On Euro-debate in the Estonian Media. Problems and Participants
The article deals with the problems of Euro-debate in the Estonian media. In the context of EU negotiations and the possible accession, the Estonian means of mass communication have two different, but equally important tasks.
First, the local media should be able to “sieve” the most relevant facts and events from the massive flow of EU related information and, secondly, the media and the journalists should participate in the discussion about the costs and benefits of the EU accession. The author believes that the Estonian press underestimates its possibilities to promote a discussion on the EU, because there is a common belief that the media should be neutral in order to maintain its credibility. The same applies in the case of local Euro-debate.
One of the major problems of Estonian Euro-debate is the relative weakness of the local Euro-sceptics. As a matter of fact, there is no significant political force that would clearly oppose Estonia’s accession to the EU. At the same time, there is also no social group that feels being seriously threatened by the accession. Yet, certain scepticism towards the EU is quite widespread among the ordinary citizens in Estonia. According to different public opinion polls, the number of people who have not yet decided whether to vote in favour or against the EU accession is as high as 30-40% of the total number of respondents. According to the results of the last public opinion polls (May 2000), only 34% of the voters would vote in favour of Estonia’s accession and 26% against it; 32% of the respondents had not yet decided whether to vote for or against. The “undecided” group is the major target group of the Estonian Euro-debate.
In a situation where a large number of people have slightly sceptical views towards the EU, some politicians from the different ends of the political scale use the situation to earn political profit by expressing their scepticism, with no serious intention to oppose the accession. At the same time, the convinced Euro-sceptics are almost unable to organize their ranks and gain respective political influence. This was one of the reasons why Prime Minister Mart Laar expressed the thought that the Estonian government should offer financial support to Euro-sceptics in order to enhance the level of local discussion on the costs and benefits of the accession.
Estonian Euro-optimists often use very general arguments, forgetting that different social groups have different agenda concerning the accession to the EU. At the same time, Euro-sceptics have used slightly different tactics, focusing on the agricultural sector and pensioners, which have suffered most during the transition period. Inability (mostly on the Euro-optimists’ side) to connect the discussion with everyday problems of the ordinary people is one of the reasons why the debate remains abstract and arouses accordingly little interest. This could be avoided if journalists expressed more boldly their own personal views and even considered the introduction of unconventional means of spreading the ideas. This would encourage and in some cases even force both specialists and high ranking civil servants to join the discussion, which would eventually enhance the level of the local Euro-debate.
Mait Talts, born 1964, historian, University of Tartu 1986; biologist; Tallinn Pedagogical University 1988, library science and bibliography 1993. Work: Estonian Children’s Library, senior bibliographer 1994-96; bibliographer of the Institute for International and Social Studies 1997; analyst of the Institute for European Studies 1998-; Estonian National Archive, specialist 1999-. Affiliation: member of the Estonian Association for European Studies 2000-.