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Tuesday, 14 May, 2002, 09:12 GMT 10:12 UK
Can there be a common European identity?
France's right-wing leader Jean-Marie Le Pen campaigned on a platform which said that European integration robbed France of its independence
Many European citizens are dissatisfied with the EU, and support for the organisation now stands at less than 50% in member states.
Last year, the Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said the EU was out of touch with its citizens.
In a document prepared for December's EU Laeken summit, he wrote that citizens find the union interferes too much in matters best left to national governments.
Critics say that low turnout for European elections indicates that voters do not feel part of Europe.
Do you feel European? Can a common European identity be formed? Why are people so dissatisfied with the EU?
This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
As single nations the countries of Europe cannot compete in a world that includes the Tiger economies of Asia, a growing China and the awesome U.S. Only together can we have a voice that others will listen to. Only if Europe speaks clearly will this voice have any real worth and this clarity will come about if we know what we want to say and agree amongst ourselves. This is the issue of European identity. It is not a question of whether we do or do not share a common identity but rather what form the image of identity will take. We must work to create this identity and if you are English that means speaking up in European forums, not keeping mum. Remember this, alone we will become as nothing, together we can share in the actions that shape humanity's future.
Victoria Lewis, England/Canada
The Structures in place in Maastricht are not democratic and do not bow to the people's will which is what a democracy is. The main purpose of Europe banding together is to create a super state where all identities will be subsumed for the corporate good and for capitalist growth and to make the rich even richer and the poor destitute.
The plain fact is that a centralised Europe will act as a semi feudal tyrannical state and that every member state will have to agree and there will be no comeback. Who does this serve? The main people in power the banks the financial institutions and the people who control them. I don't want to see the euro in Britain either - the moment we lose the pound we are an enslaved nation
Beware false prophets
We do not share a common identity, we live on the same continent and our politicians appear to have a desire to unite and try to become not only a superstate, but a superpower. Too many people who support European political integration denounce patriotism and a attachment to the nation state as outdated and xenophobic whilst at the same time trying to create a European nation and its accompanying Nationalism.
Asking the British to adopt a European identity instead of the one they share with North America, the West Indies, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh is like asking a man to sever his own leg in exchange for somebody else's.
Anyway, I suspect the question really isn't asking about a European identity, but rather whether there is an EU identity. They are by no means the same thing, much as the promoters of European political union might wish otherwise. John Montgomery/ London
There is already a European identity. Even if people who never travelled across the North Sea or into other Continents are not aware of it. What will become of European identity - which is becoming stronger, but because of that, more contexted - will be influenced by the evolution of the EU, but its existence does not depend on that.
I am a proud Shropshire lass, I am proud to be English and proud to be part of Britain, more to the point I am proud to be part of Europe. To those that think that the one is exclusive of the other I advise that you travel a bit more and try to open your mind. Don't go on holiday to some part of Spain that may as well be in England for all the contact you get with the Spanish, go to some part of Europe that has very little in the way of English tourism. Then see how much you have in common with the rest of Europe.
Matthew T, England
I am not interested in a common European identity because any such artificial boundaries are just stupid. We are all humans - that is our common identity - all the rest is just silly lines on maps that we should have grown beyond ages ago.
I'm English First Second and Third and I'll never ever call or consider myself to be European, The idea of snuggling up to a load of Europeans make's me feel physically sick, I'll not ever be coming back from Europe as I won't ever have gone there. I'm already afflicted by Europe's control of my daily life and the way they seem to meddle in an endless stream of stupid red tape controlling. As for the EU, it's already reinventing itself - a sure sign of it's inevitable collapse.
I believe we share more than just geography we share common values, history, ethnicity (England having been settled by many European tribes over the centuries) and with the single market we share our economic prosperity. Joining the Euro will put us on a level playing field and I believe will help foster a common European Identity. We have a shared future and it is up to us to make the most of it, united we will have greater opportunity to actually take more control of it, not less, and that is reason enough to feel I already have a European identity.
