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Is anyone really a European?

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Robin Lustig | 09:55 UK time, Friday, 6 January 2012

If you're travelling abroad, and someone asks you where you're from, what do you say? England? Scotland? Britain?

I usually say England (or even London - everyone has heard of London). What I never say is Europe.

Ask an Indian, or a Chinese, where they're from, do they say Asia? Would a Kenyan, or a Nigerian, say Africa? I doubt it.

On the other hand, the Indians and the Chinese don't share a common currency; nor is there an Asian Union. We Europeans are different, at least in theory, because there is a common currency, and there is a European Union. Whether we really feel European, though, is a moot point.

According to a provocative article in the latest issue of Foreign Policy magazine, "the European Union was built on the myth that we are one people with one common destiny."

The Brussels-based journalist Gareth Harding writes: "The British view of the state's role is very different from the French view. The Greek or Italian concept of law is very different from that of Sweden or Denmark. Latvians have a very different view of Russia from Germans. What an Irishman is prepared to pay in taxes is very different from what a Dane or Belgian will allow."

He quotes the Dutch writer Geert Mak: "There is no European people ... There is not a single language, but dozens of them. The Italians feel very differently about the word 'state' than do the Swedes. There are still no truly European political parties, and pan-European newspapers and television stations still lead a marginal existence. And, above all: in Europe there is very little in the way of a shared historical experience."

You may remember that in a blogpost last month, after the drama of the Cameron veto in Brussels, I asked whether the EU has perhaps become "too unwieldy, too stretched as a concept and too unbalanced as an economic entity, to survive the immense stresses to which it is now being subjected?"

Harding's question is a broader one: he suggests that the current debt crisis, and the doubts about the future of the euro, "encapsulate a broader breakdown of Europe's dreams of a united future.

"Rather than bringing the European Union closer to its citizens, the currency has widened the gap between rulers and ruled. Instead of ushering in a new era of prosperity, the euro has condemned millions of Europeans to decades of penury. And far from bringing together the peoples of Europe, it is on the verge of tearing them apart."

But there is, of course, another side to the story. Over the past 60 years, most of Europe has experienced an unprecedented era of peace: Germany has invaded none of its neighbours; and no fewer than nine nations that had been subsumed into the Soviet empire are now free of those shackles.

The EU should certainly be given at least some of the credit for that, as it should for the rapid democratisation of what used to be Eastern Europe, and for Serbia's and Croatia's achievements in opening up a new chapter after the horrors of the break-up of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. The prospect of being able to join the EU was a powerful incentive in both Belgrade and Zagreb as they emerged from those bloody conflicts.

But in times of economic hardship, people always look for someone to blame. There are growing signs of anti-foreigner sentiment in many northern EU countries (the "foreigners" include both migrants from north Africa as well as those from eastern Europe), while in Italy and Greece, for example, corrupt or ineffective political elites and bankers seem to bear the brunt of the anger.

Harding may well be over-stating it when he suggests that the current crisis is on the verge of tearing the peoples of Europe apart. But the strains are there for all to see -and they represent a huge challenge to the EU's leaders as they try to navigate their way through 2012.

I'm going to be in Cairo next week, to take a closer look at the impact of the Arab uprisings. I hope you'll listen out for our reports next Thursday and Friday.


  • Comment number 1.

     The United States of America kept the peace in Europe.

    European leaders are good only at talking. When action is required they call Washington D.C.

  • Comment number 2.

    If you live in any US state you are an American.
    This is due to the fact the all states are federated = United States of America.
    This is not true for the European Union, which is a "union" of countries.
    I believe that one day the European Union will become a Federation, in which case all its many diversified citizens would be Europeans.
    Right now, the EU has component units and therefore autonomous decision powers which they can exercise independently from each other. Thus, sovereignty is shared or divided, rather than exclusively located at one level. I believe the EU should become, a federal state. But even without the legitimate monopoly, the European Union has acquired some fundamental federal qualities. The EU possesses sovereignty rights in a wide variety of policy sectors reaching from exclusive jurisdiction in the area of Economic and Monetary Union to far-reaching regulatory competences in sectors such as transport, energy, environment, consumer protection, health and social security and, increasingly penetrating even the core of traditional state responsibilities such as internal security (Schengen, Europol) and, albeit to a lesser extent, foreign and security policy. In most policy areas, Community law is not only superior to national law, it can also deploy direct-effect giving citizens the right to litigate against their states for violating their rights conferred to them by Community law. This is part of a second development, which has been addressed more recently. The European Union is transforming itself into a political community within a defined territory and with its own citizens, who are granted (some) fundamental rights by the European Treaties and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. The European Community was conceptualised as a primarily functionally defined organisation of economic integration (Zweckverband funktionaler Integration) without fixed territorial boundaries and no direct relationship between its institutions and the European citizens. With the Treaties of Maastricht and Amsterdam, however, the Single Market has been embedded in a political union with emerging external boundaries and a proper citizenship.
    Not only has the EU developed into a political community with comprehensive regulatory powers and a proper mechanism of territorially defined exclusion and inclusion (Union citizenship). It shares most features of what the literature defines as a "federation".

