Crum, Ben, and Hollander, Saskia, and Van Kessel, Stijn. (2007) "Why there is (also) No Domestic Public Opinion on Europe: Three Case-Studies from The Netherlands". In: UNSPECIFIED, Montreal, Canada. (Unpublished)
Much debate about the ‘democratic deficit’ of the European Union focuses on the absence of a European public. As long as such a European public is not present, the brunt of the democratic control of EU decision-making will have to be carried at the national level of the member states where well established publics can keep their politicians in check. This paper challenges the assumption that, at least, at the national level there are effective publics to control EU decision-making. Our argument takes off from the classical distinction of Herbert Blumer between ‘public opinion’ and (mere) ‘mass opinion’. While a genuine public opinion may be well established on domestic politics, there are structural impediments for it to develop on EU politics. Indeed, for each of the factors that are crucial in structuring public opinion on domestic politics – parliament, parties, interest groups and the media – different research literatures suggest that they experience significant obstacles in performing the same democratic functions when it comes to EU issues. To demonstrate how these factors conspire to frustrate the emergence of public opinion on European integration issues, this paper analyses the handling of three major recent EU dossiers in The Netherlands: the Constitutional Treaty, the opening of accession negotiations with Turkey, and the Services Directive. It shows how in many respects the domestic public’s opinion on EU issues remains fickle, unstructured and unpredictable, displaying more the characteristics of mass opinion than of a public opinion that can inform democratic decisionmaking.
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