To whom is your MEP speaking?
In the European Parliament, politicians from 28 countries and seven political groups have to work together to arrive at binding decisions affecting millions of citizens. Parliamentary debate is a political event and at the same time a media event, as it is broadcast on the Internet, and to a certain degree on national television channels. As such, it takes place in a situational and rhetorical complex setting, having at least two audiences.
The MEPs have to address their fellow MEPs during their speeches and meet them across linguistic and cultural boundaries. Political discourse in the chamber is not simply a matter of putting forward arguments for or against a proposal, but above all about relating to other political actors. The need to form alliances beyond their own party groups is made particularly pronounced by the fact that decisions are taken by a majority. In debates, therefore, it is necessary to skilfully handle not only the objective content of the arguments advanced, but also the interactional play and the bonding with the participants.
The MEPs have also to deal with what is generally referred to as the democratic deficit vis-à-vis national constituencies. In contrast to the Council, the Parliament’s legitimacy within the Union rests on the fact that it is a popularly elected assembly, and it is therefore important to address the citizens of the Union.
The general purpose of this paper is to examine how these two distinct, but intertwined communicative situations are reflected in the parliamentary speeches in relation to the notional pair mediated discourse and mediatised discourse. More specifically, I will investigate how the members of the European Parliament (henceforth MEP) orient themselves linguistically to the political audience and/or to the virtual audience composed of citizens, thus revealing which is the relevant participant frame from a speaker’s perspective. By doing so, I hope to provide an example of how linguistic method can contribute to the understanding of macro-level communication.