EUROPE’S IDENTITY CRISIS

FOR DAILYBABEL

“Europe is being built on shared values”

Katinka Wering von Dittrich 

 

The concept of identity has its roots in the communication process and its expression in the bottom-up and top-down levels within society and between countries. This process evolved due to democratic development and the strong position human rights and freedoms has in the most powerful countries of the Western world which, in turn, provides incentives for the production of new identities and the strengthening of old ones. Paradoxically, the dissemination of democracy has instigated an eager defence of the old paradigms by the conservative and Islamic entities of the world. Meanwhile, the concept of identity has become a paramount issue as the consequences of globalisation deepen. 

The creation of the European Union was globalisation’s first step towards establishing personal identities based on geographical, religious or political criteria. Starting with the Coal and Steel Community of 1952, inspired from the Robert Schumann Declaration of May 9th, 1950, the building process of the European identity officially began. Now, however, it faces huge challenges linked to the 2005 failure to ratify the European Constitution and the many problems linked to the integration of new member states into the EU system. 

Ireland’s sceptical stance on the Lisbon Treaty, with its implications for further European enlargement, makes it possible to question the sustainability and effectiveness of the fragile European identity. Nonetheless, the refusal of France and Germany to stipulate concrete terms of reference for the addition of Turkey to the family of European states demonstrates a manifestation of a distinct European identity. The citizens of these two crucial European countries which, according to Eurobarometers have the most developed European identity,  are strongly against EU membership for a Muslim country. Such behaviour may be considered appropriate for those European identity holders who are confronting real troubles with the EU’s deficient management of social integration of immigrants coming from Muslim countries such as Turkey. Other Europeans, however, perceive EU enlargement as a threat for national security and integrity (for instance: in France or Austria), and are supported by nationalist and radical political parties. 

Which brings us to the problem of the Roma people. 

 

The old members of the EU used the negative stereotypes of some small ethnic groups as an extension to attack entire nations or countries. The confrontation between Italian and Romanian authorities on the Roma issue points to the exclusivity of European identity not only in relation with marginalized ethnic groups, but also with new European nations. Insufficient and slow-coming reform and the slow Europeanization of the New Europe (especially, Romania and Bulgaria) has traced a tenuous division between those firmly established European countries and the quasi-European identity the new EU states are trying to establish. 

 

So, a multi-speed Europe could be the origin for a European identity built on multiple levels of perceived European-ness amongst member states. This situation is reflected in national polls where public opinion from new member states appreciates the EU mainly as an economic and wealth-producing source, rather than a source of cultural refinement. A totally different attitude is characterizing a portion of Old Europe’s citizens who increasingly dislike the EU for its tolerance, inclusiveness, low-restrictiveness and openness. From this perspective, the outcome in the European elections prove not only the growing influence of the radical political parties in the majority of European states, but also that EU citizens have a small interest for very important events in European political life. On the other hand, these two facts enforce the argument about the decreasing credibility of European institutions which could ultimately have grave repercussions on the European identity equilibrium.  

 

While the issue of identity is mostly a political one, starting in 2001 it was transferred to the public arena of Moldovan society. Since 2001, the Party of Communists arranged its governance on fighting and combating the Romanian identity that is part of the historical and cultural affiliation of many Moldavians. The restrictions with the usage of Romanian languages, history and even people-to-people relations provided powerful leverage for the Communists to dominate the political arena. But this approach has ultimately clashed with European integration, damaging European identity building in Moldova and bringing about not only the cleavage of Romanian/Moldovan identities, but also between European and CIS/post-Soviet ones.

Polls from the Institute for Public Policy (March 2009) demonstrate that only 65% of Moldovans would firmly vote for European integration while this objective has been declared as a national goal. Meanwhile, Russian leaders are very popular and credible in Moldovan society (Medvedev D. – 73%; Putin V. – 77% ), due to mass-media influence and hegemony. These data reiterate the fact that Moldova continues to be a place where identities clash, where Russian and post-Soviet ideals obstruct the establishment of the European identity. At the same time, the political disturbances with anti-Romanian overtones executed by Moldovan central authorities during the last 8 years are creating additional problems to the European assimilation of the Republic of Moldova. 

In conclusion, neither strong democracy in the EU’s states, nor its spreading around Europe is strengthening European identity within European borders. Unfortunately, the weakness of European identity is nourishing artificial democracies in the European neighborhood and unstable national identities, as in Moldova. Moreover, European identities will, in the future, face more and more robust resistance from Russia, which continues to use its historical and ethnic ties to post-Soviet countries to hinder the European integration of former-Soviet Europe.    

Denis Cenusa is an expert on political affairs and a Daily Babel contributor

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