  • Comment number 3.

    And none of this scares you? Of course not. You live in Canada!

    The European Court of "Justice" is more interested in the "rights" of criminals and terrorists than in the legitimate rights of their victims.

    It's astounding the number of contributors to BBC blogs who fondly imagine that British citizens had no rights at all until the ECHR was imposed upon us.

  • Comment number 4.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 5.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 6.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 8.

    What ´unites´ Europe is their common history of wars--it is the striving for peace with its social and economic implications that is exposing the true natures of the different societies and their ´mental states´. Having lived for longer periods in North America, Britain and Germany, I have personally experienced a step-wise reduction in my original misplaced ´nationalism´-- the root of the evil that once again is raising its ugly head --under the guise of ´Sovereignty´.

    With all their failings, the EU and the Euro are the only ideas on the table that can allow European citizens to break their vicious circle of wars and ´Societal oppressions´-- no matter how much this is denied by national governments and their respective ruling elites.

    Communism no longer poses a threat to the overt or hidden Feudal structures and privileges still widespread throughout Europe that caused misery, wars and serfdom --the new threat is that of the EU, with the possibility that its citizens may eventually be given the Right to challenge them before a supranational European court.

    It is still too easy to ´whip up´ nationalistic fervor with illogical arguments and half-truths or to begin argumentation at the final 3rd of the story -- while deliberately repressing the first 2/3. It is national spending and uncontrolled banking that may be the cause of the Euro abandonment -- to put the blame at the doorstep of the Euro itself -- or what is now becoming popular -- at the doorstep of Germany, is highly irresponsible --but suits only the elites and ´nationalists´ who either desire the status-quo or a return to the perceived past ´glories´-- that were responsible for the European wars, misery, serfdom and millions of deaths.

    I wholly agree with Merkel´s fear that the failure of the EU and the Euro increases the possibility of national tensions within Europe --and a return to the history of the past-- the tensions are already forming with the ´media´ of some countries playing no small role.

    Europeans have a choice -- if they deny or reject the idea that they are Europeans, they not only increase the possibility of being manipulated by their national media and undeserved elite -- but also of becoming once again cannon-fodder for national ´Sovereignty´.

    My anti-war and anti dictatorship credentials are well known -- as is my support of democracy, but one cannot claim the Right to nationalism for your own country and deny it to others -- or as is presently occurring claim that Germany is the reason for your own.

    Should Germany abandon its dream of constraining itself and other European countries from having discord with their neighbors --or should they also have the Right to ´nationalism´and re-arm ´properly´ for a country of its size and industrial might ?

    -- With some Western leaders casually entering questionable wars -- would a similar German leader be acceptable ?

    --- Is calling yourselves Europeans -- too high a price to pay ?

  • Comment number 9.


  • Comment number 10.

    Kenya is just as diverse as Europe - there are many languages and cultures in that country - and seem happy to be called Kenyans. Europeans have yet to overcome their petty nationalism and cling to the pathetic notion that their 'nation' (whatever the hell that is) is somehow superior than other 'nations'. The European cultural sphere (which includes the USA) is incredibly arrogant, jingoistic, and its people are easily mis-lead to believe any old nonsense as Truth.

    Scotch Git's comments at #1 prove my point. While not forgetting the important role the USA played and the number of it's citizens who sacrificed their lives to free the continent from fascism; Americans today are quick to denounce Chamberlain's 'peace in our time' yet ignore the fact their government did NOTHING when the Nazi's marched across Europe in the Thirties and early Forties. They only became involved in the war in Europe when Germany declared war on them! The comment at #1 ignores the millions of Europeans who died fighting against fascism and the huge sacrifices they made. Was it a million who starved to death in Leningrad during the Nazi siege?

