Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

National identity vs European identity

The debate continues to rage in the comments to my history: starting assumptions post, much of it coming from EUtopia regular Robin, a man firmly convinced of the superiority of national identities over any “European” one:

your national identity comes readily to you but this EUropean identity seems manufactured by those who are stakeholders in this EU project or its supporters.I also pointed out that Europeans may not, depending on their nationality, have that much in common with other Europeans, and many will have more in common with nations outside of Europe

Some fair points there, for sure. But what about the claim that “your national identity comes readily to you” contrasted with “this European identity seems manufactured” – the implication seems to be that national identities are somehow organically-formed.

This certainly can be the case – true national identities are usually based on a closely-shared culture and language. Think the Basques or Celts or Roma – not confined within the borders of any one country, but with a definite sense of nationhood.

The rise of national identities

Nation states, however, are entirely different beasts. The histories of France and Germany – two of the Great Powers of Europe, and key personifications of the nation state concept – are dominated prior to the last couple of hundred years by centuries of internal conflict and power struggles as their various constituent parts battled for control. People in the 16th century may have felt “French” or “German” – but only AFTER they felt themselves Angevin, Bavarian, and so on. The same goes for Spain, Italy, Poland, Austria, Switzerland – pretty much every European state. Even England was formed from constituent parts, albeit rather earlier than many other future European nation states.

In every case, a “national” identity had to be superimposed over the smaller-scale, pre-existing identities of the units that were brought together to make up the new, larger nation state, to forge a sense of shared identity between Angevins and Provencals, Bavarians and Saxons, Catalonians and Andalucians, where previously there was not just none, but also frequently a sense of hostility and rivalry.

Much of the time this has been due to the perception of some external threat, either real or fictional – in the case of 16th/17th century France, the rise of the Habsburgs in Spain, the Spanish Netherlands, Austria, Northern Italy and the Holy Roman Empire; in the case of 19th century Germany, the perceived threat from Austria-Hungary to the south and Denmark to the north; in 1930s Germany, the perceived threat was the Great Depression, communism and “the Jews”. The reason for forging a new sense of unity is aimed both internally – to promote loyalty to the state in a time of crisis – and externally – to demonstrate that unity to your enemies, and make clear that your constituent parts are no longer potential allies.

As Robin is so keen on his English/British identity, let’s take that as a more detailed case study.

The rise of the British and English national identities

The British national identity has only been created during the last 3-400 years (first under James VI/I to try to mesh his Scottish/English subjects together – something that didn’t work – then after the Act of Union of 1707, mostly in response to the rise of France under Louis XIV to prevent the revival of the old Franco-Scottish anti-England alliance). Yet this British identity *still* hasn’t fully taken hold, with sizable chunks of the population still feeling Scottish/Welsh/English/Cornish/Irish/whatever far more than they feel British – a feeling heightened by the different cultures and traditions, languages and religions and even (in the case of Scotland) legal systems still in place in the various constituent states of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Just as the British national identity rose in response to a threat, so too did the English. The Danish/Viking invasions of the 9th/10th centuries first led to concerted efforts at defence, then to alliances, finally to the expansion of the old Kingdom of Wessex as the Anglo-Saxons fought back against the Danes. The Heptarchy – the old kingdoms of Wessex, East Anglia, Mercia, Northumberland, Kent, Sussex and Essex (not to mention smaller kingdoms like Bernicia, Deira, Surrey, Lindsey, the Isle of Wight, Hwicce, Magonsaete, Pecsaetan, Wreocensae, Tomsaete, Haestingas, the Middle Angles, and Cornwall which were mostly sucked into the major seven during the course of the Dark Ages) – was united as England not due to any inherent feeling of shared identity, but thanks to the Viking threat and Alfred the Great’s realisation that the best bet was safety in numbers. (A very similar idea to that which led to the European Union, in fact.)

But that’s just the creation of England as an entity – not Englishness as an identity. As Robin rightly notes, just because you can identify a geographical area with some common features (like England back in the 9th century, or Europe today), doesn’t mean that there is any sense of shared identity among the people of that area.

English national identity took several centuries to emerge after England’s unification – there were early hints under Edward I as he battled the Welsh, Scots and French (again, the threat of war being a the key), though most historians now agreeing that it was first fully conceived during the reign of Henry VII as a more or less entirely political, top-down attempt to reunify the kingdom after the Wars of the Roses. (One of the key manifestations of this new “English” identity was Henry’s entirely PR-driven decision to name his first-born son Arthur, after the legendary English King, made newly popular by Thomas Mallory’s Le Mort d’Arthur, published the very year that Henry seized the throne and brought the long-running civil wars of York vs Lancaster to a close. How much better a symbol of England’s unity could there have been than for a new King Arthur to take the throne? Shame he died, really…)

“Englishness” was maintained as an idea by Henry VIII, first to secure his throne and then (almost by accident) during his dispute with the Papacy and subsequent Reformation. It was further solidified under Elizabeth I as she tried to unite her religiously-divided country in the face of the constant threat of Spanish and French Catholic invasions (trying to create a sense of national identity that could override the Catholic identities of some of her subjects). But even that didn’t work – witness the Civil War that erupted 40 years after her death.

Local vs national identities

Even today, there are sub-categories beneath “Englishness” that many people within England will pick as their primary “identity”: Scouse; Geordie; Brummie; Yorkshireman; Northerner – and so on. (Some of the pre-English kingdoms have retained some sense of identity remain – notably in Cornwall (mostly due to the older Celtic national identity that pre-dates Cornwall as an entity); others have been entirely forgotten – how many people in modern-day Lincolnshire perceive themselves to be Lindseyans?)

All of these local identities are far more natural in origin than the “English” or “British” “national” identites that lie above them as a broader unifying concept – and such smaller-scale identities will always exist – because before both English and British identities arose, the most important identities were (quite naturally) local – the village, the town, and at a push the county.

And little wonder – until the 19th century, let’s not forget, it would take at least a week to travel from London to Edinburgh or Penzance. The only other “Englishmen” you’d be likely to meet – unless you were a politician or noble – would be at the local market or the county fair. Why should someone from Devon feel any kinship with someone from Yorkshire? They would never meet, and even if they did they would speak differently, have different customs and traditions – and after the Reformation sometimes even different religions. (The conversion to Protestantism was a decidedly localised affair in England, despite being a top-down, state-ordained decision – there are even records of neighbouring villages in early 17th century Somerset, less than five miles apart, where one was Catholic, one was Protestant – they went on to join different sides in the Civil War, one supporting Parliament, the other the King…)

This argument about not meeting people from far away and having little in common with them when you do, of course, you could use against the concept of a “European” identity today – what does a Yorkshireman have in common with a Romanian?, etc.

Only today we are far more likely to encounter people from other EU member states than our forebears ever were to meet a fellow Englishman from the other side of the country. You can drive to Romania in a couple of days – a journey time that, when the English national identity was being formed, wouldn’t have got you even a quarter of the way from Cornwall to London. It’s quicker to fly from London to Romania today than it would have been, back in the 16th/17th/18th centuries when national identities were forming, to ride to the next town.

An attempt at a conclusion

All this, of course, goes to explain my belief that that broad, higher-level senses of belonging – at national or European level – are less important than lower-level, “primary” identites.

Yet even this isn’t entirely true – because senses of identity are entirely personal things. You can pick a bunch of people who were all born and raised in the same village, and yet there will still be a wide range of opinions among them as to what their primary identity (or identities) may be. Some may pick their national identity as most important, others that of their local area, still others their religion or their class.

Because if the case study of the manufacture of Britishness and Englishness has proved anything, it shows that the top-down imposition of a broad identity will only ever meet with limited success.

A broad identity can be a positive unifying force – the creation of a sense of “Britishness” in particular has prevented war within the island of Great Britain for the last three hundred years – though it can also cause conflict – as in Northern Ireland, where the imposition of the concept of Britishness continues to meet with violent resistance.

