SEARCHING FOR THE EUROPEAN IDENTITY

It seems difficult to perceive a genuine European identity among European citizens. The reason is simple: the missing aspect is the lack of loyalty and reciprocity relationship which are fundamental in the classic concept of “people”. The concept of “European people” can’t have the same meaning used for the national context, because the European identity can’t take in consideration just common principles and traditions between the European States.

In order to give a proper meaning to the European citizenship, it is necessary to generate a sense of belonging and to identify a cluster of values to characterize Europe, not just as a simple union of States but as an organization with its own cultural identity.

The main issue concerning the concept of Europe as united entity is that not always people perceive it in this way. The concept of identity recalls the concept of roots to be protected and defended. For this reason, in the following article we will try to discover the roots of the European peoples.

EUROPE: MYTHS AND LEGENDS

The myth of Europe is one of the most famous in Greek mythology. It is said that Europe was the daughter of Agenor, the king of Tyre, an important Phoenician city, and that Zeus who fell in love with the girl, turned into a white bull to possess her. One afternoon, Europe saw the bull while he was on the beach with her handmaids. She tried to ride him but the bull kidnapped her, passing through the sea with her and reaching the island of Crete. Moreover, it is said that three sons were generated from the relationship between Europa and Zeus:

  • Minos;
  • Rhadamanthus, the judge of the Underworld;
  • Sarpedon.

Then, Europe got married with Asterios, the king of Crete, and she became the first queen of the Greek island. Because of this, the term “Europe” started to be used to identify the area in which the Hellenic civilization was included. The Europe represented the west, the land of freedom, in contrast with the east, the land of Persians’ slavery.

This is Europe’s myths and legends. Now, let’s go through the EU milestones, in order to discover the real meaning of “European union”.

EUROPE’S HISTORY

After the second world war, the European geographic area was in ruins. Immediately after the conflict, it was clear the necessity to create a strong link between European countries and their peoples. The main need was to end political and economic rivalries between two Countries of the European territory: France and Germany.

In 1946, the ex prime minister Winston Churchill gave a beautiful speech at the University of Zurich, by proposing to create “the United States of Europe”. From that moment, the future of that piece of world named Europe started to be discussed.

1946: WINSTON CHURCHILL’S SPEECH

“I wish to speak about the tragedy of Europe, this noble continent, the home of all the great parent races of the Western world, the foundation of Christian faith and ethics, the origin of most of the culture, arts, philosophy and science both of ancient and modern times. If Europe were once united in the sharing of its common inheritance there would be no limit to the happiness, prosperity and glory which its 300 million or 400 million people would enjoy. Yet it is from Europe that has sprung that series of frightful nationalistic quarrels, originated by the Teutonic nations in their rise to power, which we have seen in this 20th century and in our own lifetime wreck the peace and mar the prospects of all mankind.
[…]
Yet all the while there is a remedy which, if it were generally and spontaneously adopted by the great majority of people in many lands, would as by a miracle transform the whole scene and would in a few years make all Europe, or the greater part of it, as free and happy as Switzerland is today. What is this sovereign remedy? It is to recreate the European fabric, or as much of it as we can, and to provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, safety and freedom. We must build a kind of United States of Europe.”

1949: THE BIRTH OF THE COUNCIL OF EUROPE

In 1949 ten European Countries joined together to found the Council of Europe, the first European organization, and they committed to follow common objectives. These ten Countries were:

  • Belgium;
  • Denmark;
  • France;
  • Ireland;
  • Norway;
  • Italy;
  • Luxembourg;
  • Netherlands;
  • United Kingdom;
  • Sweden.

Nowadays, this organization has 47 States and aims to defend human rights, the parliamentary democracy and the principle of legality, it aims to align social regulations and to promote the awareness of the common European identity.

1950-1992: FROM ECSC TO EUROPEAN INSTITUTIONS

In  1950 the history of the European Union started to take shape. The then minister of foreign affairs, Robert Schuman, proposed to unify in a common market the industries of carbon and steel, both strategically important for the European economy, by putting them under the control of the supranational authority. In 1952 the possibility to unify the European Countries economically and politically was sought, in order to guarantee a durable peace. Then, the ECSC was born, the European Coal and Steel Community, and the Countries to join were: Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, France and Germany.