    I don't remember the Nazis being only 'good' at talking, they were pretty active as well. Were the Russians only 'good' at talking too? Who have the Americans been 'active' towards since 1945? Koreans, Vietnamese, Afghans and Iraqis (twice)? These were either defeats or 'draws' (if you think the West 'won' against the last two then you must be nuts).

    Scotch @ 3 : To begin with the British are not 'citizens' they are subjects; they also did not have positive rights (with the exception of Hapus corpus etc.) written on the statute books until joining the ECC. Moreover, the ECJ has been excellent in curbing abuse of power by national governments (for those who can afford it). I know not of these 'criminals' and 'terrorists' of which you speak. If you are talking about the internment of 'terrorists' without evidence put before a court of law then you must include the American legal system in your diatribe.

  • Comment number 11.

    9. At 19:02 7th Jan 2012, Scotch Git wrote:

    Yes. ?

    --re-arm ?

    -- you cannot have it both ways.

  • Comment number 12.


    Comment #1 refers to post 1945 Europe, as well you know.

    European leaders like to talk and let the U.S. do the fighting on their behalf. Think Yugoslavia.

    According to my British Passport I am a BRITISH CITIZEN

    To suggest that citizens of Britain had no protection under the law prior to 1973 is absurd.

  • Comment number 13.


    You claim to support democracy, yet you support the European Union.

    -- you cannot have it both ways.

  • Comment number 14.

    #13 Scotch Git

    -- I have no time for frivolity, I am being censored on every BBC blog.

  • Comment number 15.

    #12 SG

    "According to my British Passport I am a BRITISH CITIZEN "

    --EU Passport ?

    -- Before you were British Subject ( and probably in Britain --still are)

  • Comment number 16.

  • Comment number 17.

    SG --wikipedia

    Since 1981

    "Although the term "British subject" now has a very restrictive statutory definition in the United Kingdom, and it would therefore be incorrect to describe a British citizen as a British subject, the concept of a "subject" is still recognised by the law, and the terms "the Queen's subjects", "Her Majesty's subjects", etc., continue to be used in British legal discourse.[7]

  • Comment number 18.

    16 quietoaktree
    17 quietoaktree

    You've been wasting everyones time for over 2 years on this subject. British citizens are not British subjects - dont blame me or ScotchGit, your own links prove it - perhaps you should read them first lol - "it would therefore be incorrect to describe a British citizen as a British subject, " Your link in #16 shows that a British citizen and British subject are seperate legal entities and the term "subject" does not apply to British citizens.

    Thanks for committing hari kari, saves us all a lot of time and effort.

  • Comment number 19.

    Scotch Git

    And I thought it was nuclear weapons and prosperity that kept the peace in Europe; now it was just the USA

    If you call NATO's bombing of people indiscriminately from thousands of feet in the air 'action' then that is your problem. NATO has nothing to be proud of in the break up of Yugoslavia.

    What the world needs is more talking and less violence. The West uses violence when it doesn't get its own way or when countries start having the nerve to be independent. You would rather have Europe acting in the same colonialist way it did up to 1945. May I remind you that it was this colonialist path that led to the gates of the Nazi Death Camps.


    We are citizens in name but our 'rights' were not codified until joining the EU. Government abuse of its powers has been curtailed by the ECJ, and if this ConDem government overturns the Human Rights Act we can still use the ECJ to defend us because of the EU declaration of human rights (which member countries have to sign up to before joining).

    You moan about the undemocratic nature of the EU but are blind to the undemocratic nature of the UK constitution. Where was the debate about whether we should give hundreds of billions to the banks? How does the unaccountable Bank of England have so much power over our economic policy?

    When it comes to these EU leaders' meetings our glorious leader is both the head of government and the State. He can sign us up to anything he likes. Other EU countries have their electorates voting on whether to adopt an EU Treaty.

  • Comment number 20.

    #18 tonep

    -- Read #15 and #16 together.

    The ´Subject´ problem arose with the EEC and the millions of ´Subjects´ spread over the Commonwealth --all with ´right of abode´in Britain. The other problem was that for ´Europe´-- who maintained that ´2nd rate Subjects´--was not an option if the UK wished to be a member. SG did not answer whether he has an EU Passport. I have seen someone using the ´old UK Passport´at an airport a few years ago.

