The reality of European democracy remains national, and behind that truth is an even deeper fact: there is hardly any more of a European public sphere today than there was when I started studying and travelling in Europe 40 years ago. There is a thin layer of publications, now online as well as in print, that reach a small, educated audience across the continent – the Guardian online is part of that layer – but most people in Europe still get the bulk of their news and views from national media – even when there is a shared language. In Vienna recently I was told how much the Austrian coverage of Greece differs in tone from that in Germany.
So there is not just one Greece, but 28 different ones, according to the country you are in. The Estonian and Latvian “Greece” would barely be recognisable to Italians, let alone Greeks. Equally, there is not just one Germany but 28: and few Germans would recognise their country in the Greek media’s “Germany”.
These drastically contrasting narratives are fed by national politicians, who emerge from every Brussels summit to trumpet their own successes and blame any concessions on other governments and nasty European institutions. The Belgian foreign minister rather amusingly says he is the only one who can’t blame it on “Brussels”.
Quite so, there is no Europe, so let’s stop pretending and send them all home, eh?