Identity: How European do people feel?
to the programme
presents Identity: How European do people feel? and gives his personal
European are you? And do you sincerely wish to take on a European identity
- assuming you don't already think you have one?
Well, to test your response, here's a simple quiz. What's the official
anthem of the European Union?
How many gold stars does the European
flag have? And when do we celebrate Europe
No prizes offered
for the correct answers - which you will hear, subtly introduced, during
the programme - other than the knowledge that you already are a good European.
But what is this
elusive European identity anyway? Daniel Tarschys is Secretary-General
of the Council of Europe,
the 40-nation group which includes countries from Iceland to Russia: "Well,
a very strong commitment to the individual, a commitment to social cohesion
and solidarity, a state that is neither too strong nor too weak, respect
for human rights, tolerance, these are some basic principles. The rule
of law of course, the idea that government must be bound by legal principles
and that people must be treated equally." The classic definition
of European identity.
Leonard author of a forthcoming report by think tank Demos
on this subject, says there are some other aspects of life which may sound
more mundane but which have a greater and more immediate resonance for
most people: "The things which have happened over the last few
years which make people feel European is a massive convergence of patterns
of consumptions and lifestyles. So that Europeans are going to the same
places for their holidays, consuming the same products, watching the same
films, eating the same food."
is full of groups of tourists from Europe and beyond, and French, Italian
and Greek restaurants proliferate offering some pretty good food. Now
always been a cosmopolitan city - but over the past 20 or 30 years much
of Europe- especially the cities and holiday resorts -- have taken on
a similarly international identity. It's all been due to mass tourism,
school exchanges and the ease with which you can now get a job in Europe.
we adopt - highbrow, political values or lowbrow, lifestyle -- the desire
of those outside the European
Union to share fully in this European identity has been one of the
hallmarks of the 1990s.
great slogan of the East European revolutions of 1989 was to join - or
rejoin - Europe. And the practical way of achieving this was through the
European Union. The EU's public opinion pollsters have been tracking this
trend. Anna Melich is head of this organisation, known as Eurobarometer
- "Since the first years we are doing this Eastern Euro-barometer,
the support was unusually high, I mean absolutely abnormal, people were
just dreaming of this European Union, thinking it was heaven. The reality
is approaching day to day and then people start seeing that it will be
In general those
who are further away from this EU heaven tend to be less aware of the
practical problems involved in reaching paradise. So Romanians
- for whom membership of the EU is a somewhat distant prospect - are twice
as pro-European as the Czechs
who are due to join in five years' time.
that doesn't mean that Romanians are any less aware or proud of their
national identity. In the Czech
Republic, now approaching the threshold of EU membership, there's
greater concern about the likely impact. Vaclav Klaus is a former Czech
Prime Minister. Does he think a European identity can - and should - replace
national awareness? - "No, no no no no no. I think we have to
start with natural, spontaneously formed identities and I have the feeling
that there is the identity in the family, there is the identity in the
community of a city or a village, and then there's the identity of a state.
I don't understand the identities bigger than the states. They are in
my opinion artificial and I suspect it's in the interest of the European
bureaucracy and cosmopolitan politicians, to speak about Europe, to try
to suppress the nation state, and to start talking about regions."
Mr Klaus is a Euro-sceptic among a nation of sceptics. But his accusations
against the European bureaucracy are rejected by the President
of the European Commission, Jacques
Santer, who's from Luxembourg
- "We always would maintain our nations, our own identities, our
political identity and also our cultural identity. And nobody in the European
Union even the most engaged federalist would not give up the role of the
nation. Our objective is to have a federation of nations. I am coming
from the smallest country in Europe, and I've never had the feeling that
my own country lost its identity, its political and cultural identity.
Of course, the question
is not simply one of national versus European identity. There's a much
wider range of personal loyalties, as Emil Kirchner, the German-born professor
of government at Essex
University in Britain, explains: "I think identity needs to
be seen not as a zero sum, black and white. Identity is situational. You
United when Manchester United plays Arsenal.
You can then say I move on when England plays in the European competition.
And I can equally say when Europe engages in competition with the United
States as we have in the Ryder Cup in golf, we support Europe. And therefore
identities change. It is not a fixed or rigid arrangement."
Indeed, one of these
layers of overlapping identities is regional - meaning both within a country,
such as Transylvania in Romania
in France, and
as a group of states, for example, the Benelux, Central Europe or the
Nordic countries. For some people the regional identity has a strong personal
Otto von Habsburg's
regional identity goes all along the Danube starting from Germany, it
goes right through Austria and Hungary. His forbears used to rule the
Austro-Hungarian empire but who's lived much of his life in Germany and
represents a German constituency in the European
But in spite of his
multi-national background and his attachment to Central Europe as a region,
he's also a strong believer in regional loyalties in the more local sense
- "It's the root again. You see it's exactly the same thing. Just
as the national identity is the basis of the European identity, so the
regional identity is very frequently the basis of national identity. In
general one finds that those who are rooted well in their region and in
its tradition, are also great patriots for their country."
Local loyalties come
naturally to most of us; but the wider the area covered the looser the
ties are likely to be. Education, both in the formal academic sense, and
informally through the media, is the primary tool of bolstering these
identities. The Europe of the 1990s has seen both closer European integration
and the emergence or re-emergence of new nation states in the former Soviet
Union and Yugoslavia.
Much effort and money
has gone into promoting both national and Europe-wide loyalties.
promotional video has been used to help set up contacts between schoolchildren
across Europe. It's named after the 17th century Czech philosopher and
The Comenius project
and other schemes have already contributed to fostering a more European
identity. Children and young people are, in general, far more pro-European
in their views than their parents' generation.
But old habits die
hard and the media - particularly the sensationalist tabloid newspapers
- tend to dwell on the traditional stereotypes of other nations and on
the alleged absurdities of the EU's bureaucracy. Anna Melich is very concerned
- "The media are very powerful because they have many many assets
in their hands. They can say anything, because the news comes from so
far away, from Brussels. And in some cases it is really madness about
the information and of course this has a big effect on the population."
Of course, the European
organisations haven't stood by idly without taking the initiative; there's
been a huge amount of publicity over the years to promote a European identity.
It's included information campaigns extolling the benefits of integration.
And it's involved adopting the symbols normally associated with the nation-state,
such as a flag , 12 gold stars in a circle on a blue background and celebrating
the 9th May, as Europe Day.
Yet Mark Leonard
thinks much of the effort has been wasted - "I think the problem
with many of these attempts to make people feel European is that they've
often been either very general and abstract, focusing on democracy and
human rights and other things, which are important but they're not exclusively
European values. Or else they've been fairly elitist and tried to construct
almost an Esperanto
identity out of bits of European culture, from Plato to Beethoven which
doesn't really say very much to most people in Europe, and doesn't really
have many implications for the everyday lives of Europeans."
So the solution might
lie in publicizing the EU's more practical achievements -- things that
appeal to the average European. Ease of travel across national borders;
and tackling together cross-border problems, such as the environment,
crime and drugs. Yet whether an information campaign based on such issues
would make us feel more proud to be Europeans, is another matter.
of the European Commission, Leon Brittan, is sceptical - "You
can't legislate for peoples' feelings. Feelings arise over a long period
of time, according to how they see things develop. If they see a Europe
that is positive, that is open to the outside world, that doesn't seek
to impose excessive regulation, that creates wealth, that cares for employment
and that is doing good for the citizens, then over a period of time, people
will feel an emotional attachment as well as an intellectual support for
such a Europe, but without in any way feeling less affection, allegiance
or loyalty to their own countries. I see no reason why you shouldn't have