From the surface to the core of Euroscepticism

Political scientist Katri Vallaste investigates in her doctorate how Euroscepticism is constructed by Finnish, Estonian and Swedish media, and how it is perceived from inside sceptics’ circles.

From the surface to the core of Euroscepticism

“Many researchers concerned with Euroscepticism ask: ‘Where does it come from, and how do we get rid of it?’ states Katri Vallaste. “I, on the other hand, am trying to get to the bottom of the concept. Whilst studying how Euroscepticism is seen from outside, I am also interested to include internal views from the Eurosceptics themselves.”

Instead of theorising about Euroscepticism, Vallaste analysed the actual empirical uses of this term. She carried out a qualitative comparative study of the three EU member states Finland, Estonia, and Sweden. Her sources were each country’s largest newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, Postimees and Dagens Nyheter, as well as Eurosceptic writings of the years 2000 - 2006. Among these were articles, essays, novels and poems.

“I found that all three countries’ newspapers handled Euroscepticism in a very similar way. Even though public polls illustrated that there was a considerable amount of ‘Euroscepticism’ amongst people, newspapers lauded the EU and referred to their countries as being EU-advocates. What is more, sceptics were almost without exception characterised by pejorative terms, such as “passive”, “irrational” and “uninformed”. Also words like “EU pessimist” and “Europhobic” were neologised. By contrast, Swedish, Finnish and Estonian Eurosceptical authors framed themselves as knowledgeable, perceptive, economical, and peace-loving, and presented Euroscepticism as a ‘solution’ to various social and economic ills.”

In order to put their message across, both newspaper articles and Eurosceptical writings often seek to invoke emotions.” Vallaste mentions a Finnish novel that tells about a desperate farmer who, after losing his cattle when he failed to follow EU regulations, commits suicide.”

Emotions are also created through rhyme or metrical patterns. For instance, an Estonian Eurosceptical poet used certain metrical patterns that were characteristic of Estonian Kalevala metre songs, sung to strengthen the Estonians’ esteem during the German overlordship. Thus, the contemporary author implies that the EU intends to subdue Estonia, just as Baltic German landlords did during 700 years of Estonian history.

Vallaste argues: “My research shows that Eurosceptic arguments are hardly ever discussed in the main newspapers’ editorials. Although the newspapers argue for more public EU debate, stigmatising Eurosceptics as a problematic group of people by focusing on their personal characteristics, rather than their arguments, effectively precludes fruitful discussion of EU issues.”

Katri Vallaste, MA will defend the doctoral dissertation on 9 March 2013 »»

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Text: Claudia Gorr
Photo: 123rf
University of Helsinki, digital communications

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