    If the EU (and Britain´s membership) survives -- it is only a matter of time before many British laws can be challenged by its ´citizens´at the European court -- with a chance of success -- unless more opt-outs (sovereignty) are given to prevent this.

    This is why the---- " concept of a "subject" is still recognised by the law, and the terms "the Queen's subjects", "Her Majesty's subjects", etc., continue to be used in British legal discourse."

    --which you choose to ignore.

    The ´Oath´ has been challenged at the ECJ -- with no success --as yet.
    --but that is only the ´tip of the iceberg´

    -- It should however be clear to you that the EU will be the only way for ´traditional laws of Privilege´ to be challenged --by UK citizens-- and not Subjects.

  • Comment number 21.


    -- Here is an interesting example --just for fun !

    "The Atholl Highlanders are the only private army remaining in Europe“


  • Comment number 22.

    #14, #21

    See! You do have time for frivolity!

    (Good, innit?)


  • Comment number 23.


    Try being frivolous. Seriously.

  • Comment number 24.

    20 quietoaktree

    "The ´Oath´ has been challenged at the ECJ"

    Yes, by Sinn FeinIRA. The judgement of the ECHR was clear -

    The application was deemed inadmissible on the basis that the requirement of an oath to the reigning monarch was "reasonably viewed as an affirmation of loyalty to the constitutional principles which support... the workings of representative democracy in the respondent State"

    I presume you accept this judgement?

  • Comment number 25.


    Netherlands- "I swear (affirm) allegiance to the King, to the Statute for the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and to the Constitution. I swear (affirm) that I will faithfully perform the duties my office lays upon me. So help me God almighty! "

    Sweden- N. N. do promise and swear, by God and His Holy Gospels, that I always shall be to my true King, the Magnificent Prince and Lord, N. N., King of the Swedes, the Goths and the Wends, and also the Royal House, true and faithful. I shall also with my life and blood defend the Royal form of government as wells as Parliaments rights; all in accordance with the Realms Constitution, which I always shall follow and obey. This I promise to upkeep on my honour and conscience, so help me God to life and spiri

    Spain - "I swear/promise, under my conscience and honor, to faithfully execute the duties of the office of President of the Government with loyalty to the King,"

    Luxembourg -"I swear allegiance to the Grand Duke and obedience to the Constitution and the laws of the State. I promise to fulfill my duties with integrity, exactitude, and impartiality"

    No doubt there is a Belgian oath to the monarch too, but I cant be bothered to find it. I'm sure you aren't being deliberately anti-British , but if you had your way I take it that you'd support the expulsion of all these countries from the EU along with the UK? And banning Norway from the EEA too? What do you feel about Greek Mps having to swear an oath to the "holy consubstantial and indivisible trinity"? Another one who should be expelled?

  • Comment number 26.


    -- I consider the judgement as only partial (as I have already implied) -- and in no way supports the structures, laws and unfair privileges present for an elite portion of society.

    -- the difference between Citizen (with equal rights) and Subject is large --as the #21 link adequately demonstrates.

    What I have difficulty understanding, is the more I am in favor for the equal Rights of British citizens -- the more they are rejected.

    --an interesting societal phenomenon - don´t you think ?

  • Comment number 27.

    #26 tonep

    -- Yes, there are many European countries with Kings and Queens --and with different levels of Feudalistic privileges --but I do not see your point --other than to defend yours.

    -- Hardly a basis for a discussion on being a Citizen or Subject.

  • Comment number 28.


    "- the difference between Citizen (with equal rights) and Subject is large --as the #21 link adequately demonstrates. "

    It does? Please explain how your link to a ceremonial regiment of old men carrying WW2 Lee Enfield rifles "adequately demonstrates" the difference between Citizen and Subject. Please stick to this specific point and do not wander off on a tangent.

  • Comment number 29.


    My #8 bests explains my views on Europe in general and if this presently means that some countries should leave either the Eurozone or the EU until the problems are fixed -- I could understand that.

    As Robin asked --´Is anyone really a European´, I reply YES --those that want to be --the problems of saying NO -- Europe only knows too well.

    The last thing Europe needs are un-controlled National states all running wild as in the ´good old days´and all thinking of themselves superior in one way or another to their neighbors.

