became more and more evident - could not be taken for granted anymore. Nowadays, the strength of the European project is put under severe scrutiny. As Jan Zielonka put it, the EU "proved poorly prepared for navigating through the stormy weather and it lost the confidence of Europe's citizens" (2014, 3). The austerity measures, the Greek bailout, the Ukrainian conflict, the Brexit, and, now, the refugees crisis, have triggered waves of public discontent. All these moments have made the EU more vulnerable than ever; they have widened old gaps and generated new ruptures. Despite EU officials' repeated calls for solidarity and their declared commitment to a prosperous European future for all Member-States, fractures have continued to appear. Now we are dealing with a European Union, which only serves as a shelter for individual countries and/or clusters of countries, grouped based on their financial and/or political positioning in the EU. There is the cluster of "net contributors" or "net creditors", composed mainly of Western and Northern states, such as Germany, France, and the Netherlands. The opposing cluster belongs to the "net spenders" or "net debtors", consisting of the poorer countries in South and East.

The North-South cleavages rival with the East-West gap. The "new memberstates" are antagonists - in terms of political and financial performance - to the "old member states". The "wasteful" Easterners are sometimes presented, as the "black sheep" of the EU, for these countries are only proficient at one thing - spending the European money, the wise Westerners say. Then, another dichotomy emerges: the "Eurosceptic" countries, which oppose the naïve "euro-enthusiast" states. Eurosceptics think that the EU needs an overhaul, and they partly blame the European "mess" on the East enlargement that weakened the Union and basically spoiled its harmony (Toshkov et. al. 2014). On the other hand, Euro-enthusiasts still see European governance as a better alternative to their national democracies - young democracies, which still have a lot to learn from their far more experienced Western peers. The Easterner could be portrayed as a young teenager hopelessly in love with his beautiful yet inaccessible teacher. In mid-2015, a new antagonism has been revealed: Member-States that welcome refugees vs. Member-States that do not welcome refugees.

One thing is sure: today's Europe is full of cleavages. Mass media and scholars alike seem to have engaged into a competition for trying to organize MemberStates into "camps" or clusters, based on various criteria (i.e. economic performance, fiscal soundness, public opinion towards the EU, measures concerning refugees, position towards the Ukrainian "issue"). But how relevant is this? And what is the baseline against which we could do these measurements so that we are sure that we haven't established a false standard? I believe that clustering is a dangerous practice; for it might contribute to oversimplifying what it should be the very complex image of a multicultural and diverse Europe. …

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