As such, although I don’t see a “European” identity as a threat to my own sense of identity or place, I can see how others might. And although I agree with Robin that there have been efforts to artificially create such a European identity – just as the English and British and French and German and Spanish and Italian (and so on) identities were artificially created before it – I don’t agree entirely. The growth of a European identity is also partially natural and organic as the economies and societies of Europe grow closer together, and as improvements in technology and transportation bring Europeans from different countries into more regular contact with each other – just as a sense of “Britishness” grew organically during the course of the last few hundred years as Britain’s infrastructure improved and people from Devon and Yorkshire and Scotland encountered each other more regularly, and grew to see the things that they had in common as well as those things that were different.

Some pre-English and pre-British identities have been lost; others have survived. The same will doubtless be the case in Europe if the European identity takes hold. But the process will be a long one. More than a thousand years after the formation of England, the Cornish still feel Cornish; seven hundred years after the conquest of Wales, the Welsh still feel Welsh; three hundred years after the Act of Union, the Scots still feel Scottish.

And so, in short, while I have no wish to impose a European identity on anyone who doesn’t wish it, I honestly can’t see how it can be seen as a threat. And likewise, I can’t see how any attempt to break down the perceived barriers between peoples of different identities in pursuit of a common good can be a bad thing. The creation of a European identity is not an aggressive movement, like the creation of a German identity was in the late 19th through to the mid-20th century – it is a positive attempt to bring together a continent whose entire history has been marked by warfare and conflict.

I can only see this as a good thing.

67 Comments

  1. Speaking as a half-Polish, half-English person married to a woman who´s quarter-Belgian, quarter Swiss and half Scottish, and writing from the Spanish house of my aunt who is a Belgian/Italian whose partner is Dutch, I too find it hard to imagine why the creation of a European identity could be seen as anything other than a glorious historical opportunity.

    I tell my thoroughly mongrel children that they were born in England but they are Europeans, and I hope that they´ll take that with them when they grow up and have kids themselves.

    We are missing the political component of that shared identity, though – the founding myth, whether 1066 and all that or the Tennis Court Oath. Mythmakers please apply to the European Parliament, Strasbourg (not you, Giscard).

  2. I will suggest a compromise. If I am to give up my national identity and the responsibility to my fellow countrymen/women, I must also be able to give up any responsibility to pay taxes.

    I hate the EU and want to be rid of it; some have a great affection for the EU and want more integration. Let those who want it pay for it, I am no longer interested in allowing the EU to take my money. I want rid of these parasites.

    It’s all or nothing for me.

  3. Basically, I would argue that a European identity has nothing to do with the EU in first place.

    I don’t disagree with the fact that those with a European identity were more eager to create a political space that matched their identity, and it is also true that the EU is a self-enforcing opportunity space for the reproduction of those identities (as any social system tries to reproduce itself in order to survive, no matter how large it is).

    But the sense of belonging to “Europe”, or to a wider geographical space that encompassed large parts of what is called “Europe” today was existent for certain groups of persons during the last centuries and in parallel to the development of the nation state(s).

    Hence, there has “always” been this double, if not triple identity pattern including the local, the supra-local (encompassing a closer linguistic-historical space) and the “cosmopolitan” (in a sense that encompasses the reachable world).

    The reason why I prefer a much larger identity – name it “European” or “cosmopolitan” or whatever – is because I feel identity should provide me with an opportunity structure, and a larger field of opportunities is – if you learn to chose – always better than a smaller, limited space that limits me as an individual and my possibilities to interact with others who are much more similar to me than people in my immediate environment.

  4. Anthony – Agreed about the founding myths. It’s something I may go into in proper detail at some point – could have ended up a major sidetrack to an already long post this time around, though.

    WG – Sorry, I’m confused – who said anything about giving up national identities? The whole point of this post is that it’s entirely possible to have multiple identities in multiple different layers, and that it’s pretty much impossible to force a sense of identity on anyone.

    On the EU issue, I think Julien‘s reply pretty much has it covered. People have been talking about “Europe” and “Europeans” for centuries – the sense of a European identity (unsurprisingly) becoming particularly acute during the period of global exploration and Empire-building during the 15th-20th centuries.

  5. Good piece.

    National idenitiy was also a way to create support for the activities of the state (kings and queens) in their particular endevaours…war being the most popular one….Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. Early nation building in Europe regularly result in supression and even extermination of those who did not subscribe to the domiant national identity, competing nationalities being seen as a threat. Its a problem even in modern day Turkey with the Kurds.

    As for a European identity…its not something new (its older than people realise), and as Julien points out it can be perceived as something seperate from the European Union. European-ness though is, unlike national identities, not born out of opposition to something, the other/enemy, or been forced on people in the name of nation building.

    I would not see a European idenity as any threat…people are many things. We all have multiple identities overlapping…one can be Southern, British and European without any conflict.

  6. “The growth of a European identity is also partially natural and organic as the economies and societies of Europe grow closer together, and as improvements in technology and transportation bring Europeans from different countries into more regular contact with each other”

    Deeply not convinced. The transport and economies thing could, and I would argue does, strengthen something above the national identity, sure, but it’s just as likely to be linguistic as anything else. For example, I live in Portugal (as you know) but feel I have much more in common with Kiwis, Ozzies and Tanks than I do with the people I meet every day here. For quite simple linguistic and shared national myth reasons.

    Even when I’ve lived in a country where I’m proficient in the language (as I have done) that was still true.

    Another way of putting this, there’s nothing which screams “foreign” quite as loudly as a foreign language.

  7. Tim – no doubt about it. Encounters with people from other places can just as easily underscore existing, more local identities – as it no doubt has in previous periods of identity-building. (Hell, even today many Brits find their impressions of regional differences underlined when they meet people from other parts of the country.)

    However, when we encounter people from other countries and cultures for the first time, we can also see how valid previously-held assumptions about them are. Whereas a few decades ago most Brits would have been (quite naturally, considering) deeply hostile to Germans, this hostility was based on an understanding of Germans as a former enemy. Before that, the old Anglo-French hostility (still, of course, partially present today) was also spun out of past conflicts.

    In a continent like Europe that has seen so many wars, various nationalities have demonised various other ones, and numerous national stereotypes have arisen. These are very easy to take for granted – until you get the chance to meet a German or a Frenchman or whatever for yourself, and come to see that your preconception of differences are not always as great as you might think, and that in fact an Brit and a German can have a great deal in common. Sixty-odd years ago, my marriage would have been more or less unthinkable, my wife and I coming from opposite sides of the Second World War and two cultures then seen as being utterly different (not to mention two countries separated by a good 9,000 miles). Now it seems perfectly natural – because despite our different national identities and cultural/religious backgrounds, we have a great deal in common.

    And of course language is a hugely important factor in any identity – as noted above, when it comes to true national identities like the Basques or Roma, it’s one of the most significant features.

    But a shared language can also disguise differences – as the recent row over the NHS has shown, there are huge differences in perception about healthcare between Britain and the United States, despite our shared language. It’s not just healthcare – the whole political makeup of the US is very different to that of the UK; the US legal system, though superficially similar, is likewise quite different in many respects; attitudes towards religion, class and race on either side of the Atlantic also diverge significantly in many areas.

    This doesn’t mean that the English language is not a valuable additional identity – it means that I naturally find it easier to converse with an Australian than I do with an Austrian, after all – but I’m not entirely convinced that it is necessarily any *more* useful as a means of self-identification than a European identity. And, when I meet people from France, Germany, Spain, Poland, Italy (or wherever) who can speak English, I often find that we have just as much – if not more – in common underneath the language layer than I do with the numerous Americans I’ve met. Their attitudes towards many particularly cultural issues are often far closer to my own than those of my American friends – (still) often surprisingly so.

    But in any case, the more layers of identity we have, the better in my books. Identity lends us ways of finding common ground with others, and helps to prevent misunderstandings and conflict. Just because I am English/British obviously does not mean that I am not also a part of the Anglosphere; likewise, just because I am part of the Anglosphere does not mean that I cannot be European.

