Conference Agenda

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Session Overview
Panel 310: The Impact of Austerity Policies on Political Discourse and the Media
Monday, 02/Sep/2019:
3:00pm - 4:30pm

Session Chair: Anna Wambach, Care Quality Commission
Location: Anfiteatro 8

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The Eurozone Reform and the Prospects of the European Public Sphere

Markus Ojala

University of Helsinki, Finland

This paper addresses a little-discussed dimension in the ongoing efforts to reform the Eurozone—their implications for European democracy and the public sphere. Recent contributions to the study of European public spheres have tended to treat the apparent politicisation of European issues as a welcome development, potentially fostering pluralism, citizen engagement and democratic participation. This paper challenges such optimistic and linear readings, arguing that the European public sphere continues to exist in an uneasy relationship with the EU’s political system. The argument is developed through four steps. (1) First, the paper challenges assumptions that the Eurozone crisis has opened room for a pluralist debate on European governance by pointing to the corroding effects of institutions and power on the European public sphere. On one hand, EMU’s existing rules and institutions severely limit the scope of democratic decision-making and public deliberation. On the other, the old and new European hierarchies, such as the division of countries between creditors and debtors, the German-French axis and the authority of the ECB, imply the capacity of few to dictate the terms of economic governance. Impacting on and amplified by the European media, these inequalities in economic and political power turn into inequalities in communicative power. (2) Second, the paper acknowledges that the public sphere nevertheless constitutes a space in which European economic governance—its policies, institutions and power hierarchies—can and ought to be challenged. The European public sphere is therefore crucial for any genuine politicisation and democratisation of the current arrangements of European governance. (3) Third, the paper proposes that in order to analytically appraise the democratising value of European debate, we need a more sophisticated conception of politicisation than what is typically adopted in studies of EU politics and the public sphere. Rather than merely increasing the availability of differing views on a given issue, politicisation ought to be understood in terms of what Chantal Mouffe has coined as an agonistic dimension to public debate and policy-making. It is about opening up new spaces for deliberation and contestation, criticising existing power structures and broadening the scope of democratic decision-making. (4) Fourth, the paper concludes by reiterating the interdependent nature of economic governance and the public sphere. Because the present institutions and power hierarchies of the Eurozone severely compromise the democratic scope of public debate, the ongoing political struggle over reforming the Eurozone’s economic governance has fundamental implications for the future of European democracy.

The Impact of External Conditionality on National Political Discourse: the Case of Portugal

António Luís Dias, Daniel Cardoso


Existing research has found that external conditionality has had a strong impact on the policy-making process of bailed-out countries during the Eurozone crisis, including creating opportunities for politicians to adopt measures that would have not been possible otherwise. But has conditionality also had an impact on policy-making discourse? Has external intervention changed the arguments policy-makers use to present and justify their position and choices? To assess the relationship between external conditionality and discourse, we map the evolution of the debates that took place in the Portuguese parliament between 2000 and 2018, namely the evolution of party speeches concerning employment policy before, during and after the Troika intervention. This policy area was one of the most reformed ones during the crisis in Portugal and, therefore, one of the fields where political conflict was the strongest. We will employ a combination of more qualitative content analysis and more quantitative methods, namely automated textual analysis, to analyse parliamentary speeches and, thus, trace party stance evolution throughout the different periods. By combining both strategies, we will test our hypothesis that the economic crisis and external conditionality had an effect on policy debate and on the political arguments presented in it. Namely we expect that external conditionality gives national policy-makers the opportunity to present and justify policy measures using discourse not available during “normal” times.

Eurozone Crisis Narratives in Austeritarian Countries: European Convergence in National Media The Cases of Portugal, Spain and Ireland

Susana Rogeiro Nina

Institute of Social Sciences, University of Lisbon, Portugal

Since the shift of European Union’s paradigm, in which the constraining dissensus has replaced the permissive consensus that ruled the relations between the EU and its citizens, the hopes of a European public sphere capable of legitimising EU institutions and socialising European citizens crashed in the so-called communication deficit between the EU and its citizens. Simultaneously, the last decades have been marked by the enhancement of Europeanisation and the politicisation of European issues on national public spheres. In 2009, the outbreak of Eurozone crisis had hastened this process, and European issues have become significantly more contested in national public spheres. Taking into account Habermas’s classic conceptualization of public sphere, the weakness that EU faces due to a lack of common European public sphere only can be overcome if European issues were discussed and reported in the various media among Europe at the same time, with the same level of attention and framed in similar ways across national media.

This article tests the idea that Portugal, Spain and Ireland countries that faced austerity measures, present similar narratives regarding the Eurozone crisis, showing a European collective understanding of the crisis. In other words, if national public spheres are convergent and have a common pattern regarding the way European economic issues are framed on the national printed press.

To test our hypotheses, empirically we will analyse all economic news from one left-wing and one right-wing mainstream newspaper of each country. The time-period selected is fifteen days before each legislative election (the electoral campaign period) before (2002-2008) and after the Eurozone crisis (2009-2015). We will carry out a content analysis, looking into six dominant frames (Strategic, Problem, Cause, Responsibility, Consequences and Solution) as well the tone and media attention.

This approach will allow us to assess how the crisis changed the way national media portrayed European questions and if the austeritarian countries reported the European economic issues similarly

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