Graham, England, UK & EU
I was born in the Netherlands. I grew up in Italy and Switzerland, and have been living in Britain for 9 years. With my Italian girlfriend I have 2 children, who are growing up here. My oldest son is 3, and like me and his mother, he is multi-lingual. I am very proud of being Dutch, but also I am extremely grateful for having had the chance to live all over Europe, to be able to get to know so many different people. It has opened my mind and taught me a lot about myself. It's incredible how many different cultures there are in such a small space.
Talking from experience, I believe that the chance that anyone will fall to the "demon" Common European Identity is as probable as a scouser becoming a cockney or vice versa just because they live on the same island. Ironically, the people who beat on loudest about the dangers of losing their national identity hardly have anything idiosyncratic to offer to start with, apart from intolerance of anything different from the norm. And even more ironically, you will find these people all over Europe. You could say they form a common European lack of identity .
Nothing can beat the national identity. At first place I'll always be a Finn, buy I don't see any reason why I couldn't be European after that.
Europe is so much more than the EU.
British and proud. Its not being European that's the issue. It is handing over all our fiscal and law making control to a bunch of non-elected bureaucrats over whom we have no control, as was shown during the commission corruption scandal. At least we can depose our government at the ballot box. We have no such option with our European commissars.
Of course it is possible, depending on what one understands by "common identity"... I do not feel abroad in France or Germany, or even in Italy where I do not speak the language, but I do in the US and Canada, for example. The reason? Despite their differences, Europeans have a common history which builds their sense of belonging to their home country. And for those who claim Britain fought against continental tyranny, I should remind them that Britain, like any other power, fought her enemies because of the threat they represented. This does not make the UK any different from Germany, Spain or France.
Having studied and worked in Britain, France, Germany, Luxembourg and Belgium, I feel European in every sense, though English and British beneath that upper layer. We (the British) have so much in common with our other European neighbours in terms of shared senses of values and aspirations. The differences are really just language and culinary habits. Not everyone can get this kind of a perspective on Europe but in the EU we do have just about every freedom now to move and work wherever we like and that sense of belonging together is increasing all the time. State nationalism will soon be a thing of the past.
I've observed a few of the "We must unite" kind of comments. Perhaps it's worth noting that this is exactly what the pigs said in Animal Farm!
After having read so many island-opinions about the impossibility of a common European identity, I believe I must respond with a strong yes, it is possible. I disagree with the opinion that Europeans have almost nothing in common. Looking at the differences, it seems to me that language is in fact the only aspect we truly have different. For the rest, our feeling for a social and free democracy, where anyone who wishes genuinely to participate is invited and enabled to do so, is so common that it is almost natural to have it set in a European setting.
Chris Hawes, Great Britain
Coming from Spain I know about separatism, where one of the greatest problems in the Basque Country is that people feel obliged to choose between being Basque or Spanish but not allowed to feel they are both al the same time. Something very similar is happening in Europe. I think we can be French, Spanish or Italian at the same time we are Europeans with a very similar identity.
I like to think of Europe as a political and economic confederation of states, we can achieve together far more than we can achieve alone. If individual European states could amass the largest empires this planet has ever seen, just imagine what we can do when we all work together!
Sometimes geographical location does not automatically lead to common bonding. Otherwise, we'd have Japan and China united into an Asian Super state or perhaps Uganda and Rwanda into some African kingdom. You have to look beyond miles and into hearts.
Why does it have to be a case of either/or? At the same time as I'm English I'm a European. On top of that I'm a human as well. Sure we all have differences, but they're not absolute. Believe that they are and you're on the road to what happened in Yugoslavia, Rwanda etc.
I don't think so, at least not while the UK is part of it. In most respects, there's simply far more in common between the UK and the rest of the English-speaking world outside Europe than there is between the UK and Europe, and this is despite decades of EU meddling aimed at forcing the UK into a European mould.
With modern technology and a common language - more or less, there's really no reason the UK couldn't restore the ties with Australia, New Zealand, Canada and even the USA. It may not form a nice little unified blob on the map, but it's more sensible than trying to become European.
