European Identity: Discovery or Invention? – History Essay

European Identity: Discovery or Invention? – History Essay
The confrontation between national and European identity is one of the main reasons of the significant delay in the process of the European political unification. In our research, we will try to find out the reasons of

conflicts, if any, between the top down and the bottom up procedures constructing a European identity. Moreover, we will attempt to explore the discourse connecting territoriality and identity in the terms of the further enlargement of the European Union. An enlargement which would integrate Asian – at least in geographical terms – states constructing common borders with middle-east.

The process of the European unification which has been considerably slow has eventually come to the point of confronting the major factor that led to this delay. After the fulfillment of the monetary unification, the time came for an attempt of a political unification. The consolidated version of the treaty establishing the European Union clearly sets the objectives of asserting its identity on the international scene, in particular through the implementation of a common foreign and security policy including the progressive framing of a common defense policy, which might lead to a common defense. Consequently, we can argue that we are on the threshold of a constitutional unification despite of the first unsuccessful attempt.

Beyond the existing symbols of Europeanization, there is a circulating idea on the need of consciousness of European identity which is being systematically sponsored by the Administration of the European Union (Delgado-Moreira, 1997). A European identity is necessary for the European Union to avoid “fragmentation, chaos and conflict” of every kind (military, social, economic and political) and to help achieve cohesion, solidarity, subsidiarity, concertation and cooperation. Almost all potential sources of a European identity are welcome: political and ideological beliefs, economic theory, culture, history, geography, ethnic common destiny, etc. But they all have to be subjectively effective. As Van Den Broek suggests, European identity has to be crystallized. That is to say Europeans have to increase the feeling of belonging together, sharing a destiny and so on. Otherwise, the threat of dissolution will come from both inside and outside .

Under Article 49 of the Treaty of European Union any “European” state may apply to become a member of the Union. There is of course no clear definition of the word “European”. As the Commission rightly says, the expression embraces geographical, historical and cultural elements which contribute to the European identity. It would, therefore, appear neither possible nor desirable to lay down once and for all the borders of the European Union, which will need to emerge gradually over an extended period of time (Delgado-Moreira, 1997). This obviously means that we should distinguish for good the meanings of citizenship and territoriality. We can diagnose this trend in the sense of the three different borderlines of the EU. There is the Euro zone, the so called Shengenland and the European Union. So where does sovereignty lies? Where should it lie? Where will it lie in the future? (Close 1995) Should an Estonian be more European than a Norwegian just because he or she is a part of the Union? Is a decade of political reforms in the former Soviet Union enough for Europe to embrace those new national states? Is it enough for the individuals in the EU to accept the former eastern block as a part of European history and culture? And after all, ethnic wars in Eastern Europe are a source of concern for the European Union. On the one hand, it has been said that some candidates to the European Union from this region should not be “too ethnic”, if they seek admission. On the other hand, in the former western part, we can clearly detect nationalisms that existed for many years under the shadow and the sovereignty of modern national states and are now gaining social or even political power. In this context, we are confronting the oxymoron of the will of a European political unification from above while a significant part of the base is seeking for formal but substantial recognition of its national identity.

The European identity project is to turn the emerging superstate into a political consensus and a national narrative, in time for it to go through some technical simplifications (currency, languages, military forces, law, etc.). In setting such a goal, the “more of the same” dynamic seems sufficient to face the current problem of European identity — at the same time maintaining cohesion and identity at the union level while respecting the nations. The European Union applies the same nation state invention to a larger scale. As Galtung (Galtung, 1989) highlights, it seems as though they (statesmen) did what they know (building states) the best they can. Waever and Kelstrup (Waever and Kelstrup, 1993:84) designate this project “to square the European/national circle: make Europe a nation-state of the nation-states Europe”.
Using Anderson (Anderson, 1983) as a frame of reference, we could argue that the way in which the European Union is constructing European identity is that of an official nationalism. It wholeheartedly wishes to create a superstate . In following the chosen procedure to do so, European identity resembles the style of nationalism and imperialism that flourished in Europe after 1850s (Russia, British Empire, Austro-Hungarian Empire…) Like it in a similar way, European identity is meant to respond to threats of national populism, intends to overcome the pressure both from underneath (unemployment, minorities, etc.) and outside (growing immigration), and aims to be effective in terms of propaganda, militarism, primary education, rewriting of history and affirmation of identity. But according to Hubermas (Hubermas, 1998) a political community has a vast difference with an international organization. The latter knows no social difference between members and non members while the former should, at least when it is self-defined as democratic, be able to make this distinction. Following Hardt and Negri’s argument (Hardt and Negri, 2000), the European Union may implies to the “new empire” in the sense that it does not establish a specific territorial center of power nor does it depend on fixed borders. It is a decentralized and deterritorialized mechanism that gradually embraces new nationalities and ethnicities and handles the new hybridic identities.

