European Union under Pressure – Public Narratives on Europe and its Borders

von Larissa Fleischmann, M.A.

This project aims to explore understandings of ‘Europe’ and its borders in public discourses in Britain, Germany and France. Thereby, it tries to shed light on Europe’s assumed ‘identity crisis’: scholars have argued that the European Union (EU) is unable to yarn a common thread of European identity among its putative citizens.

In order to investigate these public understandings of Europe, the empirical analysis aims to examine newspaper accounts on the migrant boat which sank near the Italian island of Lampedusa on the 3rd October 2013. It is estimated that more than 300 migrants, mostly believed to be Eritrean, died in the Mediterranean Sea in their attempt to claim asylum in the EU. The shipwreck triggered an important media debate on the European border and asylum policies in its aftermath. The thesis will show that these media representations are important for the study of ‘Europe’: they are “key to understanding the ways in which people understand the world around them and their place within it” as Sharp (2011, 298) has noted. A total number of 109 articles, directly relating to the Lampedusa shipwreck in the newspapers The Guardian (Britain), Der Spiegel (Germany) and Le Monde (France), have been compiled, coded and analysed.

As I will outline in Chapter 4, each of the analysed newspapers ascribes different meanings to the event and thus articulates different understandings of Europe. These findings parallel with the argument that “’Europe’ figures as a differentially articulated concept, vision and project within self-defining national narratives” as Moisio et al. (2013, 744) have noted. I will argue that ‘Europe’ should therefore be understood as a “traveling idea” (Said: 1983) that changes as it traverses from one location or point in time to another since it adapts to the new historical and social context. All of three analysed ‘ideas’ of Europe, however, are highly critical of the European border and asylum policies. The European Union is therefore increasingly under public pressure.

These findings indicate that academic works on the current European border-making are unable to explain the articulated ‘ideas’ of Europe. By arguing that Europe re-asserts a postcolonial identity (see van Houtum: 2010) or is possessed by a ‘globalized fear’ (Pain: 2009) they draw a rather deterministic and essentialized picture of ‘Europe’. By doing so, they fail to make sense of Europe’s inner differences and negotiation processes and draw an overly pessimistic and critical picture of ‘Fortress Europe’ – in effect, they overlook possible starting points for future changes and discursive dislocations.

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