As an American of Scottish/Irish/ English/German/Norwegian/Dutch/French lineage- all rich cultures- I support all Euro nationalist movements to protect /restore our people. Diversity always means fewer of us and more of the 3rd world immigration.
Why would you want one? Most everything "common European" that has been promoted thus far tends to be superficial, bureaucratic and coerced conformity socialist, which are anything but enviable traits. And who decides what should be emphasized or disregarded in this European identity?
Of course! In the UK, we should be especially aware that it is possible to have dual nationalities. Europhobes who promote a Britain that looks to the past rather than to the future (decidedly un-British) will have us believe that the EU will somehow swallow up our local cultures and national identity. Rubbish! Look to the US and you will see people who have never forgotten their roots but who can still consider themselves to be proud United States citizens.
Richard, Bath, UK
The only time Europeans ever act like they have a common bond is when you put a large enough group of North Americans in front of them.
I'm Dutch and working in England for several years now. This wouldn't be as easy for me if The Netherlands and England were part of the EU. And neither would it have been if I didn't learn English and 2 other European languages when still living in the Netherlands. Learning this languages (including history and culture) taught me a lot of their important role within Europe. What a shame that a lot of English people still refer to Europe as the continent. The other side of the channel. I think to be a part of Europe, doesn't mean you have to give up the history, language and proud of each country.
Quite simply; I'm English. I don't class myself as British and I certainly don't class myself as European. Eventually, and it won't be in our lifetimes, but the UK and a section of what is now France, Belgium and Germany will end up over with our American cousins - see even the tectonic plate that we ride on isn't European!
Edward Heath put his signature to joining a trading block in the early 1970s - the EEC. There was no referendum. Then two years later when Labour were in power and there was a lot of muttering about what Heath had done, Harold Wilson held a referendum - of sorts. He asked whether we wished to stay in the EEC. At no time was it explained that eventually our laws would be made outside our own country and we would have to answer to unelected foreign masters. The people voted yes out of ignorance.
I'm sure that if a referendum were held today, then the UK - and Germany; France; Belgium etc., would all choose to say No; Nein, Non etc.
I do not need a national identity - I know who I am, and I don't need a country to give me something to be proud of, especially as I have had very little to do with making the country as it is today, because most of it was done before I was born. Needing a national identity is a sign of weakness. Let's see how many people that annoys.
Jackson, Welling, Kent
I would say that it is possible to have a common European identity, just as it is possible for me to feel a special relationship to my home area West Friesland (NH) and feel Dutch at the same time. I had never been aware of my attachment to West Friesland until I moved to Utrecht in the centre of the country. Nor did I ever feel nationalistic or "Dutch" until I lived in Norway for a year. And I felt "European" only when I lived in the United States for a longer period.
The only common thing which will remain is the haltered to the outsiders. They are not happy with the EU because they felt left out in their own home land.
I am a proud Englishman and a European but I would never tolerate being British, everyone is entitled to say what their identity is, and I respect those who do not class themselves as Europeans, even though they are from Europe, let each person decide for themselves. I also believe someone can call themselves European and not be in favour of the EU, just as someone can think of themselves as a World Citizen and not be in favour of some world government. Don't force an identity on people, let them decide and their will be no problems.
I'd rather be American than European. Least we have something in common with them.
The only thing I am is English, I don't like being called British and European is completely meaningless. I live in England, I'm proud of my history (Most of which was some war or another against another European country) I speak English and I eat English food.
Should a common European identity be formed it will not be us who forms it - it will be those outside who will see something in us that may or may not be true.
We are too disparate to have a real common identity - even down to town level we will feel different even from another part of the town - yet other places will see us as one town. We should hope for unity not homogenisation.
Tony M, Malta
The EU (or EEC as it then was) was set up to remove trade barriers and promote the development of individual economies in Europe. What we have now, is a load of Communists in Brussels who seek to get rid of our national identity and turn us into some huge super-state. They say 'Look at America!' America speaks the same language and does not have a history of fighting each other for the past 1000 years! The bureaucrats in Brussels turned our yards into metres and our pints into litres. Now they seek to destroy the British Pound with the economically weak 'Euro'. They have made the simplest task full of red tape with 'European regulations'. And we pay ?50 million+ pounds a year to it, most of which is wasted! Long live Britain!