National identity is pictured as and associated with the control over territory. Yet it is important to point out that the role of territoriality in defining collective identities is not inherent and given but historical and social process. This point might be illustrated by some anecdotal speculation about the process of European integration: in debates on the finality of the integration process and about the “democratic deficit” of the European Union, the argument can frequently be heard that national identities would remain so strong and dominant that no “European identity”, no European public space could emerge.

Our goal is to contribute to the debate of the construction of the “European imagined community”. So far, the only official common references of the European citizens as the latter are defined in the second part, article 17, of the consolidated version of the Treaty establishing the European Community, is a borderless but not fixed territory, a common currency and a European flag standing beside every national flag which was widely used during the “flag era” on every program sponsored by the EC and the EU. But if we look this matter from bottom up procedures we justifiably wonder about the aspects of religion, language that are the basic stereotypes that derive from the construction of the modern national state. We also wonder about aspects such as the stereotyped European mainly urban social structure or even urban landscape. How can we rich the point of abolishing well rooted ideas that have been fragmentizing the European continent into Mitteleuropa or the Balkans, Russia and many more parts depending on the geopolitical approach? How easily can European citizens accept that they belong to the same community with the people of a Muslim country after a probable admission of Turkey? And on the other hand can the latter feel European in the sense of the majority or of the EU’s administration or they are longing only for the economic benefits? In other words, can this continuous expansion expand the idea of a European identity or will it lead to its shrinking and finally its insignificance?


2 Jacques Santer, President of the European Commission to the World Telecommunications Forum 1995 Opening Ceremony (Geneva, 10/3/95).

3 Citation from the European Commission Press Release

4 Commission of the European Communities: “The European Community has to proceed to a federal type European Union … The Community will not be able to claim to be a true union if it does not reinforce its structures and rationalize its decision-making procedures, which must be both efficient and democratic. Four decades of integration have left an indelible mark on the Continent and on the mentality of its people”

5 Mathias Albert, 2001Territoriality and Modernization

Albert, Mathias (2001), Territoriality and Modernization
Workshop “The Cluster of Water, Energy and the Human Environment: Towards an Extra Territorial Concept for the Middle East”, organized by the Jordan Institute of Diplomacy in cooperation with the Saskawa Peace Foundation, Dead Sea Movenpick Resort and Spa, Jordan, October 20-21, 2001

Anderson, Benedict (1983), Imagined Communities. Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, London, Verso.
Close, Paul (1995), Citizenship, Europe and change, London, Macmillan Press ltd

Cohen, Anthony (1994) Self Consciousness, An Alternative Anthropology of Identity, London, Routledge

Commission of the European Communities,1992, From Single Market to European Union, Luxemburg, Official Publications of the European Communities

Galtung, Johan (1989), Europe in the making. New York, Taylor & Francis
Hubermas, Jurgen (1998), The Post-national Constellation, translated in Greek for Polis Publications, Athens 2003

Negri Antonio, Hardt Michael (2000), Empire, Harvard University Press

Official Journal of the European Communities, 24.12.2002

Parker, Geoffrey (1998), Geopolitics, Past, Present and Future, Continuum International Publishing Group

Paasi, Anssi (2003), Inclusion, exclusion and territorial identities – The meanings of boundaries in the globalizing geopolitical landscape

Waever, O., Buzan, B. Kelstrup, M. (1993), Identity, Migration and the New Security Agenda in Europe New York, San Martin