    Presently few eyes would blink if Britain and France spent for defense in proportion to their economic might -- but Germany ? Can Europe risk an arms-race ?

    If what makes a European is reduced to ´no more wars here´, then that in itself is enough. With Fascism on the rise in both Eastern and Western Europe, who knows what idiots will be in power in 30 years --one thing we know from history is that some European Royalty considered it a lesser threat to them than Communism --and supported it.

    -- A united EU and a successful Euro is the only game in town-- if a repeat of history is wished to be avoided.

    -- a countries´gold and currency reserves won´t go far if it chooses to start a war with its neighbors and its own shared currency falls through the floor.

    -- no small problem for an aggressor --I would imagine ?

  • Comment number 30.


    --which titles and privileges would you like ?

    -- The problem appears to be the circle ?

    -- Rifle ?

    -- why not the socks ?

  • Comment number 31.

    You have put the question that is irritating many of the leaders and critics of the Eurozone crisis, Robin. The reluctance of Angela Merkel to fully embrace the requirement for a full fiscal union that can save the Eurozone from breakup has pitted her Bundesbank and Bundestag inspired conservative opposition to full bailout of the PIGS nations against those of Nicholas Sarkozy of France. Behind this struggle is of course the identification of Europeans to embrace their ancient national identities but not their newer European identitiy. Centuries of nationalization behind closed borders and separate languages has reinforced this orientation. This is not necessarily wrong although many condemned this trait as the cause of Europe's many fratricidal wars of the past as far back at least as Napoleon Bonaparte if not long before his attempts to unify Europe under French leadership. Although I have no personal stake in this, I would find it hard myself to visit or even think of Europe without thinking of Germans, Frenchmen, Italians, Spainiards and the Irish. But is the saving of the Eurozone from its badly conceived monetary union worth erasing centuries of identity? I think not. Some other way of solving this problem is surely preferable to forced assimilation and cultural suicide. The erasure of national cultures is too heavy a price for a mistaken pragmatism and perceived necessity.

  • Comment number 32.

    I wish I had written that...


  • Comment number 33.

    #31 Smartsceptic

    "The erasure of national cultures is too heavy a price for a mistaken pragmatism and perceived necessity."

    While tourists going to Europe are enthralled by its ´quaintness´ and even noticing the many memorials to their war dead (fewer to their atrocities) -- their wish for a ´McDonalds hamburger´, ´Dunkin donut´, ´Starbucks´ etc., etc, -- are also catered to.

    -- are you insinuating those should be banned to protect ´national cultures´-- from Globalization ?

    -Many tourists may think it´s ´cute´to be ripped off at every currency exchange -- European business are not -- the same for cell-phone costs etc. Mistaken pragmatism -- Britain is still suffering most from those ´rip offs´

    " I would find it hard myself to visit or even think of Europe without thinking of Germans, Frenchmen, Italians, Spainiards and the Irish"

    --very true --but America has no problems using ´Afro Americans, Hispanic Americans or Native Americans´--- or using only ´Americans´-- ´Europeans´only describe those who live in Europe -- every EU document is translated into every EU language and every culture has more protection than it would have with no EU and rampant Globalization.

    -- While some would prefer Europe to remain in its ´DisneyWorld Time Warp´,
    others (such as Scotch Git) should never forget that for most, Europe has been more than often --closer to Hell !

  • Comment number 34.

    Britain is over here. Continental Europe is over there. If Europeans wish to live in a federal state with Berlin as their capital, let 'em.

    I decline.

  • Comment number 35.

    Scotch @34

    Scotland is over here. England is over there. If the Scots wish to live in a non-federal state with London as their capital, let 'em.

    Seriously though, isn't it plausible that Scotland will declare independence from England and join the federal state that will be the Eurozone?

  • Comment number 36.

    Yes, that is a possibility. Independece within Europe! as Mr. Salmond would have it.

    I wonder if Margaret Howard is looking for a lodger?


  • Comment number 37.

    That's not how you spell Independence.

  • Comment number 38.

    What politicians promise and reality often differ. The problem is that the political defend ventures regardless of outcomes...and usually blame the people when things don't go the way they presented. The EU is a banking concept and we all see where that has lead...provided for the theft of a single currency rather than having to steal multiple currencies. they get bonuses for those kinds of things.



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