European Identity: The Newly Born European Demos? by Endri Shqerra - HTML preview

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In a solemn address to the opening ceremony of the “International Peace Conference” held in Paris in August 1849, Viktor Hugo prophesized the dawn of a European Union in this spirit:

“…A day shall come when you will no longer make wars..... And in that day you will all have one common thought, common interest, a common destiny; you will embrace each other and recognize each other as children of the same blood, and of the same race; that day you will no longer be hostile tribes, - you will be a people… A day will come when you…[will]…be blended into a superior unity, and constitute an European fraternity, just as Normandy, Burgundy, Lorraine, Alsace, have been blended into France…. A day will come when bullets and bomb-shells will be replaced by votes, by the universal suffrage of nations, by the venerable arbitration of a great Sovereign Senate, which will be to Europe what the Parliament is to England, what the Diet is to Germany, what the Legislative Assembly is to France. ….A day will come when these two immense groups, the United States of America and the United States of Europe shall be seen placed in presence of each other…” [Hugo, 1849, 11].

Justifiably classified amongst the visionary fathers of EU, Hugo firmly believed that it would not be “necessary that four hundred years should pass away for that day to come” [Hugo 1849, 12]. Today, much less than four hundred years from Hugo’s statement, Europe has reached this day in the form of the European Union. On the way, the European Union was successful in crafting a common identity of the peoples of its member states primarily based on common beliefs and by way of votes, and neither bullets nor bomb-shells, in establishing a Parliament. In full vindication of Victor Hugo’s vision, the EU and the U.S.A. are now two leading world powers.

Through single market, political unity, and common history post-national theory argues, European funds and activities aiming at promoting cultural exchanges are further targeting at the construction of a common European cultural community.

Even at the time of the Maastricht Treaty (1993), itself viewed as the treaty which “established the European Union (EU)” [Maastricht Treaty. 2012], and, by inference, the political unity of Europe, Bakke [1993, 2] recognized that the quintessence of European solidarity (European identity) relies on what comes beyond a political and economic union: “A sense of European solidarity becomes even more vital if the integration is to proceed past the political and economic union envisaged in the Maastricht treaty.” The establishment of a European Constitution, which in itself would represent the federal stage of Europe, shall result in a stronger European solidarity and in a more consolidated European identity. This view, as I shall demonstrate, is also advocated by the ‘constitutional patriotism’ theory.

In addition to the establishment of the constitution, the further evolution of European identity is also related with the erosion of national identities. Interesting is the fact that, as Herman [2004, 41] argues “Modern nationalism was born in Europe, and it is there where some scholars and politicians are mounting a death watch” of nationalism. The decline of nationalism as a general statement is somehow accepted by other scholars like Delanty, Sindic and Smith but, the controversy between them, as we will demonstrate in chapter 3, lies to what degree will the decline of nationalism in Europe leads to the replacement of national identities by European identity. Delanty [2005, 2] maintains that European identity will stand above national identities of Europe as British identity stands beyond Irish, Wales, Scottish and English identities. Smith [1991, 170], on the other hand, maintains that European identity will not even resemble the British models. In spite of their different views, their common conclusion is that European identity will not replace or supersede national identities in the foreseeable future. Quoting Delanty and Smith, Rambour [2005, 3] argues that Delanty does not conceive Europe as a political community because he conceives national identities as strong. He [2005, 3] further calls Smith too as a strong supporter of nationalism who argues that European identity is not able to elicit the loyalty and mobilization that nationalism is able to do.

Similar to the Delanty’s [2005, 2] concept of the pyramid of identities, One’s [2004, 34] approach this matter not as a competition but rather as a co-existence of European and national identities in the form of multiple identities: “there is not necessarily a zero-sum struggle between a national and a European identity. People have always had multiple identities”. Because of the increasing globalization and cosmopolitanism people nowadays are having dual and even multiple identities, which enable the co-existence of national and European identity [Delanty 1996, 2].

In 2005, EU failed in the ratification of its important document - the constitution. The failure of the Constitutional Treaty (2005) seemed to convey the idea that the process of the European integration had reached its highest limits and could not go much further as to establish its constitution. Hence, a stronger European identity which represents the sense of community and the sense of belonging was necessary in order to inspire people to follow their elites and even to affect EU policies through public spheres. The failure of the European Constitutional Treaty and the subsequent stagnation of deeper EU integration were conditioned, as we shall demonstrate in chapter 2, by the low degree of consolidation of the European identity.