    Each of us has a sense of identity much like a complex Venn Diagram, with numerous areas of overlap – and the more identities we have, the better we can understand and get on with others. As I say, I can only see a European identity as being a good thing. (A better one would be a globe-spanning identity – I count myself as a humanist and an internationalist as well as all the rest – but that’s even harder to forge than a continent-wide one.)

  8. National or Supra National Identity is a complex mix of politics and sovereignty (generally a negative influence), ethnicity and parentage, and culture and heritage but there is also a very important underlying factor. That factor is geography.

    Now it may be stating the obvious but it seems that the posters here whilst occasionally alluding to it have overlooked the importance of a fact that Great Britain is an island. That goes some considerable way to explaining why those of us on mainland Britain (who have the supporting ethnicity and heritage) find it easier to identify with our British Identity than our cousins in Northern Ireland who in turn probably identify far more with the Emerald Isle.

    It is also the strongest reason why Scotland should not leave the Union.

    Similarly, it equally explains why we are less enthusiastic than those on mainland Europe about the concept of having a European Identity. Simply we are seperate to Europe. We may be influenced by Europe but we are not of Europe.

    The simple answer to this debate is that societies coalesce to reflect their effective physical geographic defensive borders. In Britains case the only way to change that would be to change the geography and reclaim the North Sea and the Channel (I won’t hold my breath).

    I was born of the island of Great Britain of British parents with a proud British heritage under the British political system and I am British. I was not born in mainland Europe and therefore I am not and never can be truly European.

    Oh and by the way the last time there was a pan European ’empire’ of any duration, when it collapsed Britain was the first place deserted and that collapse precipitated the ‘Dark Ages’. Change occurs much more rapidly these days so don’t think the current European concept will last anywhere close to 400 years. It will be lucky to see the second half of the 21st Century (or outlast the the period that the Soviet Union was in existence) and along with its demise will go any notion of any sort of ‘European Identity’.

    From a British perspective the idea of adopting a European identity really isn’t worth all the rather extensive wasted effort (as is any over intellectualised debate about it).

    The thing is political regimes come and go but natural geographical borders last for millenia…….

  9. Good article Nosemonkey, but can I ask any of your readers from Germany, France or Italy ;is it easier to buy your national flag or regional one in a discount shop ?
    Why, after the barrier of the Cold War ended, did it seem imperitative for the Germans to want to combine their two states when East Germany could easily have existed as the 5 seperate Landers ?
    Why do the Irish desire the partition on their island to end when it could be an expensive unification ?
    Why are there seperate parties for Flemish and Walloon in Belgium (and what do Brussels and Eupen citizens vote for ) ?

    You mention about people today having more contact with other Europeans than ever before , and this may help foster a newer identity. Unfortunately I cannot see this. I was amazed at the hostilty expressed about Portugese in my area in recent times.Why had people not been against Portugese people before ?– because they did not have anything to do with them . Alot of Portugese moved in, and naturally gravitated within a Portugese “community”. Not an Algarve one or a Brava one, but a national one.

  10. Though my blog is taking a nap, my last post was meant as the beginning of a meditation on concepts of national identity, especially in the Baltic states, and your post dovetails with parts of it. Many different perceptions of the nation can be found between the poles of primordialism and post-modernism, methinks.

    Though there are some who have a phobia about a European identity as such, I think a more rational fear relates to the *replacement* of national identity with a European identity. I don’t have a reason to “prefer a much larger identity,” as Julien puts it above, because it’s not an either/or — one can have multiple identities, and national identity is important to many if not most. An understandable fear many have is of the mosaic becoming a big bowl of homogenised pudding sold under silly slogans like “unity in diversity.”

    In Latvia and not a few other member states, identity is closely connected to the national language. The Cornish may still feel Cornish, but their language is barely alive; Welsh fares far better, and Wales also has a significant nationalist movement. With Scotland, it now has its own parliament. Devolution in the UK is taking place for a reason; the process of “Europeanization” can be seen as going in the other direction, however, and not exactly consensually.

    Latvians — and not only those radicals who equate the EU with the USSR — can be exceedingly sensitive in this regard, and for sound reasons. To use a trivial example verging upon absurdity, there’s the reaction to the refusal by the ECB to allow us to use our own word for “euro” (“eira”). It’s supposed to become *our* money, and even roubles had the various languages of the “republics” on them (which illustrates the weakness of the EU = USSR equation, since Soviet language policies were linguicidal despite this symbolic gesture, and EU policies are not).

    Mi?elis Valters and other founders of the Republic of Latvia in 1918 well understood that even the democratic Russian Federation they vainly hoped for in the early 20th C would not provide Latvians with sufficient autonomy even if it were liberal, Latvian representation in a Russian parliament being minuscule.

    I see my identities as concentric circles, essentially — individual, local, regional, national, Baltic, European, Euro-Atlantic, global, cosmic. There may be “artificial” dimensions to all of these, but as discussed in the Warwick Debates referenced at my blog, to take the modernist view of the nation as an “imagined community” is not to diminish the power of imagination. As Blake had it: “What is now proved was once only imagined.”

    For most, nations are very real. The reality is that Brussels, Conrad’s “sepulchral city,” is distant and not rarely resented. Breaking down barriers can be beautiful — I went to Lithuania for coffee and smokes the other day, still marvelling at the ease of it — but I wouldn’t want to live in a collection of impotent provinces governed by Eurocrats whose identity is utterly devoid of depth. I don’t think that’s what the EU is. Not yet, anyway. One shouldn’t be made to feel that being European comes at the expense of one’s national identity. If that happens, the EU is doomed.

  11. “This doesn’t mean that the English language is not a valuable additional identity – it means that I naturally find it easier to converse with an Australian than I do with an Austrian, after all – but I’m not entirely convinced that it is necessarily any *more* useful as a means of self-identification than a European identity. And, when I meet people from France, Germany, Spain, Poland, Italy (or wherever) who can speak English, I often find that we have just as much….”

    OK, now move onto the defense of why we must have a European polity rather than one based on these other forms of super-nationalism like shared language, shared bases of the legal system……

  12. Well of course Great Britain is no longer an island. I can get to my uncle’s place in London by train somewhat more quickly than he can get to Cardiff or York.

    And while our island’s neat borders undoubtedly assisted in creating our British identity, as Nosemonkey points out, that identity is historically very recent. For what I view as the authoritative history of Great Britain and associated island, read Norman Davies’ The Isles.

    Now Robin seems to be implying that national identity is what caused the reunification of Germany, what drives the nationalist and republican cause(s?) in Ireland, and what keeps the Walloons and Flemings apart in Belgium.

    I’m delighted to take these examples on as a challenge. Firstly, Germany. I’ll take this from a somewhat unorthodox angle perhaps: Austria. Why was Austria split from Germany after the war? I propose two main reasons:
    1. First and foremost, as a way of UNDOING what Hitler had done. It was a symbolic gesture. And this is equally valid for the post-Cold War reunification of Germany – UNDOING what the Communists had done.
    2. Secondly, because a terrible passage of time had destroyed the desire of many people to keep a specific national identity. Why does Belgium have a German-speaking region? Why wasn’t it absorbed into Germany? Because they didn’t really want to be German anymore; Same goes for the Austrians a lot of them felt it wasn’t such a great feeling to be German anymore.
    More broadly on the German theme, why are there still German-speaking populations in deepest Russia? Because by the logic of national identity, they would much more readily feel German than Russian. In fact they prefer to live where they do, unlike those of their number who made the long journey to Germany after the war. It’s far too simplistic to say that the logic of national identity is the determining factor in German reunification.

    Let’s take the Irish case. This is just as complex a problem. Without going into too much depth (I’m not an expert on Ireland), I do think it is safe to say that there are many Irish who view religion as a more important identity than “nation” as such. They reject the leftovers of English and British hegemony, and Irishness and religion are convenient tools to use. But Irishness is arguably just as recent an identity as Britishness.

