The MAXCAP Working Paper No. 31 “Public-Elite Gap on European Integration: The Missing Link between Discourses about EU Enlargement among Citizens and Elites in Serbia” by Elitsa G. Kortenska, Indraneel Sircar and Bernard Steunenberg has been published. You can download the Working Paper here.
Enlargement is often regarded as an elite-driven process, which does not or not sufficiently include the views of ordinary citizens. At the same time, support for integration has been eroding over the last decade, contributing to a public-elite gap in preferences towards the process. This paper investigates the relationship between elite and citizens’ discourses by focusing on Serbia as one of the candidate countries. The case of a candidate country is interesting, as domestic elites need to obtain the support from citizens in making the EU-driven transformations, whereas citizens may be critical to some of the imposed reforms. This may push and pull both groups in the opposite directions, increasing the public-elite gap on European integration. This contribution supplements previous research, which identified discourses among citizens in Serbia, with an analysis of media content. Using vignettes for each discourse found among citizens, the contents of statements in two major Serbian newspapers have been coded. The analysis shows that all four citizen discourses are represented in media. The discourse favoring Serbia’s accession enjoys best representation in the media, reflecting views of Serbia’s political elite. In contrast, the narrative rejecting Serbia’s integration in the EU finds the least space in newspapers, while the remaining two discourses share almost an equal media representation. Most importantly, the authors find that approximately one fourth of media content does not fit any of the four citizen discourses. This demonstrates not only the size, but also the substance of the public-elite gap on European integration in Serbia. The public-elite gap illustrated here tilts the political debate in Serbia towards one with rather supportive expectations of enlargement and integration. At the same time, we noted that more critical views among citizens are not, or not yet, reflected in the media, while the media is reporting on issues that do not resonate with citizens’ views. A question is whether this is a sustainable route, and whether political ‘entrepreneurs’ will capitalize on these views in order to build alternative political platforms in Serbian politics or influence Serbia’s progress.
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