Four years before the Constitutional Treaty (2005), Habermas [2001, 15] wondered whether Europe was ready to establish a constitution, representing a higher integrated Europe and the federal stage of EU. Eurosceptics claimed that there is no European demos and as such EU should not have a constitution. Their skeptic position was evident in their No Demos thesis, a decision held by the German Federal Constitutional Court. Habermas [2001, 15] criticizes their conceptualization of demos based on national theories and argues about the existence of a European civic demos.

The main question this book tries to answer is whether European identity will replace or supersede national identities of Europe; a question related with the nature of European and national identities, with possible evolution of European identity (assisted by the establishment of the constitution) as well as with the erosion of national identities in Europe. The principal argument there is that: different from national identities, the European identity develops in the fashion analyzed by post-national theory, through civic rights, “constitutional patriotism”, and through its developing common culture. It is the post-national nature of European identity which enables it to develop alongside national identities, even if national identities are strong and cannot be replaced by European identity.

The evolution of European identity is related with the establishment of the constitution. In this thesis I shall demonstrate the mutual relationship between European identity and the constitution. As it shall be argued, the existences of a Constitution, or similar institutions in the form of treaties, further the degree of consolidation of a European identity and of European integration. This view is hold and by ‘constitutional patriotism’ theory. Said differently, it is the consolidation degree of European identity which affects the success of constitutional ratification and, vice-versa, the failure of the constitution implies a low degree of consolidation of European identity.

Chapter 1 delves into matters centered around the definition of “identity”, its derivatives (identification, multiple identities, identity shifts, national and post-national identity, constitutional patriotism) and their relations. Approaching these terms from a variety of theoretical perspectives (primordial, constructivist, post-national, cosmopolitanism and globalization), the chapter, utilizing secondary and primary evidence extrapolated from Pan-European surveys, ultimately constructs a definition of the European identity: a western European continental sense of belonging to a European community comprising primarily post-national, but also national, elements, not least based on Europe’s perceived common history.

Chapter 2 deals with the failure of Constitutional Treaty. The failure of the European Constitutional Treaty’s ratification in France and the Netherlands was primarily owed to the predominance of domestic politics over the matter at vote resulting in an identity shift of loyalty from EU to the national state. This failure, however, enhanced European public spheres, thereby enforcing the collective identity of the European political community. The further consolidation of the European identity shall contribute to the success of the constitutional ratification in the EU, since, as the Swiss paradigm demonstrates, both of these need to develop simultaneously.

Chapter 3 deals with the erosion of national identities in Europe and their strengths. The question dealt in this chapter is whether European identity will be able to replace or supersede national identities of Europe. The main finding of this chapter is that national identities have not declined. They continue to comprise 91% of Europeans. On the other hand, as I shall demonstrate in chapter 3, more people are identifying themselves as Europeans, which means a multiple identity for Europeans. This suggests that national identities have lost their role as the only or the dominant mean of identification.

The post-national character of the European identity alongside cosmopolitanism and globalization are gradually eroding national identities of EU member states. Notwithstanding, national identities in the EU are still strong, as the European identity shall not supersede them, since their compatibility enables their symbiosis and parallel development.

Subsequently, there exists a civic European demos in political/legal terms, which, alike the European identity, is complementary to the national demos of EU member states. Alongside these points presented in chapter 4, we shall continue and with some scholarly criticisms about the ‘No Demos Thesis’ and the ethno/cultural approach.

The method that I will widely use mostly is the case study method coupled with analysis. In chapter 2 I will use the analogical reasoning by comparing the EU case with the establishment of the constitution in Switzerland. In my research, I will use top-bottom approach as well as the bottom-up approaches, with the later as the principal approach. Top-bottom approach of studying the European identity is to analyze the degree of consolidation of the European identity induced by policies of EU. The bottom-up approach of studying European identity is by studying individuals, the way and the degree they feel Europeans.











Identity and European Identity: Historical and Theoretical Perspectives

Individual identity is a psychological identity whereas national identity or the identity based on a larger community is a social identity. There are the forms of association of the individual with larger communities which co-determine the individual national identity [Jackobs, D. and Maier, R, 1998, 3]. Balibar, E. and Wallerstain, I, [1991, 94] too, assert that “all identity is individual, but there is no individual identity that is not...constructed within a field of social values, norms of behavior and collective symbols. The real question is how the dominant reference points of individual identity change over time and with the changing institutional environment(my emphasis). In this last sentence, Balibar and Wallerstain clearly hint identity shifts, which, as we shall demonstrate in chapters 2-4, is the case of Europeans because of “the changing institutional environment” [1991. 94] in Europe.

