National and European identities are compatible, FP5 project finds

June 9, 2004

Brussels, 08 Jun 2004

Analysing people's notions of identity can be a challenging task at the best of times. For example there is no standard form of national identity, as our particular education and experiences will play a key role in shaping our perceptions.

On the face of it, therefore, analysing the way in which citizens in nine different countries relate not only to their own nations, but also to Europe and the EU, would appear a daunting task. But that is precisely what a Commission funded research project has set out to do.

The EURONAT project - representations of Europe and the nation in current and prospective Member States - began in September 2001, and received nearly one million euro in funding under the 'Improving human research potential and the socio-economic knowledge base' section of the Fifth Framework Programme (FP5). The project consortium held a public workshop in Brussels on 7 June to present some of its initial results.

The consortium consists of universities from eight countries: Spain, Greece, the UK, Poland, Germany, Hungary and the Czech Republic, under the coordination of the European University Institute in Italy. The partners' task was to analyse representations of Europe and the nation within the media, elites and civil society in nine European countries, including three new Member States, with special attention to the process of EU enlargement. This was carried out through quantitative and qualitative analyses, including questionnaires and in depth interviews in each country.

The objectives of the research are to revise and increase knowledge on representations of Europe and the nation; to study the extent to which national loyalty and identification with Europe and the EU are mutually exclusive; and to highlight similarities and differences between the media, the elite and lay people representations of the nation and Europe.

Dr Atsuko Ichijo from the London School of Economics was concerned with whether or not feelings of national loyalty and European identity are as mutually exclusive as the Daily Mail and the UK Independence Party would sometimes have people believe.

'National and European identities are compatible - this fact was confirmed in our surveys and interviews. Even in the UK, there are people who said they feel European, and interestingly, of those people, 92 per cent said they also feel British. Furthermore, of those in the UK who said they didn't feel European (by far the majority), 50 per cent said that they didn't feel British either,' said Dr Ichijo.

Moreover, Dr Ichijo also found that people are able to separate their European, national and even EU identities. For example, many respondents drew a distinction between their representations of Europe, in terms of its cultural and historical past, and of the EU, represented by more modern political figures and institutions. 'Not only does our research show that the incompatibility argument is redundant, it also reveals how separate European, EU and national identities can combine to create a meaningful whole,' she added.

During the team's work, Professor Nikos Kokosalakis from Panteion University in Athens, Greece, said that three basic categories of citizen had emerged. The most common type he referred to as the 'ethno-centric open' citizen, for whom the nation state comes first, but who can also support European integration without any incompatibility. The two further and much smaller categories consisted of the 'ethno-centric closed' type, who strongly identify with the nation and oppose European integration for fear of losing that national identity, and the 'pluralist cosmopolitan' who identifies first with Europe and then with their own country.

'There are minorities in each country that are negative towards Europe almost to the point of racism,' Professor Kokosalakis told CORDIS News. 'The majority, however, take forward their national identities into their European identities.' When asked to describe the feeling of the 'pluralist cosmopolitan' towards Europe, Professor Kokosalakis reported one respondent as saying 'It is through foreigners that you can best understand yourself', and described many of them as having an 'agony for the future of Europe' which is exposed during times of moral disagreement, such as during the recent war in Iraq.

'Europe is, by common consent, still in the making, so conflict can set it back and that is the source of agony for these enlightened citizens. Even the intense negotiations over the Treaty of Nice, for example, were viewed as natural and positive as they didn't undermine their European dream, whereas moral conflict such as that over Iraq threatens the basis of the European ideal,' explained Professor Kokosalakis.

In analysing representations of Europe and the EU in the media, the team decided to focus on two major events in the recent history of the EU: the Nice European Council in 2000, where disagreements over the amount of say each Member State would have in an enlarged Union were finally resolved after the longest EU summit in history, and the introduction of the euro. According to Professor Bo Stråth from the European University Institute in Florence: 'These two events demonstrate just how dramatically the mood of the media in Europe can shift.'

The introduction of the euro, said Professor Stråth, was described by the media as a symbol of the new unified Europe. 'Euphoria gave way to EUphoria, and the media talked in highly symbolic terms.' However, when leaders at the Nice Summit finally decided to approve the biggest enlargement of the EU in its history, signalling a definite end to the Cold War, the media chose to focus on arguments over voting and other short term political issues. 'Our analysis suggests that the media was reflecting the internal political agenda, but could not identify a deficit in EU identity.'

Professor Stråth drew a strong distinction between those papers in Europe that addressed 'intellectual readers' and reported the nuances of the various issues, and the 'boulevard press' which made an appeal to populist politics and sought to reduce complex questions into very simple terms. 'The UK press in particular stands out from the others - there is the sense that the UK is not inside Europe, but it's not outside, it lies somewhere in between,' he said.

In measuring attitudes towards EU enlargement, the team noted that the less educated and mobile a citizen is, the less likely he or she is to express positive views about the process, regardless of whether they live in the new or old Member States. A sense was also gained from some that, following enlargement, there is now a perception that the EU's borders are more fixed, and that neighbouring countries such as Russia and Turkey should remain 'outsiders'. Among the new Member States, one attitude in particular prevails, and that is that 'integration is a necessity', although this attitude can include both fears (of economic annexation or exploitation) and hopes (of new opportunities and for future generations).

In conclusion, Professor Kokosalakis said that: 'Europe is a very ambiguous concept, but this ambiguity is precisely what allows so many people to feel European.' He said that Europe has a shifting image, but that a common idea that many people have is of an evolving Europe. 'This process [of European evolution] appears irreversible to most citizens - they cannot imagine the end of Europe and want to know what will happen and what kind of Europe they are building for their children,' he finished.

For further information, please consult the following web address: /Index.shtml

CORDIS RTD-NEWS / © European Communities

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