    Lastly, I am not quite sure what Robin is trying to prove using the Belgian case, since it is arguably the ultimate example of the failure of national identity. The Flemings share language with the Dutch but religion with the Walloons. But they don’t feel Dutch. In that sense you could argue that they feel a sense of Flemish national identity. But very few Walloons express any Wallonian national identity – when pressed, many will admit that if they can’t be Belgian, they would be quite happy to be French. And yet Belgium is a country that according to the Belgian national story was created by a common revolt of the Catholic parts of the Dutch realm against the Protestant king. There are Belgian national heroes, plaques and memorials to Belgian patriots who fought for Belgium against the Germans, there are Belgian beers, Belgian lace, and Belgian chocolates. Belgium is the perfect ewample of the utter confusion of identities. A minority of Belgians want Belgium to break up, and yet relativeky few Belgians feel an intense sense of Belgian national identity.

  13. just realised that I failed to mention I live in Brussels – makes my first para somewhat more meaningful!

  14. I can not understand why we are pursuing this ‘multiple-identity’ argument.

    If I am British (soon to be English – as a previous poster has described), then I am British. I am also living in a European country.

    As posted above the EU is very different from Europe. Europe is where we go for our holidays to spend time with our fellow Europeans. The EU is a corporatist cabal which exploits the people of the countries that go to make up the EU.

    As also pointed out, this ‘United in Diversity’ nonsense is just plain annoying. If there is one thing that bugs the hell out of me and that is the EU’s determination to homogenize us all. It’s the difference between us that makes the other countries so attractive.

    I don’t see the point in this multi-ID thing.

    One other point. The break up of Britain may well be a result of belonging to the EU. Wales, Scotland, and yes, even places such as Cornwall, may well decide that they will be better off under the EU and free of England. Whether this was intentional or no people such as myself have resigned ourselves to the ‘regionalization’ of England and expect other regions to break away. There is a growing sense that we are returning to the Essex/Mercia/Northumberland scenario.

    As a Devonian, a Dumonii, I am afraid that I and many friends will never submit to EU rule. You see what a can of worms we have opened here. We are back to fighting Imperial Rome. So much for progress.

    Mind you – “What have the Romans done for us” …and all that.

  15. As many a eurosceptic has pointed out, European identity is not synonymous with love of the EU. Many of us can feel European without wanting the EU. Just as many of us can feel British without much caring for the Queen.

    This thread is not about the EU. It’s about national identity.

  16. Tim I don’t think I’ve ever argued that we *must* form a European polity, just that it makes sense because Europe is geographically nearby (please note that my Britishness still makes me refer to Europe as a separate entity), we do a lot of trade with them, and – less important, but still valid – it has been proven time and again that instability in Europe can cause major problems in the UK, so it’s a good idea for us to be involved in maintaining stability in Europe. (By the same measure you could argue that the current recession has been caused by instability in the US, so we should be involved there – and it’s a fair point.)

    If we ever get to a Star Trek scenario where travel between London and New York is just as quick and easy as it is between London and Paris, then a political/economic teamup with the States may well prove a very good idea. (Which is no doubt why in the world of Star Trek, the entire planet is united as one… Not that I’m trying to use science fiction as a justification for the EU, but the Star Trek model of global unity is certainly one that appeals.)

    Insideur Some good points there, but on the Irish question don’t forget that much of the reason why Ireland is as it is today is due to English/British conquest. The rejection of Britishness in Northern Ireland is as much a rejection of colonialism as it is due to religious identity.

    Ta for tackling the Belgium issue, by the way. Reminded me of this old post exploring just why it is that Belgium exists in the first place. It truly is a bizarre example of a nation state (and nation state it remains – despite the deep internal divisions, as you note there still remains a strong(ish) sense of Belgian identity – an identity that is almost entirely artificial and relatively-speaking very recent, yet still provides a binding force that continues to unite an otherwise deeply divided society).

    WG As far as I’m concerned, the multiple-identities argument isn’t an argument – for me it’s just a fact of who I am, as it seems to be for others here. If you feel that you only have/need one identity, that’s fine. As I said earlier, I’m not aware of anyone trying to impose a fresh identity upon you – and identity is, as previously noted, pretty much entirely subjective and personal, varying from individual to individual. The European identity we’re discussing is entirely optional – and as far as I’m concerned, the more choice the better.

    If you want to continue feeling British/English, no one’s going to force you to feel otherwise – and in any case I very strongly doubt that any of us will see the dismantling of nation states by the European Union in our lifetimes or even the lifetimes of our great-grandchildren. But by the time it does get to our great-grandchildren’s generation, and if the shift towards more localised identities under a European identity umbrella has come to pass, I doubt they will care much more than I, brought up in Sussex, care that I am no longer the vassal of a Sussex king.

  17. Pingback: Identity Crisis in the EuroBlogosphere? | Joe Litobarski

  18. WG I second Nosemonkey’s point. Multiple, layered identities simply exist – whether we like it or not. If you don’t feel it – then you don’t have it. But many people do (in fact, many people in this thread have already admitted as much). And I’m sure more people are going to feel it in the future.

    Language is a barrier. But it’s not an unbreachable barrier. There is a Swiss nation, despite there being no real “Swiss” language. English is also widely spoken in Europe. If you know a bit of English, French and German, you can get by.

    It is somewhat ironic that the language of the most eurosceptic country in the EU has also become something of a Lingua Franca for Europe.

  19. Nosemonkey, Joe, I have already agreed that I am living in an island on the edge of Europe. It’s just that I believe I am British, a European, a resident of planet Earth, and part of a large wonderful universe. I’m just having a problem putting myself in this must-be multi-identity box. I have no hang ups. I just ask again, what is the reason for this navel-gazing post. We can all be what we want – what’s the problem.

    Oh, and on the subject of the break-up of the United Kingdom, you know damn well that it is already happening Nosemonkey. I shall keep my tin helmet locked away at this point in time – I just accept this as a fact, I can not see how you don’t see it?

  20. In reply to Insideur,s post.

    1;If the reunification of Germany was about proving the Cold War ended, why is it West Germany uniting with East Germany and not Poland , Czech or France ? Obviously a sense of national identity is the basis of reunification.
    2; Austrians probably see themselves viz-a viz Germany in the same way Scots see themselves v the English. As a seperate people – nation. Even to the point of having the Kseebergers at the extreme west as part of their nation.

    The Irish pride themselves on being the oldest nation in Europe. Their patriotism isn,t just a form of anti English/ British. This shows now as the two/four nations are entering a mature stage in their relations. Many historians see the Irish devotion to the Catholic church more as a way of keeping their Irish identity, rather than the other way round.

    As for the BElgium example. It shows how a people cans till feel more in common with their own kin – nation- than others within the state they live. In this case even after a passage of time over 160 years .

    In all the cases above it is in democracies where the ordinary people wish to keep their nationhood, even if the nation or state was formed by undemocratic means.

    I`m not saying you cant form a new state out of different Europeans -the USA is one example. But paradoxically you cant form it in Europe. You`ll need new lands to rise from the sea or ways to reach and settle on distant planets for that to happen. Even then you`ll find the new inhabitants will eventually assume an identity and shut down access to their new nation/ state.

  21. Robin you make excellent points, but they don’t take away from mine. I think it’s hard to argue that national identity was THE determining factor. There are a lot more complex issues at stake.

  22. Had lunch today with a friend who declares himself first and foremost a Welshman, second a European. He feels that rule from England (London) is serfdom.

    Maybe “identity” is the wrong tack here? In 1849, in his opening address to the peace conference of that year, Victor Hugo said- (my translation) –

    “A day will come when you all, nations of the continent – without losing your distinct qualities and your glorious individuality – will ground yourselves tightly into a superior unity, and will build for yourselves a european fraternity”.

    This was after a war not involving the ‘United’ Kingdom (see Welsh objections above), so they were not present. Hugo saw fraternity as the key, rather than any idea such as “identity”. Maybe the British not want to fraternise with continental europeans? But insularity simply is not a practical option in the world of today.

