CulturalBase. Social Platform on Cultural Heritage and European Identities

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CulturalBase. Social Platform on Cultural Heritage and European Identities
Synthetic Report on Cultural Inclusion

European University Institute

Anna Triandafyllidou and Hara Kouki

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 649454

Consortium of the project:

Universitat de Barcelona (UB) (coordinator of the project); University of Glasgow; Central European University (CEU); European University Institute (EUI); University of Sussex; Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne; Interarts

European Identity:

What kind of diversity into what form of unity?

  1. Introduction

One of the most difficult aspects in understanding Europe in the present but also in the past has had to do with the question of European identity. Does a European identity exist? Do the Europeans feel European? And if they do, how their feeling of belonging to Europe relate to other important collective and political identities such as national identity or indeed ethnic or minority identity? Are there multiple or even conflicting ways of identifying with Europe? How much diversity can be integrated within one union? European identity as a concept and a lived experience may indeed enable us to perceive what Europe is about under current circumstances, but it can equally complicate, if not impede our understandings.

This Synthetic paper briefly maps important theoretical perspectives, institutional programmes and research policies undertaken so far on European identity and culture: the aim is not to draft a comprehensive and detailed overview, but rather to identify the dominant conceptions of European identity and culture within them and reveal the gaps and current needs for further research on the links between European identity, diversity, their potential for inclusion/exclusion and the role of culture in this process. The paper concludes by drafting a series of opportunities for further research emerging from our dialogue with non-academic stakeholders and proposes four specific thematic areas for further analysis.

  1. Theoretical perspectives on European identity: civil and/or cultural, national and/or European?

One of the most well-known theorists of nationalism today, Anthony D. Smith, wrote in 1995 that a European identity could not possibly emerge as it is national identity that dominates people’s primary loyalties (Smith, 1995). Smith could not imagine, and perhaps quite rightly, that any European citizen would be willing to sacrifice her/his life in fighting for Europe in the way in which people had gone to war to defend their nation. For him, this was an ultimate test that European identity would fail. Smith actually appears to assume that a European identity would be of the same kind as a national identity.

This assumption points to an underlying problem in the conventional study of European identity: there is an implicit assumption that European identity is about political loyalty. This assumption has skewed the conceptualisation of European identity and as a result the area of investigation has been largely restricted to the political dimension. In other words, the accumulation of research into European identity so far is now signalling a fundamental problem: the under-conceptualisation of European identity and the lack of diversification when definitions of European identity are provided (Duchesne, 2008).

Indeed, a first question to be asked in our view here is whether European identity is or can be like national identity. National identities can be ethnic in their orientation, based on a belief in common ethnic descent, a common culture and set of myths and symbols, or they can be civic based on a common civic and political culture, a common set of values, a single economic and political system, a common territory. Usually, most national identities involve a combination of ethnic and civic elements but are characterized by a stronger presence of one set of elements over the other.

Taking the blueprint of the nation then as a prototype for studying European identity, we would envisage that there could be a cultural form of European identity. In other words, a European identity would have a cultural ‘baggage’ similar to that of national identity. Hence, links to a common cultural heritage, a common language, myths, symbols and emotional bonds with a territory imagined as the motherland. Indeed such an identity could emerge through a long historical process of the ‘classical’ nation building type as happened in many nation-states in the nineteenth century.

There could however also be a national type view of European identity that would emphasise civic elements like a set of civic and political values enshrined in a constitution (Weiler, 1999). It could also include the construction of a civic European identity through the gradual emergence of a European public sphere (Risse, 2010) and of a common communicative space where Europeans meet (virtually) and exchange their views. This last view draws from a perspective of Europe becoming, through the European integration process, a state-like entity (perhaps a federal state), and from the Habermas view of constitutional patriotism as the possible ‘glue’ that can hold a nation or indeed Europe together, beyond and in the absence of a common set of cultural traditions and ethnic bonds.

Habermas has questioned whether we should consider this kind of civic identity as identity at all and whether it should be better conceptualized as transnational civic solidarity among Europeans. Such a civic conception however of a European ‘non-identity’, Habermas recognized (2006, p. 80-1), ‘cannot be produced solely through the strong negative duties of a universalistic morality of justice’ but through ‘a self-propelling process of shared political opinion and will-formation on European issues’ that develops above the national level. Thus, national cultural differences can become of secondary relevance and a different type of European collective identity can emerge.

In reality European identity involves both cultural and civic elements but is certainly not a primary political identity in the sense that national identity is, requiring and actually obtaining the primary loyalty of Europeans (as it happens with members of a nation). Anthony D. Smith argued already almost a quarter of a century ago (1992) that Europeans differ among themselves in many respects such as language, law, religion, territory, economic and political system just like they differ also from non-Europeans. However, he conceded that ‘at one time or another all Europe’s communities have participated in at least some of these traditions and heritages, in some degree’ (Smith, 1992, p. 70). He distinguished between families of culture that tend to ‘come into being over long time-spans and are the product of particular historical circumstances, often unanticipated and unintentional. Such cultural realities’ he argued, ‘are no less potent for being so often inchoate and un-institutionalized’ (1992, p. 71).

