How would you capture Europe? Or a European identity? Our Ambassadors of the European Student Think Tank have made up their minds about what European identity means to them. Not surprisingly, their views differs from country to country and from person to person; which, more than anything, shows that Europe is a continent united in diversity. The following articles are therefore a first step to establish how we can all be part of the same continent, with possibly a common identity regardless of our different definitions of it. As such, these articles should be read as an inspiration by and testimony to this diversity of the European continent.
On behalf of all our Ambassadors I wish you a happy reading.
Jasper Gruiters – 2017-18 Senior Ambassador
European identity as a cornerstone of European solidarity
By Date Pijlman, Ambassador to Czech Republic
The Eurobarometer of spring 2017 showed something remarkable. More than two-thirds of the European population, a record high of 68 percent, indicated that they feel they are citizens of the European Union (European Commission: Directorate-General for Communication, 2017) Despite the Eurocrisis, the refugee crisis, and—or perhaps due to—Brexit, more Europeans than ever feel like citizens of the EU.
Before the celebrations start in Brussels, it should be noted that feeling like a citizen of the EU is only a small part of a common European identity. A European identity can include, among other things, shared values and a common culture. There is still a broad debate on whether or not both of these factors of identity exist in Europe. Does that consequently lead us to the conclusion that feeling like a European citizen doesn’t mean anything? No.
Although European identity is far broader than just feeling like a citizen of EU, it is an extremely important part of a solidarity basis within the EU. Only when citizens feel that they are part of more than just their country, that they are part of a European community, they can relate to other European citizens. This feeling and sense of community is an absolute necessity for solidarity within the EU. Be it the relocation of refugees, supporting countries in times of economic difficulty, or assisting one another after a natural disaster—only with a feeling of solidarity can these kinds of policies succeed.
United we are stronger
By Andri Stavrou, Ambassador to Belgium
Nowadays, the Union is facing some of the greatest challenges since its creation, such as Brexit, migration, and terrorism. It is remarkable that for the first time in EU history, one of its Member States is leaving. However, I believe that the feeling of a common identity between the states—the European identity—can overcome any obstacles, because united we are stronger.
The European identity’s aim is to “unite the peoples of Europe in the belonging to a same European national identity” (Maggi, 2017). The Union has a great number of languages, cultures, and political systems; each Member State is unique and represents an equal part of the Union.
I view the egoistic nationalism as a great challenge threatening European identity. However, there are several steps that should be taken from the EU institutions in order to preserve this sense of identity.
A European identity can be spread through the discussion of European history and some elements of a uniform European education in the schools of all Member States in order for youth to recognize the similarities between the States. For example, schools should implement in their curriculum the history of the EU and its benefits to Member States. This is how young people will build immunity against anti-European propaganda and radical nationalism.
Additionally, the European Commission should invest more in projects and programs that boost the mobilisation of the youth within the EU. This will allow the Union to bridge the gap between the EU and its citizens, allowing them to feel more fully European. It is a long-term process, but education plays a key role in the implementation of the European identity.
European identity in Germany
By Jan Fleischmann, Ambassador to Germany
European identity in Germany is arguably regarded more controversially than in any other European state. Due to the fact that Germany is so populous, at an absolute level Germany has the most Eurosceptics. Simultaneously, no other country has lower levels of nationalism than Germany. This is mainly due to the country’s history: even though Germanic tribes are the most ancient civilisation of the European continent, the German identity is more or less something of a puzzle, in addition to being one of the youngest national identities in Europe. It was mainly shaped in the last 200 years and was accompanied by many different forms of government, with the last change occurring less than 30 years ago: the day of German reunification. Even more significant than a lack of an enduring national state is the reluctance of feeling „German“, in both patriotism and national pride, due at least in part to the country’s notorious history of National Socialism.”Also, as the refugee crisis and the whole debate about immigrants from islamic countries revealed, Germans feel a closer and more comfortable relationship to other Europeans. This is due to more social, religious and ideological similarities among Europeans, in comparison to Middle Eastern immigrants. Few Germans really reject immigration among European countries. Lastly, feelings of shame and guilt are a preeminent factor: many Germans feel a responsibility for re-establishing unity and harmony with their „neighbours“. That is why the European project and European identity are seen by many Germans as something that needs to result from German history.
An eclectic identity
By Amanda Wegener, Ambassador to Switzerland
Defining the concept of a “European identity” is like tackling any mountainous task, so let us hence start bit by bit. If “identity” is connected to the perception of individuals of being part of a greater entity, then it is clear: the European Union is a pioneering example of how countries can entertain peaceful, diplomatic and economic relations with one another whilst maximizing their resources for a common good.
From 1999 until today, 18 out of 27 members of the EU have shared a currency -the Euro- and trade has thrived ever since as countless goods cross borders on a regular basis. Trade is the instrument of growth that boosts the EU’s and the world economy significantly. It seems cultural differences are the only barriers standing in the way of a fully prosperous Europe. Yet, all is not lost and as controversial as it is, a community can identify to a single identity while simultaneously being culturally diverse.
Despite these distinct differences, too many times has the European identity been doubted as being a truly unified one because of the lack of sameness. Thus, it should be highlighted that lack of sameness does not remove traits from an identity, instead it adds character. European history shows how, despite wars having been waged because of cultural barriers, the latter have always been overcome for the common good of the people living on this complexly divided territory. The EU’s diversity gives it its unique and eclectic identity and it is time to foster this idea.
In search of a European identity
By Stefan Pfalzer, Ambassador to Austria
The quest for a European identity is as old as the EU itself. In fact, the likes of Schuman, Monnet, De Gasperi and Adenauer were deeply concerned with the question what mechanisms could be put in place in order to foster a feeling of community among nations which had, for the better part of that century, opposed each other on Europe’s battlefields.
Of course, identity cannot be instilled, it emerges as the result of social interactions. What do we define as European then? Especially in the absence of a common language or culture, what is the fabric of the ribbon that stretches across the continent made of?
To me, unity in diversity lies at the heart of European identity. It does not only pertain to states struggling to integrate into a synergetic collective. Most importantly, it applies to the people living in Europe. In our times, ever more young women and men have origins outside of the EU and feel equally at home in multiple places. Thus, in order for the EU to remain a beacon of hope and opportunity, we should treasure cultural, religious and ethnic diversity, we should indeed regard the diversity of our societies as a benefit, not a burden.
To conclude with the words of Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid:
Hybridity need not be the problem. It could be the solution. Hybrids do more than embody mixtures between groups. Hybrids reveal the boundaries between groups to be false.
- European Commission, Directorate General for Communication (2017), Standard Eurobarometer 87, Spring 2017. Retrieved from: http://ec.europa.eu/commfrontoffice/publicopinion/index.cfm/Survey/getSurveyDetail/instruments/STANDARD/surveyKy/2142
- Maggi, E. (2017), “The meaning of “European identity” today”, Classe Internationale. Retrieved from https://classe-internationale.com/2017/04/11.