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From the archive: How Euroscepticism went mainstream

The pro-EU press, which so far had only indulged in some routine critical articles on MEPs’ and officials’ expenses, soon discovered that a dogmatic approach could backfire, and that there was a world to report out there. The usual way forward for pro-Europeans, namely “more Europe”, for the first time sounded almost disturbing.

Only in the UK everything remained more or less the same, and politicians like UKIP’s Nigel Farage raised an interest abroad for their perceived frankness: Europeans wanted to be able to say out loud if and when they did not like their unelected EU leaders. At times, the United Kingdom with its established Euroscepticism seemed to be the most faithful partner of the EU.

At least the criticism coming from its shores were predictable. The main problem with it is that the stories coming from the tabloids were so outlandish that they did not allow any rebuttal. How can one answer a headline stating that Brussels wants corpses to be disposed down the drain? With whom can you protest when there is no one attending the press conferences in Brussels or coming only for the summits, when national delegations have all the power and the EU communication is more toothless than ever? The more a newspaper is assertive in its EU-bashing, the least likely it is to have a Brussels correspondent, because editors know the rule: the moment you send someone to Brussels is the moment your correspondent will start seeing too many nuances and thus stop writing the sharp reports the paper wants.

Europe: united in scepticism

Paradoxically, the European Union is more united than ever, but for the wrong reason, namely scepticism. Over the decades, a dangerous equation has been built. It is the one according to which pro-Europeanism is an intellectual construction and Euroscepticism is the truth. Tear off the mask, and you’ll see how bad Europe is! This is the rhetoric the media have used to deconstruct a project they never really bought into, and they managed to make other countries believe that intellectual honesty equals being anti-EU. This is also the result of years of partisan reporting and the lack of debate, possibly due to the fact that governments themselves did not want to promote a serious scrutiny of the EU. For each and every government the EU has provided the best scapegoat ever, the strict teacher that imposed measures which are not popular nor easy to present to the voters. Half a decade into the euro crisis, journalists and their readers have learned many lessons and have seen the EU from several angles. The world has changed and the reasons to be together have possibly increased, even if member states have become less comfortable in their cohabitation.

Cristina Marconi is a freelance writer, journalist and researcher based in London. After six years in Brussels as a correspondent for Italian media, and a fellowship at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalist in Oxford, she co-wrote Reporting the EU: News, Media and the European Institutions (IB Tauris 2014) with John Lloyd of the Financial Times, and worked as the head of research on a documentary about the European Union commissioned by the BBC.