The purpose of this thesis is to empirically investigate the potential for democratic deliberation between citizens in the EU. Researchers suggest that deliberative processes could better promote integration in the EU. However, deliberative theory implicitly states that deliberation works best in situations where participants share the same political culture and speak the same language. This assumption raises a fundamental question: Is democratic deliberation compatible with multiculturalism and plurilingualism? This question has often been discussed theoretically and philosophically, emphasizing the many obstacles for successful deliberation in such contexts. Empirically, this topic has usually been studied within national, monolingual settings. This thesis contributes to existing literature by studying an actual transnational, plurilingual deliberative process among citizens in the EU. I rely on data from the EuroPolis project, a deliberative experiment that took place in Brussels 2009.
The combination of EuroPolis survey data and overall findings from one small group deliberation provides perspectives on the overall structure of the deliberative process. This data provides a good platform for studying whether citizens interacted with each other, or if language and culture differences seemed to interfere with the level of interaction. Preliminary findings indicate that, contrary to theorist’s scepticism, citizens interacted with each other, related to European concerns and identified with the EU. However, establishing whether democratic deliberation is compatible with multiculturalism and plurilingualism also requires an in-depth analysis of how citizens interacted with each other. For this second and more thorough analysis, I rely on the Discourse Quality Index, a tool that helps structuring deliberative processes according to Habermas’ criteria of ideal deliberation. I find that the deliberative process tended towards language dominance by English-speaking participants, as well as a quite formal type of interaction and low levels of justification. These findings raise some concerns regarding how compatible and how democratic deliberation in transnational contexts can be. They suggest that democratic deliberation’s primary function in a transnational setting is to create a common ground. In this sense, democratic deliberation could be complementary to a representative democracy at the EU-level, but not as an independent democratic procedure.