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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Making Europeans: Pan-European television and the European Community Theiler, Tobias


In the early 1980s, the European Community adopted the objective of complementing economic and political integration with the building of a nation-transcending "Europe of culture." This led to efforts to encourage pan-European television broadcasting through measures such as "Europa TV," the "Television Without Frontiers" directive and the MEDIA programme. The EC's interest in television was in part stimulated by technical innovations which facilitated the transmission of broadcast signals across national borders. But above all, Brussels subscribed to the notion advanced by many communication and integration models that communication in general and electronic mass media in particular could help undermine ethnic consciousness and enhance the "identitive power" of supranational institutions. A few years later, however, most pan-European television channels had floundered or redirected their services to a national or monolingual audience. The demise of pan-European broadcasting can partially be blamed on wanting language skills, inadequate translation techniques and obstructionism by national governments. At the same time, it signifies that efforts to sway audiences towards a denationalized "European perspective" have remained futile, despite Brussels's claim that an overarching European identity has its origins in a legacy of medieval cosmopolitanism. Instead of guiding Europeans towards greater cultural unity and closer identification with supranational institutions, the EC's cultural policies have caused anxieties among national governments and a wider public alike. While some governments resisted their formation and implementation (for example by limiting the Community's expenditures in the "cultural sector" and by obstructing the distribution of pan-European television signals on their territories), the ratio of Europeans who sense the preservation of their national identity incompatible with their country's involvement in European integration grew. I conclude by arguing that the failure of pan-European television is but one sign that the EC's cultural policies in their current form are bound to do more harm than they can hope to create stability. A consociational strategy, aimed at strengthening the cultural autonomy of the EC's member states by assigning all powers in the cultural sphere to the national or sub-national domain, could better consolidate the European project in its economic and political dimensions.

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