By Petar Galev, Viktor Laskov, Perceptica
This analysis looks into the most popular words and phrases in Brexit-related articles in Southеast European media in March-August of 2019, which reflect the dominant attitudes in the respective countries and the region as a whole. The period covers some of the most turbulent chapters of the Brexit saga, including the multiple votes on Theresa May’s withdrawal bill, her resignation and the appointment of Boris Johnson as prime minister.
Balkan media were mostly curious rather than worried about Brexit and its consequences for their countries’ economies or the rights of their citizens. News about every key development made the rounds in all major media outlets across the region. The vast majority, however, treated the issue more as a spectacle, each act proving to be more amusing than the previous.
Unsurprisingly, media in the EU member states in SEE covered more extensively than non-members the expected impact of Brexit on the future of their citizens residing in the UK, as well as the overall influence of the UK’s departure on their economies. While Brexit media coverage in different countries shared many common features, the degree of attention was different and some country specifics emerged. For Bosnian media, a possible withdrawal of the UK from EUFOR, the EU’s peacekeeping force in the country, was a major concern. Media in Moldova, a country with close historical and cultural ties to Romania, paid attention to the expected impact of Brexit on sales of Romanian car maker Dacia in the UK.
Given the amount of media coverage received, Brexit seemed more important than a lot of prominent national issues that unfolded during the six months under review. Although Theresa May and Boris Johnson were undoubtedly in the spotlight, Bulgarian media also turned a lot of attention to what other European leaders and institutions said on the matter. Media repeatedly published articles detailing the effects for Bulgarians working in the UK. With a hard Brexit looming, media outlets focused on projections that such an outcome would cost Bulgaria 18,000 jobs and a 0.38% drop in GDP. Statements that a no-deal Brexit would spell an end to the free movement of people were hardly mitigated by news that telecoms planned no price hikes for calls to the UK or that Bulgarian consumers might gain access to cheaper British goods.
Croatian media focused on Brexit developments unfolding within the UK. Media paid special attention to statements Boris Johnson made as prime minister, while their coverage of Theresa May was slightly less extensive. Key topics were the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, the calls for a new referendum and the heated debates in the UK Parliament. Media also focused on the potential impact of a no-deal Brexit on non-EU countries such as Russia and China. They emphasized that unlike the EU, which stands to lose from Brexit, Russia and China, as well as the U.S., may gain from it.
Romanian media generated a substantial amount of coverage with a no- deal Brexit portrayed as an unfavourable solution given the uncertainty about the personal and professional future of Romanian expats in the UK. Local journalists paid special attention not only to stakeholders in the UK, but also in the EU, closely following statements made my Angela Merkel, Jean-Claude Juncker and representatives of the European Commission. The most popular topics included news of UK-based companies relocating to other EU member states where the focus was on the opportunities for Romania to attract such companies and benefit from the Brexit. Surveys among UK citizens claiming that they want a Brexit “by any means necessary” also received substantial coverage
Media coverage in Albania, a non-EU country, appeared to be impartial when it came to the Brexit process both in the UK and in the EU as a whole. With no-deal Brexit fast approaching, media reported that the EU is losing hope for a favourable outcome of the negotiations. Albanian media paid attention to the opinion of state leaders such as Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, focusing on Macron’s tough stance on further amendments to the Brexit deal and Merkel’s optimism that a solution can be found no matter that renegotiation of the deal is no longer on the table.
Slovenian media were particularly active during Theresa May’s days as prime minister. The potential delay of Brexit was an important topic that attracted great attention. Coverage included political proceedings, as well as articles on the Brexit implications for both the UK and the EU citizens. Slovenian media have also reported that Britons are stockpiling food and other goods with the October 31 Brexit deadline approaching. In contrast to the stubborn Britons, EU officials were portrayed as a pro-active party in tackling the Brexit impasse in a flexible manner. In particular, the President of the European Council Donald Tusk received high media attention with his proposal for a 12-month delay to Brexit. Local media also emphasized that regardless of Brexit happening with or without a deal the UK will have certain obligations to fulfil. This referred to an estimated 39 – 43 billion British pounds of liabilities to the EU.
Media coverage was dominated by Moldovan-language outlets, with Russian-language ones producing just a handful of articles during the period. Due to a large number of locals holding dual citizenships with Romania, local media were particularly interested in what Brexit would entail for Romanian citizens. Statistics on the number of EU nationals submitting documents for UK residency status were quoted, stressing that Romanians account for a sizeable part of all applications – 90,000 out of a total of 750,000. Besides EU and UK stakeholders, Moldovan media often quoted Romanian political figures, as President Klaus Iohannis was in the spotlight in reports about an EU summit to set a new Brexit deadline. Curiously, Moldovan media also focused on sales of Romanian car producer Dacia in the UK, reporting an 85% spike in sales volume before Brexit.
As an EU candidate country, North Macedonia was not much worried about the potential implications of Brexit on its citizens. The topic did not make headlines over the past six months, nor was it heavily discussed by local politicians. The parliament in Skopje did look into the possible effects of Brexit on the national economy, but once again no big headlines or serious media discussion followed. Media seemed fascinated with the way British politicians swerved from a deal to a hard Brexit’ or second referendum and a no-deal situation. Some outlets went as far as describing the whole process as “Faux Brexit” and “telenovela” in their articles in mid-March when the British Parliament was gearing up for a third vote on May’s deal.
Serbian media were not as active in following Brexit as outlets in other countries from the region. The fact that they rarely bothered to mention the exact day of a major event, reporting that it would take place in a certain month, showcases the general lack of interest in the topic. A possible explanation is that Serbia seems to have little stake in Brexit, as evidenced by the lack of any news mentioning a possible impact on the country or its citizens. Although Serbian businesses were barely mentioned in the media coverage, local media perceived as newsworthy plans by Russia’s Sberbank to avoid no-deal risks by opening branches of its Cypriot business in London . As a whole, Serbian media presented Brexit as a more or less chaotic and disorderly process. Some of them also criticized the British authorities for having sent military helicopters to the Estonian border with Russia at a time when they had a much more urgent issue at home.
BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA
Understandably, Bosnian media were a lot more involved with Brexit than Serbian ones because of the potential impact of a UK withdrawal from the EU’s peacekeeping operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which could have significant ramifications for it. This made local outlets particularly wary of the growing prospects of a ‘chaotic’ no-deal exit. This is the only implication Brexit would have on Bosnia and Herzegovina, according to local media. Bosnian outlets also tended to focus on what European leaders and EU institutions said about Brexit. Merkel, in particular, was mentioned more often than May and almost as often as Johnson.
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