An important aspect of identification is its mechanism of exclusion, as it always results in the formation of a “we”, i.e. the members of the community and the “others” or ‘foreigners’ who are excluded from this community [Rousseau and Veen [2005, 689]. Social identity draws compelling lines for its members; members of the community regard themselves as the same with others inside the line and different from the members of other communities. The feeling of belonging is associated with feeling of exclusion for those who do not belong in the community [Herman 2004, 48]. To reveal the nature of the identity in this chapter we shall study the definition of identity through a variety of theoretical perspectives, the concept of the European identity as well as its history.

Premordialism ascribes certain rigidity to identity and emphasizes the emotional power of the identification’s constituents. Rousseau and Veen [2005, 688] criticize premordialists who claim that “identity becomes fixed once it is acquired.” Thus, primordialists reject the notion of identity shift advocated by Rousseau and Veen [688] as well as by the constructivist theory, as we shall present below. Primordialists also view identification as an emotional response of the individual in rapport with its environment; “True identity depends on the support which the young individual receives from the collective sense of identity characterizing the social groups significant to him: his class, his nation, his culture.” [Edwards, 2009, p. 20] (my emphasis). Tajfel [1981, 55] also emphasizes the emotional charge of national identification by describing identity as: "that part of an individual's self-concept which derives from his knowledge of his membership of a social group (or groups) together with the value and emotional significance attached to that membership". Smith [1991, 175] was apparently familiar with such theories when he acknowledged the “emotional mobilization that nationalism is able to erect”, the strongest property of nationalism and national identities, after him.

Constructivists argue that nations are comprised of “imagined communities”, hence, a national identity is not something that people inherently possess but rather something which can be constructed or engineered [Anderson 1991, 6-7]. Their view is that identities are not static but can change, depending on different factors. They argue that people have multiple identities and social factors can cause a shift in identities [Rousseau, D. and Veen, M. 2005, 688]. Rousseau and Veen [2005, 688] further emphasizes the role of situational context in the identity shifts: “Individuals possess multiple identities and often shift from one identity to another….the context of the situation can alter which identity moves into the foreground”.

Constructivists further argue that the selection of identities depend on political and economic structures. Having multiples identities enable people to adopt the identity they want in accordance with economic incentives such as the access to jobs, markets and lands. The shift of identity in this case is a preference based on interest and on reasonable calculations. Through this, political institutions can encourage the adaptation as well as the emergence of some identities and in the same time they can discourage and erode other identities [Rousseau, D. and Veen, M. 2005, 689].

Though national identities, viewed by a constructivists or primordialists angle, seem strong and powerful “it is important to appreciate that national identity is far more likely to be a contested idea today than one that can be worn lightly” [Delanty, G, 1996, 8]. Globalization, as we shall demonstrate in chapter 3, erodes national identities through technology which facilitates the communication between cultures. The political unity, as demonstrated by the case of Switzerland that we shall demonstrate in chapter 2, is able to produce a collective identity of its community even in the absence of a common language and culture, i.e. two indispensable constituents of the premordialist notion of national identity.

Globalization and Cosmopolitanism, as we shall also demonstrate in chapter 3, erode national identities and nationalism and result in the creation of a global culture and cosmopolitan identity. Thus, a new identity emerges which differs from national identities. This cosmopolitan identity created by cosmopolitan factors is very important in maintaining peace in the world. It creates a shared identity for all nations. As a result, the formation of “we” the citizens of the world reduces the likelihood of war and increases the international cooperation [Rousseau and Veen 2005, 686] Shared identity possessed by democratic countries may even be the third causal mechanism, after similar norms and structures, in the “democratic peace theory” [2005, 688]. It is the shared identity that democratic countries possess which reduces the likelihood of war between them.

Different from national identities and even stronger than the global identity created by globalization and cosmopolitanism, “post-national identity is….. a political identity founded on the recognition of democratic norms and human rights, as these are embedded in a particular constitutional tradition” [Eriksen 2009, 38]. Hobson [2003, 139] argues that unlike national identities which are based on ethnical orientation and on the common culture, post-national identity “is founded on the constitutional principles anchored in the political culture and not on the basic ethical orientations of the cultural form of life predominant in that country”.

