Brexit and the European Public Sphere: Europeanization in British public debates (June 10-24, 2016)
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This research undertakes an analysis of British public debates on the EU in the two weeks leading up to the Brexit-referendum. Based on a conceptualization of the public sphere, here understood as the public acts of political communication through which collective actors create an interactive medium and space of relationships among political institutions and citizens on issues of European integration, the purpose is to make sense of the evaluative British public debates. There are multiple signs that point towards the existence of media effects on European democratic performance evaluations. Subsequently, the European Public Sphere is thought to contribute to a more visible ‘European’ public debate. However, the EPS might also coincide with an increase in negative evaluations of the EU, which likely has an unfavourable influence on EU public opinion. Therefore, it is important to investigate to what extent Europeanized public debates show a negative or positive image of the EU in the British public debate. The method of claim analysis, provides almost all the information that is needed to execute an in depth examination of Europeanization in the British public sphere. Furthermore, following the lead of other studies on the EPS, three quality, nationwide newspapers from British print media, with different political stances and attitudes towards the EU were selected for source gathering. The empirical findings show that Europeanized public debates are significantly more positive in their evaluation of the EU than non Europeanized public debates. In addition, Europeanized public debates present a very explicit nature, while non-Europeanized public debates remain relatively ambivalent. Overall, the findings challenge the current interpretations that the British media market is unusually Eurosceptic, especially with regard to the Europeanized selections. Moreover, the results further emphasize that an assessment of sentiment towards the EU, based solely on Europeanizing claims, falls short because it does not consider how the claim is posited in the debate.