In 1957 the Treaties of Rome instituted the EEC, the European Economic Community, and Euratom, European Atomic Energy Community. By the Maastricht Treaty, in 1992, a wider Union organization came up beside the communities, which included all the other organizations and that came up to replace them all.

EUROPE TODAY: MEMBER STATES AND APPLICANT COUNTRIES

Nowadays the European Union represents the political and economic union of 28 States:

  • Austria;
  • Belgium;
  • Bulgaria;
  • Czech Republic;
  • Cyprus;
  • Croatia;
  • Denmark;
  • Estonia;
  • Finland;
  • France;
  • Germany;
  • Greece;
  • Irland;
  • Italy;
  • Latvia;
  • Lithuania;
  • Luxembourg;
  • Malta;
  • Nederlands;
  • Poland;
  • Portugal;
  • United Kingdom;
  • Romania;
  • Slovakia;
  • Slovenia;
  • Spain;
  • Sweden;
  • Hungary.

Among the applicant Countries which aim to become member of the EU there are:

  • Albania;
  • Northen Macedonia;
  • Montenegro;
  • Serbia;
  • Turkey.

THE BREXIT AFFAIR

In June 2016, the United Kingdom had a referendum to decide whether to leave or not the European Union. The result of the referendum was positive: the 51,9% of the British population voted to exit from the European Union. The definitive exit of a member State requires a long procedure, and at the end of it, an agreement between the EU and the involved State has to be compiled.

The procedure should have been concluded the 29th of March 2019. However, it seems to have complications for the achievement of the agreement. Because of these complications, through the prime minister Theresa May, the British Parliament asked the European Union for a postponement to rework Brexit’s agreements, in order to avoid a “no deal” exit. The request was accepted by the Parliament, postponing the exit of the Great Britain from the EU to the 31st October 2019. Therefore, formally the Great Britain is not out of the European Parliament yet. This aspect has caused confusion and dismay for British citizens who in May 2019 had to vote for European elections, even if in 2016 they voted in favour of the exit from Europe! It is probably for these contradictions that on the 7th June 2019 Theresa May proposed a second referendum about Brexit to the House of Commons, generating labourists’ disappointment.  The 7th June 2019 Theresa May was forced to resign and Boris Johnson, a strong hard-Brexit supporter, was designated as her successor.

HARD BREXIT E SOFT BREXIT: WHICH IS THE DIFFERENCE?

The former British prime minister Theresa May defines hard Brexit as a total and complete exit process from the EU: the United Kingdom would abandon the European Union and all the treaties and the European institutions of which it is part. The hard Brexit also implicates to give up on being part of the unique European market (with the reintroduction of barriers and duties to export goods in Europe), and it also implicates the end of Court of Justice of the European Union’s jurisdiction and the loss of benefits linked to the status of “European citizens”.

Conversely, the soft Brexit implicates to follow a negotiated path, which allow to United Kingdom to maintain a cooperation relationship with the EU through new treaties. By using the soft Brexit model, the United Kingdom could continue to enjoy the befits related to the unique market of goods and services, while being no more a Union member. As a consequence, a model similar to those of Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein would be accomplished. In fact, while not being EU members, these Countries have access to the free market thanks to specific agreements.

There is still not news about the Brexit affair and about the achievement of this decisive agreement. What is sure is that the UK exit conditions should be agreed by the 27 European national Countries, as a proof of the importance acknowledged to each member State for the maintenance of the community balances.

EUROPE AND OTHER ORGANIZATIONS

Europe is a quite particular body, straddling a federation of states (such as the United States of America) and an intergovernmental organisation (such as the United Nations). Unlike the federations, in Europe the emphasis is placed on the concept of “member”: in that term there is a desire to join the “European club”. Relations between the member States and the EU are governed by treaties requiring ratification by unanimity. While it is true, and in some cases it is necessary, that the Member States delegate part of their sovereignty, it is also true that all the member States carry weight and that among the States unanimity can block Europe. Therefore, the transfer of sovereignty is in favour of building common balances and each Member State is jointly responsible for determining their rules. The present order has succeeded in guaranteeing seventy years of unconditional peace in a continent that had always passed through wars.