  23. Tim – sorry, I only just noticed your “shared language / basis of the legal system” thing. These are two ongoing arguments of the nationalist brigade (and I mean “nationalist” as purely descriptive, with no negative connotations) – and both are far more flawed than you all seem to think. I’ll address them in more detail sometime, but in short:

    The United Kingdom has functioned more or less adequately for the last three centuries with Scotland running a different legal system, so what’s the big deal?

    India, Switzerland, Spain, Canada, Russia, China and countless other countries manage just about OK without one shared language, so what’s the big deal? Especially considering the fact that (as noted by Joe above) English is rapidly becoming the EU’s language of choice? (Hell, up until the last couple of centuries, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and numerous other European states were riddled with different languages and impenetrable dialects, but they’ve seemed to do OK.)

    WG – I don’t think I’ve denied that there is some indication of a movement towards smaller, more localised units, have I? Devolution in the UK is an obvious indication that this is happening.

    The rest of this reply has ended up rather long – so I’ll turn it into a post. Hopefully tomorrow.

    Robin – German reunification is a complex beast (and Austrian national identity even more so – your Scotland comparison is interesting, though). National identity certainly played a part, though, no doubt. It’s also something of an aberration in that respect though – the major trend over the last few decades has been for countries to split into smaller units (cf. devolution in the UK, the breakup of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, the ongoing Belgian tensions, etc.). I’ll cover this a bit more in my next post…

    As for the “European state” thing – who said anything about a European state? You can quite happily have a European identity without one. (And you last sentence again touches on points I’ll cover in the next post.)

    French Derek – The fraternity point is a good one. “Identity”, it would seem from the objections raised by some above, can seem too strong. Perhaps referring to it as a sense of European brotherhood might be better…

    The only trouble is, we might upset the feminists (gender identity being one of the ultimate, after all)… What’s the gender-neutral version of fraternity/brotherhood? Anyone? Bueller?

  24. Would it be entirely irrational, on the basis of your musings, to suggest that this identity issue has sprung from the dawn of the information age?

    Thanks to the advances in communication, it is now possible for most citizens of Europe, North America and swathes of Asia, to have access to a large body of information and publications on a variety of information including, and certainly not limited to, sociology and the analyses of societies. One hundred years ago the concept of a national English or British identity would have been formed on the basis of the Ambassadorial and political representatives issued forth from Britain, and many of the judgements on our culture and civilisation would have been formed by the leading personalities of a neighbouring society, rarely leaving the higher echelons of the ruling classes and, when they did, either as positive praise of a staunch ally or vehement criticism of a sworn enemy. Today, however, the British identity can be painted by a highly respect sociological journalist, a two bit hack, a talented blogger or a web “troll”.

    In the same way that a person expresses themselves as they see fit, and yet the manifestation of their metaphysical and physical self may present an entirely different picture in the mind of another, the vast body of information available to a large percentage of the planet’s population allows a far greater number of individuals to form opinions on European cultures and civilisations. This, in turn, forms significant part of our national identity; we are renowned as tea drinkers, yet surveys show that we’d far rather a Colombian lungo than an oriental Tchai. We’re known for serving warm flat beer, and yet have a variety of “Extra cold” alcoholic beverages that have yet to hit the rest of Europe. We’re renowned for our manners, and yet the vocabulary of your average Brit these days is a cross between Saxon expletives a Harlem slang.

    Is it the UK that forms its national identity, or is this identity formed due to the facility in exchanges of information and, of course, the feasibility of international and intercontinental travel? Do the British have a national identity? Or merely a set of preconceptions and, occasionally, misconceptions formed by our neighbours, partners and rivals? In the case of the latter, that our actions form a part of our identity, but much of it is formed by the image held of us by others, then the European Identity is the same. It is not so much an identity created by bureaucrats behind desks, but by the people on our borders; as Dr. Tyerman said in the foreword to his tome on the crusades, we are able only to view history from our perspective, from our hilltop. While we may see a Europe riddled by differences, a poor African farmer may see Europe as a whole, with its constituent parts, while differing, still a very homogenous body in contrast to the rest of the world. This would be our identity, not that as understood by the British, or French, or Germans, but that which is seen by outsiders. Do they see countries, or a Union? Do they see Europe as a geographical, or political entity? Perhaps if we change our hilltop, we’d understand the identity of Europe a little better, on the basis of what others have learned of us. But then I do go on a bit don’t I.

  25. Hunter – You’ve definitely got a point there. In particular, it should be noted that prior to the mid-20th century, there was little sense of kinship between Britain and America (bar from Churchill – entirely understandable, what with his mother being American and all). Instead, America was mostly looked down upon as somehow backward – still the wayward, rebellious colony; the prodigal son, as it were. In contrast, the Dominions of Canada, Australia and New Zealand (in particular) were well-regarded and considered far closer to Britain – which, as part of the Empire, they quite clearly were.

    It has really only been since the growth of the dominance of American culture (largely from the dawn of the Talkies in the late 1920s and subsequent growth of Hollywood) that perceptions of similarities between Brits and Americans have come about. And even then there was a fair amount of hostility (albeit friendly hostility) – cf. all the joshing and stereotyping of the arrogant, brash, inexperienced “Yanks” during WWII. Familiarity breeds a sense of similarity – during the 20th century, we got to know Americans better through their cultural exports; now we’re starting to get to know our European neighbours better thanks to the ease of travel etc. that has been aided by the EU. As such, a growing sense of a shared European identity (by no means universal, and probably mostly confined to the cities at the moment) is only natural.

    It’s also worth noting that many Americans still refer to a trip to London as “going to Europe” (cf. National Lampoon’s European Vacation, among others).

  26. NM,
    I would say, as an addendum to my previous points, that the United States is a perfect example of the point in question. The US is, ultimately, a conglomerate of states. You often get the patriotic love for the United States of America, the crowds turning out for their country, and yet every state also has its own, unique identity, each with it’s own tagline. While America might be “The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave”, Texas is “The Lonestar Star”, Florida is “The Sunshine State” and California is “The Golden State”. As the American Civil War evinced, painfully, when it came to the crunch, many had a hard time deciding which was more important; the state , or the Union, and the issue has often said to have pitted brother against brother, and father against son. Nonetheless, the point remains that all Texans can feel American, while few Americans can feel Texan, as any Englishman may feel European, few Europeans can feel English; there’s certainly no need to sacrifice one for the other and, as can be seen, the European identity will form itself, regardless of the national identities present. A bit like a soup with 27 different ingredients really.

  27. Pingback: Nation states, regionalism and the EU | Nosemonkey’s EUtopia

  28. Hunter it’s worth noting that much of the fundamental academic literature on nationalism (especially Benedict Anderson) suggests that the rise of mass media, especially the newspaper, is inextricably linked with the rise of nationalism.

    Prior to the days when the printed word became a method of mass communication (primarily by elites in the early days, since they were the ones with the educational and political capacities to use the new media – and elites had the greatest interest in building “national” feelings to increase their power), there was precious little “national” identity around. It’s well-nigh impossible to build a sense of national identity without some shared media, unless you inhabit a small island or have some other distinctive set of circumstances. The fact that what we know today as languages became standardised only recently in most parts of the world is arguably thanks to the pressures in that direction created by the printed word.

    One of the interesting aspects of the Belgian case is that the French-speaking and Dutch-speaking media are totally separate. Even the federal state broadcasters have entirely separate editorial control for Dutch and French language news. It is hard to see how Belgian national identity will survive in the long run when Flemings and Walloons hear different interpretations of different news in different languages. The only “national” news medium of any note in Belgium (as far as I am aware) is Metro, the free newspaper that is distributed on public transport in many cities in Europe. The articles are largely the same in Dutch and French, although even in this case the stories don’t fully overlap. They are at least translations of the same news.

    One of the most interesting questions is what the effect of mass peer-to-peer Internet-enabled media, such as blogs and Internet news, will be on national identity. Watch this space…!

