We like talking about identity here on Debating Europe. In the past, we’ve asked if a common European identity is possible (without a common language), and whether there are such things as shared “European values”.
In recent months, however, the whole issue has taken on a new importance. First there was the Brexit vote, which was seemingly a rejection of European identity; now we’re seeing nationalist rumblings in Catalonia. Much more than cold, hard economics, these events are being inspired by passion, emotion, and, above all, by identity.
We had a comment sent in by Alberto, who suggested the EU cannot survive without a common European identity. He believes we need something greater than mere bureaucratic institutions binding us together. Is he right?
To get a response, we spoke to Pier Virgilio Dastoli, President of the Italian Council of the European Movement and a member of the pro-federalist Spinelli Group. What would he say?
From my point of view, European identity is intrinsically linked to the political system of the European Union. To have a genuine European identity, we need to create a system establishing a link between citizens and the European system. For me, I am a federalist, that means voting for a European parliament with the knowledge that it’s going to create a European government. That is one element of European identity. Without that step forward in terms of a true European government, we cannot have a true common identity.
To get another perspective, we also spoke to José Luis Martí, Associate Professor of the Philosophy of Law at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, whose research focus includes questions of democratic legitimacy. What would he say?
Having a common identity can happen at different layers. So, you might have an international common identity, a national common identity, or you might have a linguistic identity, and so on. So, I hope a collective of people doesn’t really need to have a very thick common identity in order to have a democracy. Because, if that is not the case, then many current democracies would be in serious trouble. So, it’s not true in the UK, or United States, or France, or let’s say Spain (maybe not the best example today); there are many examples of people who have managed to have a common democracy without having a common identity.
Some people argue that all you need for a common democracy is a basic agreement of common principles and values, such as agreements about what the constitution should protect, and so on. I would say that even this is, strictly speaking, not necessary in order to have a democracy. I think all that is required is some widespread will to live together and create that common structure. I think that is the only precondition that is required. Other than that, of course sharing certain things might help, and it might make it easier to get into understandings with people with whom you share the same language, culture, or history. But I think it’s not strictly speaking required. That cannot be the excuse not to have a democracy.
Can the EU survive without a common European identity? Do we need more than bureaucratic institutions to bind us together? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!