It would be fair to say that there is a lot of truth in Smith’s scepticism over the mere possibility and probability that a strong sense of European identity would emerge in Europe, not least because this cultural ‘glue’ of the nation is lacking. Indeed this reflection brings us to one of the main issues that have prompted the whole discussion about what European identity is or should be and notably what is the relationship between national and European identity.

There are competing views on this topic. Inglehart (1977) in his seminal study suggested that national and European identities are competing and that people who feel more cosmopolitan would tend to identify less with the nation and more with Europe. From this perspective, this is the reason why European identity is today (still) very weak: because it is in conflict with national identity (Carey, 2002, McLaren, 2006). According to this line of argument, nations possess a strong pulling power over their members for a number of reasons including a set of powerful myths and symbols or the state’s capacity of coercion or indeed, protection. The emerging European polity, however, does not possess these qualities and as a result, European identity remains weak. European identity needs to be promoted through the creation of historical myths and political symbols so as to prompt citizens’ identification with it. Indeed, European cultural policies such as the adoption of the flag and anthem, and to some extent the introduction of the single currency may also be seen as strategies aiming to foster a common European political identity (Shore, 2000).

While indeed national identity is by definition competing with other primary political identities as it requires the uncontested loyalty of the citizen to the nation, research has shown that national and European identity are compatible and can even be mutually reinforcing. They can in fact be better conceptualized as nested identities (Herb and Kaplan, 1999). Medrano and Gutierrez (2001) argue that European identity is nested in local and regional identity and they are not seen by individuals as competing but rather that a positive identification with Europe can empower a local or regional identity. The reason is that these are two different levels of collective political identity. The lower level which is closer to the individual identity is stronger but the higher level and larger group identity may further add a layer and reinforce that of the smaller group. Indeed Spaniards that were studied in the Diez Medrano and Gutierrez study, felt that their European identities symbolized their ‘modern’ and ‘democratic’ attributes. They thus reinforced the cultural content and emotional strength of their local and regional Spanish identities. A different but converging explanation of such mutual reinforcement of local, regional and European identities comes also from their contextual character: European identities are activated under different circumstances than regional or national ones. For instance, I am a Spaniard when abroad, an Andalusian in Spain, a Sevillian in Andalusia and so on (see also Risse, 2003).

Indeed, there is a growing group of scholars who reject this conflictive model in which national and European identities are understood to be in an antagonistic or zero-sum relationship. They also however reject the notion of an umbrella type of secondary identity. This is seen as too simplistic to account for the relationship between European and national identities. Some have put forward a marble cake metaphor in which both national and European identities in addition to other forms of identity co-exist, influence and blend into one another (Risse, 2004; 2010). This means that national identification and attachment to Europe go together and blend into one another. Thus there are different national narratives of a European identity. Also Ichijo and Spohn (2005) have argued that national and European identities are entangled and there is now a European dimension in national identities just like there are different national versions of the European identity.

In the early 2010s, European identity takes another twist and becomes particularly relevant for the emergence of regional nationalism of nations without states (Scotland and Catalonia for example) that assert their right to independence. Europeanness for these small nations is adopted as an anchor, against the multinational state (the United Kingdom or Spain respectively) from which they want to secede. Their belonging to Europe (and particularly the European Union) appears to provide for the necessary reference point and is actually manipulated in political discourse. While appeals by nations without states about their Europeanness may remind one of the bloody conflict in Yugoslavia in the mid-1990s which also involved references to Europe, the situation today points to less violent and more sophisticated identity discourses whose focal point is a renewed relevance for European identity.

European identity may be conceptualized as a mainly instrumental political identity. Indeed one built on individual interest: a perception of potential gains or losses from membership in a given social group can influence people’s identification with that group. This perspective suggests that the more the citizens perceive that they have a net benefit from participating in a group, the more they will identify with it. In addition, if citizens perceive that their own nation state is doing poorly in terms of economic performance and democratic accountability, the more likely they are to identify with a higher level political identity and in this case, with a European identity (Cinnerella 1997, Fernández- Albertos and Sánchez-Cuenca 2001).

An earlier comparative study looked at whether European identity develops in ways similar to national identities and how it relates to them (Ruiz Jimenez et al., 2004). The quantitative survey findings of the project suggested that European identity rests mainly on two instrumental features of the European integration project: the right to free movement and the common currency. More specifically, the study found that national and European identities are compatible mainly because national identities are largely cultural while identification with the European Union is primarily instrumental. The findings of the study, however, also showed that there is a sufficient common cultural ground for a European identity to emerge. The study confirmed that because national and European identities are different, the development of a European identity does not necessarily imply the transfer of loyalties from the national to the supranational level.

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