Everybody that I know who has had any contact with the French find them rude. We have lost out to often trying to claim a sunbed whilst on holiday, to ever like the Germans. And no self respecting Brit' would be seen dead in a wooden shoe. There is also sparkling wine to consider, Ugh! Enough said.
On a more serious note, if it was simply a matter of trade or the Euro I am sure we would all jump in tomorrow. But there is too much fear over losing our laws, our flag, our identities, our borders and in fact our way of life as we know it today.
I believe that people see their differences on a micro level when looking from the inside. When a Dutchman goes to Berlin, he feels very Dutch. When a Dutchman goes to Montreal or Cape Town, he feels European. Being from Boston, I have little in common with someone from Montana or Alabama. But when travelling abroad, we feel very American. I am not comparing American and European identity, but I do believe you feel different when going international.
I think it is possible to have both a national identity and a European one, but I don't think the European identity will necessarily be a common one across all of Europe. Different nations will naturally have different historical perspectives on their European identity, and this will colour the way in which they express that aspect of their identities. The analogy is the United States. Different states have different relationships with the Union, because of historical events, but they still all manage to have a "USA" identity, as well as their state identities.
Whilst I admire many aspects of different European Culture when I have visited every EU nation; it is not my history and traditions no matter how interesting I found it.
How am I supposed to feel the same way about some great Italian writer after he has been roughly translated into my tongue? How am I supposed to feel proud of some dictator such as Napoleon whom our "Allies" the French revere, but who was responsible for killing my own people? How am I supposed to identify with a legal and political system that treats my own with contempt? Identity is history and tradition; and patriotism is giving your loyalty to your traditions and people - giving them away is unsurprisingly seen as rather disloyal. We aren't the USA with a blank piece of canvas to work from to create our identity, it's been shaped over 2,000 years. Any person who thinks a few TV campaigns and government propaganda will persuade us to identify with their new plan will be very disappointed.
Paul R, UK
I'm half Dutch, a quarter Manx and a quarter Welsh, and I was born and brought up in England. Roll on a common European identity, because as sure as anything I can't identify with any "national" identity!
What next, a Cultural Revolution!
The last thing we need is a homogenous 'lump' of people who are European. Our variety is our lifeblood and we must preserve that at all costs. Even in the US, where everyone is an American, there are regional differences. Even regional laws!
I'm happy to be English then British and then European, but there is no need to be European first.
Europeans must loosen their grip on the past. All the nations of Europe have great histories and much to be proud of. Collectively they have defined "western civilization". A common EU identity cannot change the past. The future however must involve greater political and economic integration. What is the UK next to America - nothing. What is France next to America - nothing. What is Germany next to America - nothing. What is the EU next to America - well, that's up for discussion, but at least there exists the potential for something great.
The simple answer is that the European Parliament is totally unaccountable and is at best disregarded and at worst loathed or ridiculed by the people it claims to represent.
Of course there can be a common European identity, but it will take several generations to overcome present barriers and inhibitions. There are language barriers, cultural and mentality differences, as well as national pride standing in the way at the moment. However, as time passes and we get more accustomed to living and working closer together, these barriers will gradually dissolve and a common European identity will emerge.
These differences are more imaginary than real anyway. I have lived and worked in The Netherlands since 1984 and I now feel more European than British. I know other Brits abroad have gone through the same transformation and I am sure other European nationals working in different countries have had the same experience.
Dave, Briton in France
To Matt, UK, yes, we known the Brits all hate each other, but that wasn't the question that was asked? How about answering it?
There is a common identity. We all hate each other.