  29. Nosemonkey,

    At one point in the twenties the USA actually considered a possibility of there being an altercation at the least with Britain over foreign policy, but judging by the likes of PG Wodehouse ,other artists and others going over to reside there, I think there was a bit more kinship with them than just Churchills romanticism.

  30. Hunter – The US point is well made – ta!

    Insideur – which all goes to remind me of one of the key ingredients of the birth of English national identity: those early newsreaders that were Church ministers. With the introduction of the Church of England, suddenly everyone in the country was constantly reminded of being part of an entity called “England” – largely from the pulpit, as few could read, but also in the printed, authorised books and pamphlets that accompanied the new Church.

    It’s also interesting to note that in parts of the country with strong existing identities of their own – notably Yorkshire and Cornwall/the West Country – the introduction of the Church of England met with strong resistance. The attempted roll-out of the Church of England into Scotland and Ireland also prompted strong resistance, as the Scots and Irish objected to having an alien “English” identity and religion imposed upon them. (In the case of Scotland, this resistance can even be seen as one of the prime causes of the English Civil War.)

  31. Robin – the shared language and aspects of shared culture obviously can’t be denied.

    But Wodehouse and others also recognised the potential to make money out in America, helping their decision to pop over the pond. The first literary figure to do so (or at least, to do so with success) was Charles Dickens, if I recall correctly. Oscar Wilde did much the same, prompting that typically fun quote that “America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between”.

    To what extent these transatlantic cultural exchanges were due to a sense of shared identity rather than the lure of a hungry new market it’s hard to say.

  32. NM: when you talk of “nationalism” do you really mean “patriotism”?

    From my reading of French history (as viewed by French authors) there was no ideal of “nation” (and, by extension, nationalism?) before 1914.

    From the early 18th century there was conscription in France; but the army was widely despised (hated even). “Deep” France carried on as normal, trying to escape conscription, and paying taxes to whoever seemed to be in charge. So, the idea that various kings, etc, used nationality as a defensive aid seems unlikely. The creation of the new Republic was a mainly bourgeois, Parisian affair, except that Mairies began to appear and the 14 July fête of St Bonaventure was transformed into a celebration of the founding of La Republique instead (same festivities).

    General Boulanger turned the July 14 festivities from a simple celebration of La Republique into an opportunity for military parades and patriotism in the late 19th century. But, for me, patriotism does not equate with nationalism. Nationalism as such had to wait until 1914 in France: when “deep” France was rudely awakened.

    Here, folk are Charentais(e) first, French second, European (and strongly so!) finally. The Charentais dialect is like a different language from school French.

    If you want to stick with the idea of “identity”, then the explanation of “layered” identities seems the ‘best-fit’.

  33. French Derek,

    14th July became a national holiday after the Bastille was stormed, and saw the birth of the French tricolore and, soon after, the writing of “La Marseillaise”, after French soldiers from Marseille arrived in Paris to defend France. “Allons enfants de la patrie”, or “forward, children of the fatherland!” is the opening line, and indubitably patriotic. The song was used widely during the Napoleonic era, an era likely to have been popular with the French due to not only the repulsion of the invaders at their borders, but the subsequent conquest of those same invaders and the material gains that such conquests usually wrought. The dictionary definitions for patriotism and nationalism do not differ much, and essentially boil down to a difference in interpretation, not definition. As such, while I trust you entirely when you postulate that the French are Charentais first, French second and European third, I will have to disagree on the finer points of your history.

  34. Here in the United Kingdom of Great Britain, the people at times use the tern they are British. Now, there are people that want to be known first as “Welsh”, or Scottish and English. Some people in Northern Ireland want to just be “Irish, so why would we want to be clumped together as European?

  35. Anoldun,
    Fair point. Why would we, also, want to be clumped together as human? The fact is, the UK is in Europe and, thus we are European. Gaston Hochar, though French, began to grow wine in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon, in 1930. That wine, though made according to the French traditions, with French grapes, French machinery and by French men, is still a Middle Eastern wine. Surely it isn’t that we are “clumped” into the category of Europeans, but that our island is in Europe and, thus, we are European. We still refer to the Middle East and gentlemen from the Middle East as Middle Eastern, and yet, as one can see over ten square miles in Southern Israel, these people have nothing in common and, in fact, will not rest until the other is wiped from the face of the planet. They’re still Middle Eastern though, just as we’re European. No?

  36. Hunter: if your reference source is an English history book then I can understand you accepting the Paris version of events. If you explore French history as written by authors willing to speak of France outside Paris, then the story is quite different – which is why I mentioned it specifically.

    After the Revolution it took many years for “deep” France to notice any real difference (eg school reform late 18th century). The Marsellaise was a Parisian event rather than a national anthem. Remember, until the advent of the railways most news, most innovation came from the local fairs, where peasants, etc went to sell their produce – and to learn the news. Rural French were happy with their centuries old songs, often dismissing Paris-based songs as “music-hall stuff”.

    Also, when I refer to the Charentais, I refer to my neighbours: still proud to declare themselves “paysans” (peasants) and me proud to know them as such and to learn from them. If I go 50 or so km south I will find the Acquitains, etc. In this I am responding only to NM’s idea of a layered identity.

    The history of which I write is that of “real” France, not of the Parisian, ambassadorial variety.

  37. No Hunter, we are not “European” and the United Kingdom is not in “Europe”.

    We can’t even speak their Language. If we want to have a drink with them and socialise, we have to have an interpreter. We are Anglo-Saxon and we have more in common with the Irish (And you can hardly call the Irish “European” can you?) they too are closer to the USA, as are we, than to any Europeans. Our Governments have made Treaties with the European Union, but they forgot about the people, in fact they ignored the wishes of the people. Big Mistake! Without the people behind them, our involvement in the EU after Lisbon (If it becomes ‘active’, will be short lived, quite simply the people cannot afford to pay for all the EU’s little luxuries.

  38. True “Europeans” can stand with one foot in one Country and the other foot in a different Country , The Brits cannot and neither can the Irish.
    We were informed we were now “Europeans” when the Treaty of Maastricht was ratified, but the people had nothing to do with wanting to be EU Citizens. They were not asked if they wanted this extra ‘identity’, they did not apply for any such forms to make them citizen’s of Europe and did not even ask for or want them. None of the Commonwealth Countries that fight and die with the British, have British identities or been made British citizens, if THEY wanted to become so they would have to fill forms in etc and if we wanted to give them different identities there would be much form filling and asking of questions. No such things took place when we were made EU Citizens, asked for Passports or have to have an Identity card to prove who we are. I have absolutely no sense of belonging to “Europe” Nosemonkey and certainly none with the EU.

    We are told that EU Citizenship does not replace UK Citizenship. Lisbon makes EU Citizenship additional to -although it does not replace. Additional to means the we have a duel citizenship yes? For the first time in British history under the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, the Home Secretary of the day gave himself the power to remove the British citizenship of a person born here in the UK, providing in so doing, it does not make anyone “stateless”. (As stated in international law) In projecting forward, should the EU turn into one state it would be an easy matter to use that Act to remove everyone’s British citizenship status just leaving us with EU citizenship. It was this thinking in 2002 as the Bill proceeded its way through Parliament that many people suddenly “renounced” their EU Citizenship-that is if one can renounce a “concept” of something. You see Nosemonkey who we identify ourselves with really matters to some people because along with identity and citizenship lies also loyalty.

    We already know that the British Citizenship of Abu Hanza was removed-technically making him “Stateless” once again, that was a first and if it can be done with one person, it can be done with ‘many’. It is not always ‘what is happening NOW, but what is going to, or may happen which will affect all future generations. It is called Forward Planning, something Members of our Parliament should be doing.

  39. FD: The Marseillaise, as its name might suggest, originated in Marseille, and was sung to Paris, whereupon it was adopted by the Grande Armée, as a wave of unabashed patriotism swept the nation following the deposition of the cruel and fanatical ruling tyrants (though, as you postulate, to be replaced by gentlemen of the middle classes). I can’t of course speak for the whole of France, but it’s conquest (it was by the turn of the 19th century besieged on all sides) and subsequent conquests where certainly big news, especially after their defeats.

