2004 has been a year of big European stories: enlargement, the constitution and the new commission. But EU affairs quickly disappear from the headlines. This has Europe's elites worried.
All eyes on Europe?
There's no lack of media in Europe. But there is a lack of European media. Although there are programs about Europe, there are no major daily newspapers and few entertainment programs that can claim to appeal to all of Europe.
One barrier is language. Twenty official tongues make it almost impossible to reach everyone at once. Some academics say this lack of a European media and a European audience for it amounts to a democratic deficit.
"There are many decisions on the European level and there is no European media communication about these decisions -- and that's a deficit," said Stefan Tobler, a European media specialist from Zurich University. "You as a citizen have no possibility to recognize what the European politicians do."
But if not enough journalists are talking about EU issues, isn't it because not enough people are interested? According to Tobler, a European audience will only be forged in the heat of conflict and debate.
"Institutionalization or democratization cannot be given from above," he said. "There has to be a process from the bottom up, from the citizens."
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The biggest European story of the year was perhaps Euro 2004, the European soccer championships which were held in Portugal this summer. It generated a prime example of a European audience, with people from Slovakia to Scotland all gathered around the television and radio.
But it's not enough, said Jessica Erbe from the Social Science Research Center in Berlin.
"Everybody is only concentrating on how their country does," Erbe said. "I don't see how this is creating a European identity, because it's really focusing on 'will my team win'?"
Erbe also discarded that other great European event -- the Eurovision Song Contest -- despite it being a European program with a European public?
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"It's the wrong area to look for it because it's a competition," said Erbe. "It's not a forum where you can create an identity because it is about winning and about being better than the others, not about being the same as the others."
Journalists also play a role
According to Erbe, incidents such as the Buttiglione scandal in the European Parliament were much more likely to create something like a European public sphere or sense of identity. Rocco Buttiglione (photo, below), Italy's initial nominee for the new European Commission, was withdrawn after his conservative views on gays and the women stirred anger among many parliamentarians, threatening to prevent approval of the EU executive.
In fact, it is European controversies like this which make the headlines. But often, they are negative and bring Europe's institutions into disrepute.
Journalists may be partly to blame for negative stories and not enough reports on how EU decisions affect European lives. Professor Thomas Bauer from Vienna University said his trainees don't really see themselves as European journalists.
"I feel that they have a very narrow-minded understanding of journalism and of the function of the job they will have," said Bauer. "I think the study programs of the universities are not really Europe-oriented enough yet."
He said a cooperation between universities could bring in this dimension.
Language doesn't need to be a barrier
If journalists are part of the problem leading to a lack of audience for European issues, then surely languages are an even bigger problem. With 20 official tongues and more to be added, how can a regional daily newspaper in Slovenia report on something spoken in far away Brussels, in Swedish perhaps, by a European commissioner? Media specialist Tobler said this can be overcome.
"We also had this language problem in Switzerland, and in Europe, of course, this problem is greater," he said. "But I think if you as a citizen participate in a movement, then language problems are not the issue. Most people can speak English a little bit and can understand. That's the most important thing."
The academics agree that when Europeans demand more news of European affairs, the media meets the need. But the demand is unlikely to be fired up by a revolution. Instead, Europe will have a series of crises, such as over its new constitution or the membership of Turkey, and these crises will shape a European identity and a European audience that demands more.