Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster: Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration

Time Regimes And Cultures of Time as Determinants of Public Attitudes Towards Political Change

Analyzing the European Integration Process Under a Temporal Perspective

Thomas Malang


With the referendum held on the 29 May 2005, the French electorate voted against the adoption of a constitution for the European Union (EU) and thereby sent shock waves across Europe. Shortly afterwards, the voters in the Netherlands also rejected this constitution. These incidents lead to a temporary suspension of the constitutional project. In the aftermath of these referendums several reasons for the public rejections were listed, e.g. economic factors, cultural fears leading to a support of right-wing populism and a gap between the elite and the public. All these factors were also claimed for the Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty in June 2008. Out of the 27 member states, only Ireland held a public vote about the compensatory EU Treaty of Lisbon. This could lead one to hypothesize that the public opinion may no longer comply with the planned future steps of European integration. The crucial academic and practical question is which factors explain the public rejection of the further integration steps designed by national and European elites?

In my dissertation I seek an alternative explanatory approach to the common economic and cultural models. Starting from the recent literature, I assume that for the first time in European integration research not only the content of the integration steps is considered to play an important role in the public perception of integration but also the form of integration. With form I mainly refer to the timing and pace of the integration steps. Whereas the content is always heavily discussed (e.g. 'what is the effect of the next integration step'), the form (e.g. 'when and how does the step take place') is still treated as a stepchild, which gets little attention. Just recently, the temporal component got highlighted in the public discourse emerging out of the referendums in France and Ireland. The catchphrase of ‘too much too soon' got prominent and spread through the political and academic world.

The starting point for my project is to elaborate a theoretical framework which is capable of analysing political processes due to the impact of their temporal components, including especially models of time horizons of different causal accounts. Using the process of European integration as my empirical precedent, I want to explore which temporal components are constituent for the societal perception of political time and speed. Linking the findings to the broader theoretical frame of the research that has been done on cultural concepts of identity and change, I develop a triple-stream model of political time by which the public perception of political processes can be classified.

The procedure will be: I develop a model of ‘political pace’ by which processes can be measured with respect to their speed or their acceleration relying on the importance of history-making events. I then investigate the institutional components of ’political time regimes’ to answer the question how national political systems deal with the question of change and stability. At last I analyze the literature on time as a cultural concept with the aim of providing a scheme of different 'cultures of time' and their effect on the public perception and attitude towards change and uncertainty. The fusion of these three theoretical approaches should offer a better explanation of the impact of time-related factors in the public perception of political processes and therefore lead to a more comprehensive understanding of the recent public attitudes towards the European integration process described in the beginning. After the theoretical part, a concrete operationalization for the underlying concepts will be presented which is followed by the proposed methods to test the developed hypothesis.