    Anoldun: Of course we speak their language; most of our language comes from the half spawned evolution of French from Latin, the very definition of Anglo-Saxon is the Angles, a people originating from Schleswig Holstein and the Saxons, a people originating from Saxony. Where’s our Mercian or Celtic, which might support your arguments somewhat better? Then of course, we have our Norman the Conqueror, and Richard the Lionheart, both good old continentals, hell our current monarchy is German. And what do we have in common with the Americans? I bet you didn’t even know that popular “Kemosabe” is in fact a derogatory terms for on particular North American people. What do we have in common with Native Americans? Nada. Europeans? Everything. And as for your arguments on the EU, I would suggest you firstly read NMs post on the budget and the propaganda that surrounds it, secondly identify between the European Union, Europe and the identity of Europeans, collective or otherwise and, lastly, is the fact that successive governments have lied to UK citizens over Europe (if you have any truth to support these allegations of course) any reason to hate Europe? It seems a little harsh to blame the EU for the shortcomings of the British government.
    As concerns your most recent post, we are Europeans by default, whether you ascribe to the view that you are a citizen of the European Union, or simply that you are by racial definition traditionally European. An individual from any other continent will see you as European, in the same way most Europeans see Sudanese, South African and Sierra Leonean as African, Chinese Vietnamese and Kyrgyz as Asian and Argentinian, Colombian and Surinamese as South American. Denial of this self evident fact would be akin to claiming that you have no DNA.

  40. Anoldun“None of the Commonwealth Countries that fight and die with the British, have British identities or been made British citizens”

    Ever heard of the British Nationality Act 1948? That made *every single person* in the British Empire a British citizen, whether they wanted to be or not (and considering this was the year after Indian independence, and shortly before the Empire disintegrated, it’s a safe bet that many had little interest in British citizenship, and if anything would have taken this as a patronising insult).

    As for the rest, you won’t find me defending this government’s policies towards ID cards, citizenship, or towards those it has taken a dislike to. But the Abu Hamza case was – you must surely admit – a somewhat unusual case.

    Otherwise, I more or less agree with Hunter. You may not think you’re European; you may not want to be European; but if you are British and of British descent then you are whether you like it or not.

    Hell – you’re talking about the concept of citizenship, for crying out loud! A word that entered English via the Old French citeain, itself derived from the Latin civitatem. Even the concept of citizenship is European in origin (in the modern sense mostly via the French Revolution, though the idea does pre-date it), much like the word.

    Indeed, until the aforementioned 1948 British Nationality Act, there was no such thing as a British citizen – we were all merely subjects of the crown. This, in effect, meant that we had obligations to the state, but few rights; in contrast, EU citizenship has conferred rights with no obligations.

  41. Hunter. What or where our language comes from is of no importance what so ever, for the vast majority of people in the UK do not understand what is said to them in German, French, Spanish, etc and neither can the vast majority of English people speak it. IT is not what or where this or that came from either, it is what ‘IT’ is NOW.

    I agree with you that the British people have been lied to by their Government, they were lied to right at the start before the UK joined the EEC and especially during the 1975 Referendum on whether the UK should remain in the EEC, right from Edward Heath to the present day Members of Parliament and Government. But WHY have they all felt the need to lie? Why take the trouble to lie to the people? What are our MP’s afraid of? Are they afraid of the people themselves when the people find out the truth about the now EU? What is the truth? Surely, if they have been lied to all that time the people under the Vienna convention on the law of Treaties have every right to reject any and ALL the EU treaties. Certainly ‘Lisbon’ is suspect anyway because all are supposed to clear and understandable, and I have been told that Lisbon was never meant to be “understood”.

    Why do we vote for our MP’s in the first place? WE vote for them to instigate our laws and for them to protect us, keep our Country secure, to make sure our National Security is in our own safe hands, that our forces are always ready with the best equipment and enough forces to defend us all and our own Country. For our borders to be tightly secure so that terrorists cannot enter easily. etc,etc Now if our own are not doing all these things and the etc,etc. are they taking money under false pretences?
    Are we being lied to when people are told that the EU is making most of our laws? So why, if you say we are being lied to, (can you prove that we are) and they are not instigating all our laws, are not actually governing us according to our Constitution, why should we continue to pay them especially if what other Countries say about Lisbon is true?

  42. Anoldun – On the number of laws coming from the EU issue, I have dealt with this in detail here. That post (and the comments both there and here) should answer all your questions on that matter.

  43. Anoldun:

    I beg to differ; our language and our culture is what defines us. If you are trying to define the concept of a British identity, a French identity and a German identity, it is somewhat brash to simply take all of these out of context and claim that history has no meaning.

    Many Britons might not understand their neighbours, but that is entirely the fault of the British for not making the effort to learn their neighbours’ languages; Belgians have a lovely saying “If you speak three languages, your trilingual, two languages and your bilingual, one language and your English.”. One of the reasons this discussion is taking place is due to a misplaced superiority complex in which Britain still sees itself as the master of the world, and successive governments have soundly botched attempts to ensure EU harmonisation and implementation of EC legislation run smoothly, preominantly out of a mixture of arrogance, incompetence and childish troublemaking.

    I would then like to make clear the fact that I have no intention of proving that the government(s) have lied to the British citzenry, the allegations were originally levelled by yourself, though I suppose I used the word “lie” where you claimed “ignore the wishes of the people”, which I suppose may be a bit strong, but amounts to similar things under a democratic governance structure (though I can guarantee that at least one lie has been told about the EU (notably that it is responsible for anything whatsoever, functional as little more than a demonym for a collective of countries), so that shouldn’t be much of an issue). As such, I leave it to you to prove that the British were in fact ignored on issues regarding Europe.

    I can certainly explain why politicians would be easy on the facts and somewhat less transparent than may be desired: as most people have no grasp of quantum mechanical physics, you cannot expect the general public to have an active hand and allow them to partake in the decision making processes for the Large Hadron Collider; the results would be expensive, and potentially lethal. So the same is true of the European Union; you have a body of nigh on 40,000 individuals whose reposnibilities are to examine issues concerning most aspects of our societies and determine the correct course of action (even if unpopular, as in the decisions regarding smoking), or unjustly unknown (such as regulation of roaming mobile phone tariffs), and you cannot expect a) a layman to grasp the complexities of the discussion surrounding trans-isomer fatty acids b) a layman to be able to make educated decisions on an international governance structure when many struggle to grasp the workings of their own national government. As such, many of the decisions of the EU are done without public input, and rightly so, and our MEPs are (not always of course, but then vote for the BNP and UKIP and what do you expect?) often working in our best interests, whether we choose to believe it or not. Most of these issues are above most of our heads, and all of these issues are above all of our heads.

    Another point; the EU doesn’t make legislation per se (in fact, it is merely a demonym to refer to the Union of states that cover the European continent; the EC is reponsible for legislation, so we’ll pretend you said EC for arguments sake); it has little power to enforce the decisions taken, and rarely does so. A brief search should show that the countries of Europe varyingly implement varying laws. Nothing can be done to stop a country doing what it wants, but the basic idea is that the European Commission proposes legislation on the basis of objective research and negotiations to improve the quality of life for citizens of nations belonging to the European Union, through healthcare, food standards, industry regulation and promotion of private sector growth. More power to enforce these laws (the British government in fact infringes several European and internal human rights laws with its new laws regarding detention, powers of arrest and privacy) will mean more power to an objective agency that has the interests of a continent, rather than one’s self (as seems to be the case with many leading politicians these days) at the top of the agenda. Considering the increasingl trend towards globalisation, our dependence on external energy sources and our small populations as individual nations in the world sphere, the Lisbon Treats is a godsend, and we should count ourselves lucky that some odd 60 years ago a few wizened old men had the foresight to get it up and running. As regards paying them, Nosemonkey has shown the cost of EU membership in other posts, and all I can say is that for the price of a couple of pints, you’re getting a good deal. Especially seeing as those poor wretches hold a position unjustly reviled by the majority of citizens, and yet still manage to put them first, I’d say EC civil servants should be given medals for putting up with the c**p they do.

