Nowadays, it seems difficult to perceive a genuine European identity among European citizens. The reason is simple: it lacks that relationship of fidelity and reciprocity indispensable for the classic concept of “people”. The concept of the ‘European people’ can’t have the same meaning used for the national context, because the European identity can’t take into consideration just common principles and traditions among the European States.
In order to understand what does it mean to be a European citizen, it is therefore necessary to create a sense of belonging and to recognise a set of values that are identifying Europe, which is not considered as a simple union of States but as an organisation that has its own cultural identity.
And it is this common identity that we will deal with shortly.
A brief history of Europe
In order to understand where the European identity originates, we need to take a few steps backwards, until the second post-war period. In the aftermath of the World War 2, it arose the need to create a bond between the European countries and their peoples in order to put an end to political and economic rivalries. In those years, Winston Churchill, who considered Europe as the cradle of culture, arts, philosophy and science, began to hypothesise the creation of the “United States of Europe” in order to live in peace, security and freedom.
Under these principles, in 1949 ten countries, including Italy, allied themselves to found the first European organisation: the Council of Europe. This organisation, which now has 47 States, has many objectives, including the promotion of the European identity and the defense of human rights, parliamentary democracy and the rule of law.
In 1952 the ECSC, the European Coal and Steel Community, was founded with the aim of bringing together in a common market the coal and steel industries, both of which strategically important for the Economy of Europe at the time, by placing them under the control of a supranational authority.
In 1957 the Treaties of Rome established the EEC (European Economic Community) and in the Maastricht Treaty, in 1992, the Communities were accompanied by a broader system, that of the Union, which incorporated all the other organisations and which ended up replacing them.
It is from these developments that the European Union has developed as we know it, and it is from these developments that the rights and duties of European citizens have emerged more clearly.
Europe today: member states and applicant countries
In June 2016, the UK held a referendum on whether or not to leave the European Union. The result of the referendum was positive: 51.9% of the British population voted to leave the EU. After a procedure that did not come without difficulties, the UK officially left the EU on 31 January 2020.
The Post-Brexit European Union represents a political and economic union of 27 states:
Among the applicant Countries which aim to become member of the EU there are:
What distinguishes Europe from other organiSations
The institutional organisation of the European Union reflects the values upon which it was founded. Europe is an organisation that wavers between a federation of states (such as the United States of America) and an intergovernmental organisation (such as the United Nations). Unlike federations, the concept of ‘member’ is emphasized in Europe. The relations between the Member States and the EU are governed by treaties requiring a unanimous ratification. While it is true, in addition to some necessary cases, that the Member States delegate part of their sovereignty, it is also true that all Member States are given weight and that unanimity between states can block Europe. The transfer of sovereignty is therefore in favour of building common balances for which each Member State competes, together, to determine the rules. The current framework allowed to guarantee seventy years of unconditional peace on a continent that had always lived in war.
The fundamental principles of the European Community
The construction of a united Europe is based on ideals and objectives that are also recognised and shared by the Member States. Precisely because of the values in which the European Union is founded, the EU has a humanist vision and a social model shared by the vast majority of its citizens. These fundamental values include the achievement of lasting peace, unity, equality, freedom, security and solidarity. The Union is explicitly founded on the principles of freedom and democracy.
The European identity is therefore based on this set of values and principles, shared by all those who are part of the EU and defended by institutions such as the Council of the EU, that aims to identify possible violations of these principles by the Member States.
The sharing of values, principles, rights and duties should help to unite all European citizens in a feeling of brotherhood and to promote reflection on the concept of European identity. The attention that the European Union has always shown with regard to human rights issues has made Europe a continent where freedom and democracy become very important. In this respect, it is important to stress that the death penalty, which is still provided in many States, has been abolished in all the countries of the European Union.
Europe and social integration
Multiculturalism has been part of the European culture since the beginning of time. The coexistence of more cultures, languages and traditions characterises Europe and enriches its history. European cultures do not just coexist: in the European regulatory framework, the prohibition of discrimination and the principle of equal treatment have great importance. One of the main manifestations of respect for the cultural identities of European nations is, for example, the right of every EU citizen to address and receive answers from the European institutions in his or her own language.
Multiculturalism is a model of integration based on the recognition of not only individual rights, but also those of each group and community that lives in a country. Equal treatment and the prohibition of discrimination require a strategy of social integration that involves each Member State.
Why it is important to rediscover the European identity
For many, Europe is the cradle of culture, a land of opportunity and a civilised country in which democracy and respect for human rights reign today, a society in which inclusion, tolerance, justice, solidarity and non-discrimination prevail.
Our identity depends on what we have been and on what we want to become together.
The awareness to be part of the ‘European people’ eliminates the risk of conflicts between the governments and citizens of the different Member States. As history teaches us, segregating and conflicting logic leads to wars and crises, and we have a tragic memory of this.
Being European and understanding the importance of one’s identity is essential to live the European “citizenship” with greater awareness, which goes far beyond the national context, as it does not refer to the relationship between the citizen and the sovereign authority (State), but identifies with the sense of belonging to a community, the European one, united by human principles and values. Values that, unfortunately, are not yet shared in all those parts of the world divided by wars and conflicts.