Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

Reblogged: Towards a European Identity

From five years ago (originally published 4th February 2005) – a repost seemed appropriate as someone asked about my views on European Identity just the other day, soon after a user purporting to be Jurgen Habermas cropped up on Twitter. Despite being five years old, much still stands (update: except the links, which have now been updated where appropriate). Depressingly, the debate has barely shifted:

An interesting short article on the lack of any real sense of European identity gives a nice overview of some of the problems facing the EU, and of the possible outcomes of the proposed constitution, and follows on nicely from some of my recent musings:

In Spain, there is much controversy over whether the Basque people should remain Spanish citizens or whether they should have their own state. In the UK a recent survey of teenagers found that many saw themselves as English, Scottish or Welsh rather than British. An Italian from Milan might find more in common with a Parisian than with a Sicilian compatriot. Yet despite this, a core set of European cultural, political and social values can be divined.

The article also points to another which highlights the take of Jurgen Habermas (he of “public sphere” fame) on the European project – a take which can easily provoke both sides of the argument:

Germany’s thinker de rigueur wrote that Europe’s core states could put an end to Europe’s stagnancy, sooner or later drawing in the remaining states which would be unable to resist. Separatism, however, had to be avoided. The avant-garde core Europe cannot consolidate into a miniature Europe but, as so often, must be the locomotive.

This reminded me of an article Habermas wrote a few years back on why Europe needs a constitution, which is well nigh essential reading for anyone interested in current debates about what the EU is, was, and should be in the future. I may return to some of the points it raises again, as even though lots has changed since it first appeared (it was written just pre-September 11th 2001), it still raises many valuable points. From the introduction:

There is a remarkable contrast between the expectations and demands of those who pushed for European unification immediately after World War II, and those who contemplate the continuation of this project today – at the very least, a striking difference in rhetoric and ostensible aim.

While the first-generation advocates of European integration did not hesitate to speak of the project they had in mind as a “United States of Europe”, evoking the example of the USA, current discussion has moved away from the model of a federal state, avoiding even the term “federation”.

Larry Siedentop’s recent book Democracy in Europe expresses a more cautious mood: as he puts it, “a great constitutional debate need not involve a prior commitment to federalism as the most desirable outcome in Europe. It may reveal that Europe is in the process of inventing a new political form, something more than a confederation but less than a federation” an association of sovereign states which pool their sovereignty only in very restricted areas to varying degrees, an association which does not seek to have the coercive power to act directly on individuals in the fashion of nation states.

Does this shift in climate reflect a sound realism, born of a learning-process of over four decades, or is it rather the sign of a mood of hesitancy, if not outright defeatism?

The contemporary substantification of law means that constitutional debates over the future of Europe are now increasingly the province of highly specialized discourses among economists, sociologists and political scientists, rather than the domain of constitutional lawyers and political philosophers. On the other hand, we should not underestimate the symbolic weight of the sheer fact that a constitutional debate is now publicly under way.

As a political collectivity, Europe cannot take hold in the consciousness of its citizens simply in the shape of a common currency. The intergovernmental arrangement at Maastricht lacks that power of symbolic crystallization which only a political act of foundation can give.