No, I don't see myself as being a European citizen and I feel no allegiance whatsoever to the EU. I don't believe a common European identity is possible mainly because the language barrier between the different countries is so great and will get worse as more countries join the EU. More people are becoming dissatisfied with the EU because the political elites are seen as over-riding the feelings of the person in the street for their vision of a pan-European super-state. In the UK we were lied to by the politicians both on the issue of joining the ECC and staying in. The fact that many people feel that joining the euro is inevitable while opposing it shows their wishes are just not being listened to. A trading block might be a good idea but a super state foisted on people certainly is not.
I don't know if there can be a common European identity. The only country to successful create an identity separate from nationalities is the US. It did it by creating a 'church of America' not a religion in a true sense, but possessing the institutions that everyone could belong to. We have our "bible" the constitution; our "holy" men; our founding fathers, our days of celebrations etc. The point being is that anyone can belong, regardless of where they have been, and what they believe. It is completely open. Unless Europe can create such universal cultural ties, it will never come together; nationalism will ultimately tear it apart.
To feel part of something you have to have something in common with it - shared heritage, values, culture. I feel none of those things for the other members of the EU.
In fact, many things throughout Europe are genuinely foreign, and not just language. The judicial system, employment rules, attitude to government and political corruption are all almost opposite to the UK.
I feel far more connected to the English speaking world of the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand than I do to France, Germany and Italy. We share judicial systems, cultures and attitudes to democracy.
If countries are to form unions, it should be for love and not a shotgun wedding made for political and ideological reasons at odds with the instincts of their populations.
So what if we eventually became the Confederated Nations of Europe (I do mean "Confederated" and not "Federated")? That's what we are now to a certain extent, all we need to decide is what powers remain with national bodies and which go to a central body. What ever happens, we have all to understand that being European does not make you un-Swedish or un-Greek, in the same way that being Italian or Luxembourgois does not make you un-European. We are living in a unique socio-political environment and we all have the power to help shape it.
The solution is simple: democracy. When people feel that their vote makes a difference, they turn out. When they feel that the operation of the EU is run by a cosy club of political has-beens nominated by the large parties who by and large control European politics, they don't bother.
I'm with Guy, Independence for London! The rest of the country just holds us back.
I am not European, nor British, nor even English. I'm a North Londoner! The sooner London declares itself an independent city-state the better!
America has managed it and so can Europe. The great majority of Americans are deeply proud of their family's origins and their cultural and religious heritage, and EQUALLY proud to be American citizens who feel no conflict between the two. I think the true issue here is whether or not Europeans will be forced to renounce their culture and national identities in exchange for the new, politically correct European identity which has been sanctioned as acceptable by the majority. What a shame that so many Europeans, and especially English, seem to believe that one must cancel out the other and that to be proud of one's heritage is not only wrong but racist!
Alex Banks, UK
The people of Europe share many of the same values, but this alone will not be enough to create a common European identity. Identities are developed over a very long time through myth and shared experience, and usually directed against a common enemy. Britain has been united for nearly 300 years, but Scottish identity is as strong as ever despite the unifying wars against Napoleonic France, Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia etc.
The expansion of the EU will mean closer political and economic integration within Europe, but will not in itself create a common identity. We have a lot of history to live before European identity overtakes national loyalties.
I'm very pro EU, and would like to see political and monetary union move forward. Having said that, I would hate to see my "Englishness" (or for that matter someone else's "Frenchness", "Dutchness" or "Greekness") eroded as a result. Personally, I think that such erosion is unlikely, given our own history. You only have to travel to Newcastle, or Glasgow, or North Wales, to see how strong regional identities have prospered despite hundreds of years of union. The best way to make "Europe" more relevant and popular would be to de-bureaucratise, and introduce transparency into its political operations. The EU does loads of good things, but the average voter is entirely unaware of them because of its somewhat arcane way of operating.
Why should a common European identity be any more attainable than, for example, a common African identity.
European nations share nothing except a vague geographical proximity and even that is somewhat tenuous when comparing a Finn to an Italian.
The tendency in recent years has been for nations and confederations to disintegrate into smaller units, there seems to be no logical reason for Europe to buck the trend and form a new bloc.
