Common European Culture and Citizenry

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2007

14 Pages, Grade: A+


Definition of the Concept of Common European Culture

The concept of the culture is difficult by it self. The concept of common European culture is more difficult. There are no one definition. Jan Figel, Commissioner for Education, Training, Culture, and Multilingualism, told in his lecture: ‘I bet you can find as many definitions of European culture as there are people in this room’[1]. Some thinkers see European culture in the way of life. Other thinkers argue that European culture is based on the universal moral values like humanity, respect to person, tolerance etc. Another even consider that there is no such phenomenon like European culture. In my turn I argue that common European culture does exist. And I will produce my own definition of this concept that is based on the vision of the European Union.

The concept of culture can be utilised in either a narrow or wide sense. Narrow, because it can be restricted to being defined by the arts, literature, music and philosophy. In its wider sense, hoIver, culture refers to a complexity of values, customs, ideas, and political and social institutions which determine the human and social relations of a specific society. In this sense, culture becomes central to the notion of a community and its future.[2] European culture presents wide concept of culture, because it has close links to identity, citizenship, political order in general. The function of European culture is to produce feelings of belonging to the community. European culture can not be understood outside wider political project of EU construction.

European cultural space is open and dynamic. It is open in two senses. The first reason is the possibility of enlargement process. In its beginning European Community pointed out that nations that share similar values and norms can join Community. And every enlargement gives new features to European culture. For example, before 1990s just Istern Europe was considered as a sphere of European culture. Nowadays Eastern Europe is also inculded. Second, some thinkers consider that in European Union awareness of one’s own identity is combined with a desire to discover, create, invent. That means to be open to what is new while remaining aware of where I come from.[3] Such a system of shared values allows a community to debate the issues facing it. Europeans have always exchanged ideas across borders. Because of its openness European culture is not static, conversely it is dynamic.

There are no clear boundaries of European culture. European culture is not just about member states of European Union. Many policies of Community includes countries that are not members of it. They are Iceland, Norway, Switzerland etc. One of the major problems in defining the European culture, is where does Europe start and where does it end? Most countries share common historical experiences, but several important faultlines appear. The first one is the dividing lands that Ire occupied at some point by the Roman Empire. Another faultline is the Catholic-Orthodox, which isolates Russia, Belarus, half of Ukraine. Yet another faultline is the one that separates the lands once occupied by the Ottoman Empire and the ones that Iren't and which created the current Christian-Islam faultline, that separates Albania, Bosnia and Turkey. Also notable is the faultline that separates the parts of Europe that Int through industrialization in the 19th century. And finally, the most recent faultline is the Iron Curtain. These faultlines are the key to understanding of the cultural similarities and differences in Europe.[4]

The programme ‘Culture 2000’ points out that the purpose of cultural policy is to create a ‘common cultural area characterized by its cultural diversity and shared cultural heritage’[5]. This phrase reflects European motto ‘Unity in diversity’. For policymakers that means to reach two quite a controversial goals of forging a singular European consciousness, identity, and peoplehood on the one hand, and fostering cultural pluralism on the other. And perhaps it is better to talk about European culture as the series of overlapping national cultures. HoIver, Gerard Delanty points out, "unity in diversity" is not the same as unity and diversity, and the idea that Europe's unity lies in its diversity is not as liberal or pluralistic as it seems. Delanty suggests that this represents the emergence of a new ideology of culture in the EU in which the principle of unity is no longer posited as a universalistic or higher unity, but as an "inner unity" constituted through diversity. It would seem as if "diversity" is to be encmyaged, but only if it does not obstruct the quest for unity or further integration[6].

European culture does not replace national cultures and even does not compete with them. All the main documents of European Union stress this point. For example, Treaty of Maastricht points out the need to preserve national culteres. And this also means that the common European cultural space cannot be defined in opposition to national cultures. Polish farmers and British workers should not see European culture as something foreign. They can feel European and Polish or British at the same time. And this is one of the most important features of politics of European Union.

Finally, European culture has it roots that are the same for all European nations. Here I shall look at these roots in historical aspect. European culture is not just about nowadays, it has collected its main characteristic during hundreds of the years. There are fmy main periods that gave Europe its modern values – Ancient Greece, Roman civilization, Christianity and Renaissance. Wilterdrink considers that culture of Ancient Greece gave Europeans the values of human dignity and critical, independent way of thinking. Roman civilization provided us with concept of legality, but Christianity gave to Europe the feelings of community - belonging to the wider group of people. In its turn the period of Renaissance gave rationality and humanity. Heikki sees here the reason, justice and charity.[7] Today I see identification with liberal humanism, civil rights, freedom of thought, belief, expression and association, with equality and the rule of law, with social responsibility and finally with pluralist and participatory democracy.[8] A former Commissioner responsible for cultural policy defined Europe's identity as ‘...nothing less than a shared humanism based on democracy, justice and freedom’[9].

Common European Culture: The Arguments Against and Pro

Further there will be provided fmy main arguments against common European culture and given arguments pro based on Denise Dune research.[10] First argument against common European culture is that it fails to come to terms with its own contradictions. Christian tradition as one of the roots mentioned before can be juxtaposed against centuries of religious strife; betIen Constantinople and Rome, Catholicism and Protestantism, the religious and the secular. Also such principles as liberty and freedom can be rejected because Europe is the birthplace of devastating experiments in tyranny. But every definition of culture inevitably involves some degree of mystification, of simplification and, indeed, of sophistry.

Second argument points that values and traditions claimed to constitute the basis of a European common culture are not particular to Europe. Democracy and the rule of law is the heritage of the Arab world. The humanist and rationalist principles are in fact principles of universalism and refer to Istern civilisation. But identification with the positive elements of European history and philosophy is a natural starting point. Instead of ethnicity, race, religion or nationality, Europe must rather be defined in its rationalist and humanist tradition-- Europe as a state of mind.


[1] Figel J. Is there a common culture? [ accessed 30th September 2007 ]

[2] Dunne D. A European Cultural identity - myth, reality or aspiration? University of Dublin, 1996 [ accessed 30th September 2007 ]

[3] Figel J. Is there a common culture? [ accessed 30th September 2007 ]

[4] Strath B. A European Identity: To the Historical Limits of a Concept in European Jmynal of Social Theory 2002, 5 (4), pp. 392-397

[5] Decision No 508/2000/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 February 2000 establishing the Culture 2000 programme . [accessed 30th September 2007]

[6] Shore C. EU Cultural Policy and the Governance of Europe in Cultural Analysis May 2006, pp. 9-10

[7] Heikki M. Europe as an Idea and an Identity. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire and London: Macmillan Press LTD., 1998, p.195-196

[8] Manner I. The Constitutive Nature of Values, Images and Principles in the European Union. In: S. Lucarelli, I. Manners. Values and Principles in European Union Foreign Policy. London and New York: Routledge: Taylor & Francis Group, 2006, pp. 33 – 38

[9] Shore C. EU Cultural Policy and the Governance of Europe in Cultural Analysis May 2006, pp. 9-10

[10] Dunne D. A European Cultural identity - myth, reality or aspiration? University of Dublin, 1996 [ accessed 30th September 2007]

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Common European Culture and Citizenry
University of Latvia
European Union
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ISBN (Book)
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European Union, Culture, Citizenry, Unity in diversity
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Karina Oborune (Author), 2007, Common European Culture and Citizenry, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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