THE FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES OF THE EUROPEAN COMMUNITY

The creation of a united Europe is based on values and objectives acknowledged and shared by the member States as well. Because of these values, the EU has a humanist vision and a social model that the majority of its citizens feel like sharing. Among these fundamental values there are the achievement of a durable peace, unity, equality, freedom, safety and solidarity. The Union is explicitly founded on principles of freedom and democracy.

The Charter of Nice, a charter of fundamental rights of the European Union proclaimed in Nice in December 2000 and made legally binding by the Treaty of Lisbon (2009), ratifies all the rights that are actually acknowledged by the member States and by their citizens.

The European institutions have the task of ensuring that these principles are respected. Composed by the Heads of State or Government, the Council of the EU is the body responsible for verifying and detecting violations by Member States. If the Council of the EU finds that there is a serious and persistent violation, it may decide to suspend some of the rights from the member State concerned (in the most serious cases, it may suspend the voting rights of the Government representative of that State in the Council).

Therefore, all member States are obliged to respect the principles specified in the treaties, in the regulations and directives of the European institutions. The values and rights shared between the member States should contribute to foster a common sense of brotherhood in all European citizens. Certainly starting from common principles and values could be helpful to think about the concept of European identity.

The European Union has always shown attention for human rights issues and this attention has made Europe a continent in which freedom and democracy have real importance.  For example, in this regard it is important to point out that the death penalty, which is still in force in many Countries, has been abolished in all the Countries of the European Union.

THE FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES OF THE EUROPEAN COMMUNITY

Multiculturalism is part of European culture since the beginning of time. The coexistence of different cultures, languages and traditions characterizes Europe, enriching its history. European cultures are not just coexisting. The prohibition of discrimination and the principle of equal treatment are very important in European legislation. For example, one of the main manifestations of respect for the cultural identities of European nations is the right of EU citizens to address the European institutions and to receive a response from them in their own language.

Multiculturalism is a model of integration based on the recognition of the rights, not just individual’s ones but also groups’ and communities’ rights living in a Country. Equal treatment and non-discrimination require a social integration strategy that should involve all the member States.
In this frame, the Europe 2020 strategy sets certain objectives for a smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. For example, it aims to make 20 million people exit from poverty and marginalisation and to increase the employment rate up to 75%.

In a broader sense of integration, the Europe 2020 strategy and the Stockholm Programme recognise all the potentialities of immigration for a sustainable and competitive economy.
In this regard, the member States must see integration as a driving force for economic development and social cohesion, as immigrants can contribute further to the economic growth and cultural wealth of Europe.

In the last decade, immigration and the resulting migration policies have been  addressed in order to respond to a social emergency (to know more, read our article on “European policies about immigration” ). However, the emphasis on emergencies has overshadowed foreigners’ process of integration and their social inclusion. In the past few years, the debate had been focused on two main issues: on the one hand the border control problem, and on the other hand the need for a fair distribution of asylum seekers between member States. As a result, integration policies have not received the attention they deserve.

THE IMPORTANCE OF REDISCOVERING THE EUROPEAN IDENTITY

For most, Europe is the cradle of culture, a land of opportunity and a civilised country in which nowadays democracy and respect for human rights exist, a society in which inclusion, tolerance and justice, solidarity and non-discrimination prevail. As Winston Churchill said in his famous speech at the University of Zurich on the 19th September 1946: “Europe, this noble continent, the home of all the great parent races of the Western world, the foundation of Christian faith and ethics, the origin of most of the culture, arts, philosophy and science both of ancient and modern times”. It is really a pity not to take all the steps that have been taken from the end of the war until today, to try to give birth to that idea of a free, united Europe, even if preserving the autonomy of each State.

Our identity depends on what we have been and on what we plan to become together.
The awareness and conviction of belonging to a unique “European population” eliminates the risk of conflicts between governments and citizens of different member States. As history has shown, the logic of exclusion and conflict leads to wars and crises, and about this we unfortunately have a tragic memory.

Being Europeans allows us to feel part of all this! We are used to know the term “citizenship” in a national context, but in the European frame this term gain new contents. It no longer identifies a relationship between the citizen and the sovereign authority (State), but it identifies the sense of belonging to a community, the European one, which is united by human principles and values.  Unfortunately, in 2019, these values are not shared in those parts of the world divided by wars and conflicts yet.

Do you want to discover the rights of a European citizen? Read our article on the Benefits of European citizenship”.

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