    Lastly, the United Kingdom has no “Constitution”, and even if we did, why should Europe be governed according to our “Constitution”? Somewhat “Imperialistic”, no?

  44. I am not sure what the Large Hadron Collider has to do with anything other than perhaps that the experiment was halted due to a serious fault between two superconducting bending magnets and was/is perhaps as extremely expensive as the European Union, both of which might end in crashing in on themselves and swollowing up those that believe something can be achieved from the whole (hole).

    The constitutional Treaty of Lisbon will fail without the people behind it. You know it and I know it along with a great many more people. The EU would have survived if the people had had a say and those Countries that have already said NO to the original constitutional Treaty and its renamed replacement and any other Countries that may rejected it in the future, could have left, Friendly like and not in the way it will disintegrate eventually now.

    Time will tell whether we have a Constitution, all I do know, it is better left slumbering rather than awakening it. One thing I do know, why would we want to impose it on others, when we have made it abundantly clear that we do not want a foreign Constitution imposed upon US?

  45. It would take an expert in European Affairs and a lawyer to effectively understand, between them (and this is a conservative estimate) the complexities of the Treaty and whether it is to the benefit or deteriment of the citizens of Europe. As in domestic policy making, the general populace rarely takes such decisions, and rightly so, becuase the general populace rarely has the time to devote their lives to the study of national, regional and international policy and law while maintaining a job and/or life.

    If the general public had had a say:
    i) we would not be able to hear for all the damned noise
    ii) no single piece of legislation would have been drafted, let alone researched, debated or agreed upon
    iii) we’d be at war within a few hours
    iv) there wouldn’t be a European Union, nor a United Kingdom, nor even a European Continent. We probably wouldn’t even be wearing loincloths.

    As regards your comment on the No vote (Ireland is the only country not to have ratified and, thus, stands as the only point in question), I feel you may be interpreting it in the wrong way. In the run up to the referendum, over the course of about 6 months, anti EU sentiment in Ireland exploded due to two reasons. The first was due to a series of unsubstantiated, hysterical and rabid no vote campaigns (occassionally characterised by fluffy bunnies, which is hardly an appropriate medium to transmit the future of Western Europe) which, using the medium of fear, persuaded Irish citizens that it would eat their children, while the EC’s information campaign took off like a lead balloon. The second is simply the fact that another large body of Irish citizens voted no on the basis that they had no idea what they were voting for (again, due to the sheer complexity of a document that requires several law degrees to translate).

    If you look at this poll , you’ll see that 22% of the Irish population didn’t vote because they didn’t understand the issues raised by the referendum, among other things, 68% of all voters found the No vote campaign to be more persuasive, while 58% of them made their mind up in the last few weeks before the campaign, and 22% of no voters did so because they “do not know about the Treaty and would not vote for something [they] are not familiar with. 89% of those polled support Irish Membership of the EU. The Lisbon Treaty will, hopefully succeed, the EU is in no way doomed by the referendum and none really want to leave. While people may complain about it (the British, I have noticed, have nailed this to a “T”) it is ultimately an initiative with the interests of European citizens at its foundation. Like the LHC, however, the EU is a complicated thing to understand, and may require some grasp of quantum mechanical physics.

    As an addendum, the UK does not have a Constitution, and I don’t understand your last sentence; my original point was a refutation to your statement that if the EU institutions weren’t going to govern in accordance with our Constitution, why pay them.

  46. I am sorry that you have descended into the realms of “Fluffy Bunnies” and I thought my last sentence was very clear. As I am making this my last response, I will make it clear that I have, in the past voted for our own British Politicians to Govern this Country, I then find out that most of the time they have to obey EU Directives, Regulations and laws in just the same way they expect us to do. We have paid our taxes as well you know, part of which goes to the EU and part to the MP’s wages and vast expenses that those honourable gentleman and Ladies some (but not all) have so recently ‘taken advantage’ of. Perhaps you do not grasp just how angry the people are? We can hardly breath but that there is an EU Regulation telling us how many breaths we must take-slight exaggeration to match yours. Well enough is indeed enough.

    Now where is our Constitution in all of this? We know without doubt that we have a Constitution because part of it; our Bill Of Rights 1689 has been used very recently by our own government as a protection for themselves in the Parliamentary Standards Act. In fact Article 1X of the Bill of Rights 1689 is the first thing you read in the Act. What else is in our Bill of Rights 1689? Ah yes, perhaps first and foremost I should mention that the Declaration and Bill of Rights 1688/9, holds the Oath of Allegiance to the Crown to which British Governments and the rest of us swear by. Violation of the Oath of Allegiance is the very essence of treason, perhaps the greatest betrayal of all. I certainly think so. Certainly others in the past that failed to keep their Oath have walked the long walk and lost an important part of their body.

    Clause 29 Magna Carta makes clear that “for a trivial offence, a free man shall be fined only in proportion to the degree of his offence, and for a serious offence correspondingly, but not so heavily as to deprive him of his livelihood. In the same way, a merchant shall be spared his merchandise, and a husbandman the implements of his husbandry, if they fall upon the mercy of a Royal Court. None of these fines shall be imposed except by the assessment on oath of reputable men of the neighbourhood”. Clause 61 Magna Carta was last used at the time of Maastricht and of course it will be used time and time again.

    Judges have to look to EU Treaties yet Judges also have to obey our Constitution. The Highest Court in Germany has been looking whether the Lisbon Treaty is compatible with their Constitution. Do you really think that the people of this Country think any the less of their own Constitution than the German people think of their Constitution? It really is time for the Highest Court in this once great land of ours to see if the EU Treaties are compatible with our Constitution. Let us see at what stage in EU integration we are at. For, if our Constitution has been destroyed, according to R v Thistlewood 1820, to destroy the Constitution is an Act of Treason.

  47. I forgot to say “Thank You” Hunter and Nosemonkey. You have been an inspiration to me. Thank you indeed.

  48. Likewise, it’s been a pleasure. Just happy to discuss these things with someone sane, a luxury poor Nosemonkey cannot afford !

  49. Anoldun rest assured, the UK’s top legal minds have examined every word of every EU treaty that has ever been adopted and ratified, as well as the Lisbon Treaty. And bar none, they have all been compatible with the constitutional arrangements of the UK. This is not because the substance of the treaties is unimportant (indeed they have profound implications for us), but because they are treaties. As treaties, they are voluntary commitments of sovereign governments. The EU will never be a superstate as long as it is a treaty-based organisation.

    The reason that the “Constitution” was re-jigged and named the Lisbon Treaty is precisely because it created an ambiguity about the status of the sovereign governments who were the signatories. The new format and the new name were a clear and unambiguous reassertion of the sovereignty of the Member States. That is why the Lisbon Treaty is regarded by rabid europhiles for being a coup by the Member States against the Eu institutions. The genius of the anti-EU movement in the UK and elsewhere has been to turn it into precisely the opposite in people’s minds. The bigger the lie, the more likely people are to believe it.

    Hunter, I really don’t agree with your sentiments about popular particpation in democracy generally, and in the EU specifically. You gave the example of the mobile roaming regulation. Consumer groups and other parts of civil society lobbied our elected MEPs and the Member State governments very heavily in favour of the Regulation.

  50. Anoldun – Don’t take hunter’s little jibes too much to heart. It’s just that he’s been knocking around in the comments here long enough to have had this conversation (not quite word for word, but certainly sentiment for sentiment) countless times before.

    It can get a bit tiring to be faced with the same arguments against the EU over and over again – especially when most of them are based on misunderstandings and deliberate mistruths that have been passed down by national politicians with a vested interest in blaming the EU for everything so that they can direct their electorate’s anger away from themselves. (Which is precisely why I’m not going to go over the Magna Carta and British constitution issue again for the umpteenth time, merely direct you to this post and the discussions that followed in the comments.)