Social movements want 'more Europe' and for EU institutions to address the democratic deficit – according to new academic research
Are social movement organisations Eurosceptic, Euro-pragmatic or Euro-opportunist? Or do they accept the European Union as a new level of governance to place pressure on? Opportunities to protest are limited at the European level; it is more open to conventional lobbying than to contentious actions. Based on different sources and methods - interviews, surveys, discourse analysis of organisation documents and press analysis - our research shows, though, that the need to address power-holders pushes social movements to indeed protest at the EU level. They develop multilevel strategies and use new channels of communication - among them the internet and various media-related strategies - to reduce the cost of organising at the supranational level. In all countries covered in the research - France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy and Switzerland - the analysis confirms a growing Europeanisation of social movements, in the last 20 years.
There are, in fact, clear signs of an adaptation to the increasing competences at EU level – especially, in terms of a growing targeting of EU institutions, protest campaigning addressing union-related issues, and transnational networking of domestic organisations across borders. The framing of the European level as a relevant, and possible, level of decision-making emerged as particularly important. In addition, cultural traditions and national mood towards Europe of the respective countries account for differences in the degree and forms of different paths of Europeanisations by social movements and civil society organizations: more precisely via domestication, targeting the national political elites to put pressure on the EU. This is done by externalisation, looking for allies at supranational level - in order to have effects at the national one, and supranationalization through continuous and contentious interactions of various political and social actors around European institutions.
The development of networking at the European level allows for citizen mobilisation on European issues, with heterogeneous and plural belongings. According to their preferences and strategic choices - social movements forge distinct patterns of networks, in different countries, some developing strong horizontal ties among them and other civil society actors. Other invest more in developing vertical networks with policy-makers and institutional actors. This points to the importance of the EU context, as well as the complex interplay of domestic and policy-specific contexts for understanding domestic mobilisation around supranational topics. Furthermore, support for Europe emerges as a polymorphic term that refers not only to different processes - but also to different "Europes". Our analysis shows that social movement actors are more critical towards Europe than other types of collective actors - like political parties - in their respective country. Although widespread Europeanism, in principle, is combined with increasing criticism directed towards specific aspects and or directions of the process – such as some European policies, an intergovernmental institutional design and so on.
The critique in not of "too much" Europe, but of not enough social Europe. In particular, activists of different types of social movements around Europe tend to have low trust in the union - but even less trust in representative institutions at the national level, which are considered as an agent of neoliberal globalisation. They support, however, the construction of supranational institutions. Movement activists express a criticism of the perceived democratic deficit – especially, the limited role of the European Parliament - but push for the construction of a supranational politics "from below". They do not call, in fact, for a return to the nation state - but for a process of Europeanisation from below. This is why contemporary social movements are better described as "critical Europeanist" rather than as "Eurosceptic". Indeed, their criticism does not target the construction of a European level. This confirms that issues related to the degree and forms of participation of social movement organisations in European politics
- and their support toward the EU - emerge as particularly central in the process of creation, together with a European polity, of a democratic supranational polis. Professor Donatella della Porta and Professor Manuela Caiani are the authors of Social Movements and Europeanisation