These days, identity is important. In a chaotic, uncertain world, belonging to a group can bring a sense of security and stability. Old identities – nationalities and ideologies – are undergoing a resurgence, defying predictions that they would somehow be less relevant in a globalised future.
However, group members don’t just identify themselves based on what they are. It’s also important, when discussing identity, to contrast yourself with what you are not. Every “In-group” needs an “Out-group”.
On 13 October 2016, Friends of Europe held their annual ‘State of Europe‘ high-level roundtable, bringing together senior policymakers, civil society representatives, and business leaders to discuss the future direction of the continent. One of the topics during the discussions was how to rescue Europe from its sense of doom and gloom, and how to regain the trust and confidence of European citizens.
A provocative contribution was made by the former Polish Foreign Minister, Radosław Sikorski, who argued that Europe needed “bad guys” to help foster a stronger sense of European identity. He cited the example of the EU naval mission to counter piracy off the coast of Somalia, which has effectively brought to an end the (once all too common) hijackings around the Gulf of Aden.
We need to find good enemies. And they exist. They threaten our way of life, they kill Europeans, they smuggle people, they kill others. And we have tackled them successfully before… What better way of showing results than defeating bad enemies?
Other participants, however, warned that this approach was dangerous. Some thought it played into the xenophobic instincts of populists. Rather than focusing on real (or perceived) common enemies such as Somali pirates or the so-called Islamic State, should the EU instead promote common values and cooperation?
Does Europe need a common enemy? Or should European identity be founded on cooperation in the face of common challenges, such as climate change? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!