Eurobarometer 71 [2009, 39] indicates the most important elements which Europeans think to make up the European identity [Table 1]. In 2009, 41% of Europeans selected ‘democratic values’ as one of the two most important elements that make up European identity. 24% define civic rights or social protections, 11% list entrepreneurship, 25% define geographic position as an important element of European identity, 24% define common history as an important element, 8% list the common religious heritage, 5% claim that there is no European identity, 23% define the common culture [Eurobarometer 71, 39]. Democratic values (41%) and civic rights (24%) are essential part in the post-national theory. Geographic position (25%) in this case does not indicate territoriality in the way that nationalism does. The common religion (8%) is a component of nationalism since the religious groups usually represents larger communities than the nation. The common culture (23%) belongs to both national and post-national theories. Common history (24%) is part of national theories. Figures indicate that European identity, above all, is a post-national identity (65%) which also comprises national elements. We may define it as a Western European continental sense of belonging to a European community comprising primarily post-national, but also national, elements, not least based on Europe’s perceived common history, constructing a pyramid of identities with the sui generis European identity at its top.






Table 1

Most important elements that Europeans think to make up European identity.

Democratic values


Geographic position


Civic rights or social protections


Common history


Common culture




Common religious heritage


There is no European identity


Source: Eurobarometer 71 [39]

Globalization is one of the most important theories which helps in the evolution of European identity by eroding national identities. There are the improvements in the information technology, in communication and transport which give people more possibilities to pass the boundaries of their nation, to get in touch with people of other nations and to learn about other cultures. This interaction results in the diminishing role of national identities and cultures and gives people more choices to develop and maintain the identities they want and to shift in identities without considering nationalism [Sindic 2008, 7]. It is, therefore, evident that globalization stresses the role of communication between different cultures through the information technology, which results in the diminishing role of nationalism as well as in the creation of a global culture [2008, 7]. Thanks to technology, people get information and communicate with people from all over the world, thereby making intercultural communication possible. The amount of information easily accessed by the internet has made national boundaries less and less relevant “turning the planet into a ‘global village…’” [Sindic, D. 2008, 7]. People can nowadays easily travel in different countries and even stay there. They learn about other countries’ cultures. Their friendship and acquaintance is also stretch beyond their national boundaries. As a result of these shared experiences “cultural differences between nations are becoming more and more blurred while cultural hegemony within the nation is becoming more fragmented…..(and) everyday life is less and less framed by nationalist practices….thus the feeling of shared experiences and information with others is no longer concurrent with the limits of nation” [2008, 5]. Furthermore, supra-national entities like the EU and other global economic and political organizations limit the sovereignty states, reduce the role of nationalism, and assist in creating a global culture [2008, 8].

Cosmopolitanism, another theory supporting the further evolution of European identity, derives from a Greek word kosmopolites which literally means ‘citizen of the world’. It suggests that we belong to the whole world not to a part of it. It presupposes that we are citizens of the world and emphasizes the idea of a “world state” where people are all equal. It means to be free from national ideas and prejudices. “Cosmopolitanism considers the case of a world society governed according to the principles of human rights and justice” [Rambour, 2005].

Cosmopolitanism, which Delanty [2009, 35] considers as “one of the most important ways of making sense of the present world”, originates in ancient times. The birth of Cosmopolitanism has been influenced by Alexander the Great’s (356-323 B.C.) efforts to create an ‘world empire’. It gained impetus during the Roman Empire and later on in the Enlightenment whose thinkers and writers used cosmopolitan elements and ideas in their works [Leoussi and Smith 2001, 35]. Reilly, K. [2004, 209] wrote: “at the core of Enlightenment was the idea that people could use reason to overcome the bias and self-interest of their own region, nation, religion, group, or tribe and emphasize with a larger group”, citing Voltaire’s Treatise on Toleration (1763). [cited in Reilly 2004, 211]: “I say we should regard all men as our brothers. What? The Turk my brother?...Yes, without doubt; are we not all children of the same father and creatures of the same God”. Though such ideas were cast by a Frenchman in France and primarily for his fellow Frenchmen, they also shattered in France. The universal “rights of man”, rights hold as human beings as well as citizens of the world, were restricted only to the members of the nation. The principles of the enlightenment were eventually corrupted by the French Revolution, nationalism and chauvinism [Leoussi, A. Smith, A. 2001, 35].

