Constructing Britain and the EU: a discourse theoretical account of the EU treaty reform process 2003-2007
Hawkins, Benjamin Robert
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This study aims to address the longstanding questions surrounding the consistently low levels of support articulated towards the European Union (EU)by British citizens. Existing studies highlight that political identities are closely related to the levels of support citizens across the EU express for the process of European integration. Citizens who define their identity in exclusively national terms tend also to oppose the process of European integration and their country’s participation in this process. Present studies, however, fail to provide an adequate account of the emergence of exclusively national identities and their prevalence in member-states such as the UK. The citizens of the UK have expressed consistently low levels of support for the process of European integration and for British membership of what is now the EU, since Britain’s accession to the European Economic Community (EEC) over 30 years ago. Similarly, the UK has one of the highest proportions of citizens who define their identity in exclusively national terms of any EU memberstate. The argument presented in this thesis is that the low levels of support for the EU and the prevalence of exclusively national identity constructions amongst UK citizens must be understood in the context of British discourses about the EU. I employ the conception of subjectivity developed by post-structuralist discourse theory in order to examine the emergence of an exclusively national form of British identity within media debates on the EU treaty reform process. Discourse theory offers a set of concepts and logics through which it is possible to investigate the structure of eurosceptic discourses. Furthermore, drawing on the insights from Lacanian psychoanalysis, it is able to account also for the strength and longevity of these constructions of national identity. This thesis identifies a eurosceptic discourse of British national identity characterised by an underlying logic of nationalism, according to which nations are seen as natural political communities and the nation-state the most logical unit of political organisation. This is evident not only in debates about the powers of the EU, but also in the relationship constructed between the UK and other member-states in the EU. In addition, the EU is itself constructed as a quasi-state and functions in these discourses as the ‘other’ against which Britain is defined. The former is seen as a hostile, foreign power bent on assuming ever greater control over the UK. These constructions of Britain and the EU feed into fantasmatic constructions of subjugation and oppression, which help account for the strength and resilience of eurosceptic discourses. The final part of the thesis examines the pro-European voices in the British media. However, it is not possible to discern a coherent pro-European discourse in the same way in which it is possible to identify the eurosceptic discourse. I outline the extent to which these pro-European voices challenge the predominant eurosceptic discourse, and offer alternative constructions of Britain’s relationship with the EU which may form the basis of more inclusive identity constructions.