Peter Hobden, UK
I'm a 26 year old and class myself as European. But I'm also British, and to go even further English. The EU is still in its infancy, and problems will arise and be ironed out. The media itself does not help with its jingoistic attitude towards Europe for the sakes of selling a few more papers or attracting a few more viewers. Other reasons I think some people are so against the EU is they fear the loss of their national identity. I hope this is just the older generation as my friends also class themselves as European, but we also know that we are English, Welsh, and Portuguese.
With the rush to push forward with the development of the EU the current need for people to have a national identify is being over looked. I'm sure over time the gradual reduction of peoples need for a single country identity will allow the EU to be the fully fledge article that we all hope it will become. I'm the mean time people still need there national identity. After all the creation of the EU with its mixed cultures, ideas, and people can only be a good thing.
The greatest stabilizing influence that could be brought to bear on Europe would be its adoption of a common language - English. All European nations should be invited to join the Commonwealth and by this means they would, at one fell swoop, learn how to communicate with each other effectively and begin to understand - through the good offices of the Commonwealth - the real needs of the world and be better placed to help the poor and starving billions of the third world. Instead the EU wants to build a fortress with a single command structure controlling every aspect of our lives, and is as doomed to fail in that endeavour, as were the great Communist experiments in the Soviet Union and China. People need to be free, not bound hand and foot with bureaucracy.
I don't feel even slightly European. I'm proud of being English and proud to be British. Although economic integration with the EU may well prove to be beneficial for the UK, I don't ever envisage the Great British public considering themselves to be European.
I don't think that there can be a "Common European Identity" any more than there can be a "Common British Identity". A crofter on the Isle of Skye would have a lot more in common with a smallholder in, say, rural Spain than he would with a London stockbroker.
We got to unite in order to survive whether we like it or not, otherwise Europe will gradually loose its world dominance it currently has to far east Asia and the Americas.
There cannot be a common identity as such, since the histories, roots, even ethnic origins of the people living in the EU are so different. Many attempts have been made through history, and they have all failed in a very short period, because each time, one part of that "union" felt oppressed or wanted more. The most successful attempts (and the longest) was under the Dukes of Burgundy in the 15th Century. What made it successful was the fact that although under one single authority, each part of the Dukedom was allowed, even pushed to cultivate their own identity.
Each main part had its own government and there always was an effort to be fair and equal to all. What we see happening nowadays is some remote organisation trying to impose rules to try to harmonize laws but without taking into accounts local diversities. As it often happens, the "integration" is done by eliminating differences rather than trying to find to common aspects. Until the process changes, the dissatisfaction will continue. I am pro Europe, but I will always remain a son of England and Burgundy.
Charles Moore, Scotland
Europeans can unite in their silly fear of US domination. Charles Moore of Scotland says, "our identities will be dictated to us by the Coca Cola Company and Microsoft." These are simply products, Charles. Nothing else. Is European culture really so weak that Europeans fear a fizzy drink? Why are people like Charles giving companies power over his identity? It's so stupid!
To Charles Moore: If your sense of Scottish identity is threatened by Coke and Microsoft, I wonder just how deeply you feel that identity. Scotland has much to be proud of, and if you fear American business will "dominate" your people, then put your money where your mouth is and invest in Scottish brands.
I think it will always be hard for people to feel European first and their own nationalities second as long as life is centred around our own nations. If we celebrated European achievements, learnt European history, had a democratically elected European government, and so in instead of focusing on our own national achievements, history and government, people would soon start to feel European.
Why is dual nationality perceived as a problem? We have dealt with it rather well in the UK. I am proud to be a Scot, proud to be a citizen of the UK and equally proud to be European.
Brian Clowes, Wales, UK
I am English, though I will tolerate being called British but I am not and never will be "European"!
A large part of why so many people are dissatisfied with the EU is that people thought they were voting to join a trading block, not a political union. We have all been hoodwinked by politicians who want a European superstate to enhance their prestige, not because it will bring any benefits to the ordinary people of European countries.
Easy one to answer - no.
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