We consider EUENGAGE as an empirical primer both in theoretical terms and methodological scope.
We will not only measure mass and elites interactively and over time, but also, simultaneously, we will study how they interact using social media analysis. We will make them discuss and deliberate in controlled ways so as to study what the consequences of this interaction are for both of them.
All these interactions will take place while we observe traditional media environments as well as the social media in which our public and elites are embedded.
This design will not only allow us to explore and test in a unique way, using a variety of empirical sources, several hypotheses relevant to political and social sciences but also offer a first attempt to approach the study of public opinion-elites in a way that can be systematically and repeatedly used to better gauge and assess the evolution of the political challenges facing Europe and the acceptability of different proposals.
This combination of observational and experimental analysis is the most fruitful way to reach sound empirical conclusions about existing patterns and their likely evolution.
The EUENGAGE project originates from a series of crucial and interconnected questions:
What is the State of the Union today after more than sixty years of predominantly incremental development of the process of European integration and the sudden explosion of a major, unexpectedly long and multifaceted economic crisis?
If the most acute phase of the crisis seems to have been overcome, yet many of its effects are still evident and continue to have a strong impact upon the populations of its member states and their views, what future awaits the most important experiment of supranational integration of the last century?
Will a majority of public opinion remain supportive of European integration, or, on the contrary, will it begin to see integration as a threat to its basic interests?
Will the political leaders at the helm of this project remain confident about its value, or will they lose faith in its benefits and look back defensively to re-nationalising options?
Will the political leadership be able to reconcile the specific interests of the different national populations with the requirements of a large supranational Union, or will the gap between public opinion and politicians continue to grow?
Can the internal diversities among member states be reconciled in a common enterprise, or will centrifugal drives prevail?
THE FRAMEWORK OF THE PROJECT
The project can be conceived as made up of two overlapping circles (see Fig. 1), one wide circle covering the full membership of the EU, and a second covering with greater depth a subset of 10 members states. The 10 countries of this subset (Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain and United Kingdom) have been selected as they cover the main dimensions of variation across the Union (North/South, strongly hit/less strongly hit by the crisis, old/new members, Eurozone/non Eurozone countries) that have had the greatest relevance in the recent past.
THE FRAMEWORK OF THE PROJECT
A rich, systematic description of the change in views about the EU/Europe as a consequence of the crisis will be provided for the EU-28 countries. EUENGAGE will then zero in on a subset of 10 countries with a research design expressly focused to analyse, monitor and assess the interactive effects of the crisis and other national political factors affecting views about the EU.