Ideas, interests and information: conflicting visions of a supranational information society

[Co-authored with Richard Berry] My article for the journal Public Policy Research exploring the potential and pitfalls of supranational regulation of the information society.

The institutions of the European Union have been the primary setting in which a new policy area – information society policy – has been purposefully forged out of traditionally discrete policy areas such as broadcasting, telecommunications and technology. This process can be interpreted as the latest phase in European integration: the growth of policy competence at the supranational level. This has certainly occurred, but another perspective through which to assess the course of events is in terms of Europe’s ideological divide: between neoliberal and social democratic approaches to public policy. In this essay, we argue that the history of information society policy in the EU has been dominated by a neoliberal agenda, which focuses on economic rather than social goals, with liberalisation, privatisation and deregulation the proposed means of achieving them. This agenda is bound up with the prevailing discourse on globalisation – with the associated imperatives on competitiveness – in most advanced industrial economies. We argue that there are wider objectives of a progressive information society policy. This should not imply a return to protectionism: such an approach would share the deficiencies of narrow neoliberalism. The objectives of information society policy, rather, should be focused and judged as much on cultural and educational gains as they are on economic ones. Here we will set out a vision for how the information society can function in harmony with social democratic values throughout Europe. Furthermore, we argue, policy development in this area provides important lessons for those who worry about the propensity for European integration to be left open to undue influence by powerful corporate interests and their political sponsors.

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Image: UK Ministry of Defence

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