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Hannu-Pekka Ikäheimo: Politics without alternatives? Finnish newspaper journalism as a forum for EU debate and democracy 1995–2018

Tampere University
LocationRemote connection
Date21.5.2021 9.00–13.00
Entrance feeFree of charge
Hannu-Pekka Ikäheimo
Publicity is one of the cornerstones of democracies. To be vibrant, democracies need constant scrutiny of accountability and forums for political debate. There has been a debate in the EU about the democratic deficit and the need to strengthen European public sphere since the Union's competences were extended to areas that were previously the subject of national decision-making. The basic problem is that, despite the supranational nature of politics and governance, public debates about EU issues still take place mainly within the borders of nation states with national emphasis.

M.Soc. Sc. Hannu-Pekka Ikäheimo studies in his doctoral dissertation Finnish EU journalism. The study covers three Finnish daily newspapers - Helsingin Sanomat, Ilta-Sanomat and Savon Sanomat - in the period 1995–2018.

Numerous attempts to create a Pan-European media have failed during the years, and not even the rise of social media has changed the basic setup in which national media still play a crucial role in integrating EU issues into their national audiences. However, there is very little research evidence on how Finnish media has performed in this key task of democracy, especially in the 21st century. This Doctoral Dissertation fills the information gap by providing new research information on Finnish EU journalism.

The first chapters of the dissertation background the subject of the study. First, the main features of Finland's EU policy and the changes in the media environment during the study period 1995–2018 are reviewed (Chapter 2). After that, the connections of Finnish EU journalism research to key public sphere theories are examined (Chapter 3). Finally, the main research method of the dissertation, framework analysis, is presented, and its various trends and their relationship with other related research method, such as discourse analysis, are analyzed (Chapter 4).

In the empirical part of the study (Chapters 5–7), the research subject is approached thematically through long time series. The research is guided by questions related to political agency, struggles of definition, and EU’s image as an actor: What kind of actor and place for policymaking is the EU according to Finnish newspapers? What kind of political agency is described in EU-journalism? What kind of definition struggles are going on and who are at their center?

The empirical part consists of three independent chapters, each of which looks at the above-mentioned questions from its own more specific perspectives. The first empirical chapter (Chapter 5) studies how three Finnish daily newspapers present EU history and Finland's EU history. The interest of the article is in anniversary stories related to three different landmark events – the signing of the Treaty of Rome, Finland joining the EU and later the EMU – ranging from 1995 to 2018.

The study suggests that Finnish newspapers, journalists, and the political elites have a strongly shared understanding of the EU's historical and political significance. The EU is seen as a success story, and there are no signs of significant fractures in the consensus, even during cumulative crises of the 2000s. According to the study, the media strongly follows the mainstream pro-EU political elite on EU issues. Elite-centeredness is also emphasized in who gets the voice. The importance of the EU is determined by a small number of experts, top politicians, and editors-in-chief.

The second empirical chapter of the study (Chapter 6) analyzes the discussion in the newspapers about EU federalism. Based on the analysis, the Finnish debate on federalism has been cautious. The mainstream of conversations is reflected in so-called evasive functionalism. According to it, integration can always be promoted, but talking about federalism is always too early. The use of the term federalism has been confusing. In its name, it has been possible to support both a loose confederation and a thoroughbred federation. Opponents, on the other hand, have interpreted it mainly as an institutional system that concentrates power in Brussels.

For political reasons, differences in interpretation have been deliberately emphasized and maintained. In the 1990s and early 2000s, most criticism of federalism was met with a few well-known politicians, but in the 2010s it was more systematically linked to the two parties, the Christian Democrats, and the Finns Party. At the same time, the core of federalist criticism shifted from compromising Finland’s neutrality to a critique of solidarity.

The third empirical chapter of the study (Chapter 7) analyzes the manifestations of everyday nationalism in newspapers from the perspective of so-called “EU forbids” journalism. In these types of articles, the EU appears to be a troublemaker interfering in small things, threatening national culture with its bans. The analysis shows that feeding the threat of EU regulation that threatens the core of national culture has been a specialty of tabloid newspapers.

The popular news of the EU's ban on the use of tar or grilling have even grown into a struggle for Finnishness. The “horror stories” about bans imposed by the Brussels bureaucrats have not gained British popularity in Finland, but the best-known “EU forbids” myths have spread so widely also in Finland that they can be used to legitimize Eurosceptic attitudes.

In the final chapter of the study (Chapter 8), the key findings of the study are linked to the current debates on EU publicity and democracy. The study confirms the results of previous studies that the number of EU speakers in the mainstream media is very narrow and expert-centered. The voice of civil society remains downright marginal on EU issues. Journalistic “innovations” to expand the range of participants have hardly been seen, but progress has been driven by social media, if at all. Emerging conflicts are most often described as struggles between member states or between EU institutions and member states, and rarely as struggles between party-political power struggles, ideas, or ideologies.

According to the study, the mainstream media still perceives the EU as an arena for intergovernmental negotiations in which the “Finland’s interest” is defended, even though the role of the European Parliament has been significantly increased in the 21st century. In terms of EU-level politics, inter-party struggles are rarely emphasized in journalism, either at the domestic or EU level. Journalism alone cannot solve the problems of EU’s public sphere, but it can nonetheless politicize EU issues through its choices by giving the public a wide variety of voices and giving them public power to define social issues.

The doctoral dissertation of Master of Social Sciences Hannu-Pekka Ikäheimo in the field of political research titled Politiikkaa ilman vaihtoehtoja? Suomalainen sanomalehtijournalismi EU-keskustelun ja demokratian näyttämönä 1995–2018 will be publicly examined at the Faculty of Management and Business of Tampere University at 12 o'clock on Friday 21 May, 2021. The venue is Pinni A building Paavo Koli auditorium, address: Kanslerinrinne 1, Tampere. The director of The European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats, Docent Teija Tiilikainen will be the opponent while Professor Tapio Raunio will act as the custos.

The event can be followed via remote connection

The dissertation is available online at


Photo: Astrid Mannerkoski