Nowadays cosmopolitanism has regained impetus in the construction and studies of the European identity. Delanty [2005, 4] attaches some cosmopolitan meaning to the European identity when he asserts that “to be European is simply to recognize that one lives in a world that does not belong to a specific people”. With the decline of nationalism, the cosmopolitan identity has become increasingly topical. According to the study of Euroakademia [2012] “Europe cores the highest in the level of cosmopolitan identity… That is why it is so important to consider cosmopolitanism in the study of European supranational identities”. Eurobarometer 71 [2009, 34] indicates that in 2008, 59% of Europeans felt as citizens of the world whereas in 2009 the cosmopolitan identity in Europe increased to a record rate of 64%.

Post-national theory, the basic theory of European identity, presupposes the death of the national era and the emergence of a new era without nations. It suggests that the single market, the political unity, and the common culture and history influence the emergence of the post-national era. Proponents of this theory suggest that a new kind of identity can emerge which will stand beyond traditions of a particular nation [Rambour, M. 2005 p. 5]. Political community and solidarity of the people is not seen as created through common ethnicity and language but through civic rights that citizens hold. These rights make all citizens equal by stressing the political community without regarding them as minority groups, as nation-states do. Eriksen [2009, 38] argues that “Citizens should be seen as bound to each other not by those pre-political ties that nation-states have applied to but by subscription to democratic procedures and human rights”.

‘Constitutional patriotism’ was first projected by Sternberger in 1990 as a theory for European identity [Stojanovic 2003, 79]. After him, Habermas redeveloped this theory. The impact of this theory in the European integration has been huge because it argues for the creation of a demos detached from ethnic ties, as it is the case of EU. Breda [2011, 1] writes that “since its first appearance just over a decade ago, Habermas' constitutional patriotism has inspired a rich and articulate series of theoretical analyses and has indirectly encouraged constitutional projects such as the Constitution for Europe”.

‘Constitutional patriotism’, the source of inspiration for European identity, is a type of post-national theory. In “constitutional patriotism”, people are loyal to the constitution and to the democratic values. They are united by the constitution rather than by the common culture or ethnic tradition [Delantly 1996, 9]. Thomas, D. Schult, Ch. Zuber, H. [2011] define ‘constitutional patriotism’ as: “the patriotism of global citizens who are concerned about human rights,….where citizens feel a sense of patriotism based on their shared political values rather than a shared ethnic identity or language”.

Having outlined above the principal theories on identities and identification processes, I shall now focus on how these theories can be utilized in our understanding of the European identity. The constructivist theory of identity formation explains the present situation of identity shift in Europe from national to the European identity. As Rousseau, D. and Veen, M. [2005, 689] argue, it is the EU itself which influences in the adaption of its collective identity through political and economic integration. The source of loyalty for European identity is ‘constitutional patriotism’. Its solidarity is founded on civic rights, rather than common origin and history.

European identity, with its roots in ancient Roman Empire, gained new impetus in Maastricht Treaty which first established the ‘European Community’. “Throughout the Treaty: (1) The term ‘European Economic Community’ shall be replaced by the term ‘European Community’” [The Maastricht Treaty 1992, 2]. The establishment of the ‘European Community’ brought into foreground the need for a strong European identity as a collective identity of the European political community. This need required and an academic study of European identity. Many authors began to publish their works about European identity like: Schlesinger in 1992, Smith in 1992, Habermas in 1992 and Delanty in 1995 [Walkenhorst,H. 2009, 6]. The Laeken Declaration of 2000 on the future of the European Union emphasized the urgent need for the consolidation of the European identity which served as a political identity [CVCE 2001]. Another effort in consolidating European identity, similar with how nation-states engineered their identities, is the emphasize on Roman Empire as the common history of Europeans as well as the origin of European identity itself.

Scholarly views on European identity differ. “While some scholars believe that European identity is a form of cosmopolitanism (hence a post-national identity), others consider it as a form of nationalism on a new level” [Euroakademia, 2012]. Among scholars who consider European identity as a post-national identity we can mention; Habermas, Rambour, Jackob, Valentini, Walkenhorst, Guler, etc. Among scholars who consider European identity as a new form of national identity we can mention: Smith, Delanty, Sindic, Kaelberer, Clinpoes, Oner etc.

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