Friday, February 04, 2005

Towards a European identity?

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, despite being a bit old, is well worth a look. It 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."

3 Comments:

Blogger Ephelia said...

I didn't feel properly European until I went to university and went on student exchange to Italy. Then I got greedy and wanted to claim the rest of Europe as my heritage as well as Britain. :)

2/05/2005 09:02:00 pm  
Blogger Nosemonkey said...

I don't know when I started feeling European, but thanks to a relative having a fairly typically British obsession with family trees, I've long been aware that I am fully one. There's Huguenot, Scottish and Prussian blood knocking around these veins - and go back far enough there's almost certainly Anglo-Saxon and Norman bits and pieces there as well. The story's the same for pretty much any Brit going.

This is the thing - we're all pretty much mixed blood; geographically we're part of Europe; culturally we owe everything from language to religion to European influences - even the staunchly anti-EU Kilroy ended up opting for a Latin name for his new party, demonstrating the ultimate proof of our common heritage with the rest of the continent. The concepts of "Britishness" and "Englishness" are both relatively recent, coming about only in the last few hundred years. Yet our relationship with Europe stretches back far, far longer than that - and I feel it is stupid to try and deny it.

This in itself is, of course, in itself not a reason for closer integration...

2/06/2005 02:43:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found spending a lot of time with Americans did it for me. Having been born in England & gone to university in Wales, I was somewhat conflicted over the British / English thing - neither seemed to be a completely comfortable fit. "European," however, does the job nicely. Why hanging out in the States should do it, I have no idea. After all, I regularly get comments on my *English* accent, so you would have thought I'd be pushed in that direction ...

2/07/2005 03:35:00 pm  

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