European identity and Europeanisation. Focus on an underestimated topic

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2010
17 Pages, Grade: 1.7
Ron Böhler (Author)


1 Introduction ... 3
2 Concepts of `identity' in Europe ... 4
2.1 Spheres of identity in the European Union ... 4
2.2 Towards a European identity? ... 5
2.3 Criticisms of identity formation in the EU ... 6
2.4 European citizenship: Any effect on identity? ... 7
3 Theories of Europeanisation and European identities ... 8
3.1 Three major approaches ... 8
3.2 Multi-level governance and the missing link to identity ... 10
3.3 Identity and Legitimacy in the European polity system ... 11
4 Conclusion ... 13
5 Bibliography ... 15

1 Introduction
`[It] is necessary to distinguish European identity from Europeanisation. The concept
of a European identity can be easily dismissed as an elusive and contradictory creature;
it can even be regarded as utopian' (Demossier 2007, p.53). Taken this into
consideration, the European Union (EU) faces a dilemma: While life and politics of the
European citizens become more and more Europeanised, the emergence of a European
identity seems to fail. People all over Europe cannot identify with the idea of European
unification as a whole, although this might spread peace, freedom and welfare. On the
other hand, if the EU or its citizens themselves would be able to create European
`imagined community' (Anderson 1991), by whatever means, the split between both
concepts would be overcome. But how is the concept of `identity' then connected to
Europeanisation processes?
The main argument here is that `identity' still is an underestimated object of
Europeanisation theories, but that the rise of hybrid identities, and with it the
manifestation of Europeanised national identities instead of a European identity all over
Europe, holds the explicit potency to establish the missing relationship between
European citizens and EU politics. This would lead suddenly to a strengthened
legitimization of European Union policies as well as people´s belief in the justification
of a supranational polity within a system of multi-level governance (Hooghe and Marks
2001, p.51-52).
Three major shortcomings of Europeanisation theories are thus identified: a)
Europeanisation approaches have poorly understood the significance to integrate the
concept of `identity' as one of their main objects; b) theoretical approaches still focus
too much on top-down processes in order to socially construct a `European identity' up
from the bottom and c) the development of multiple European identities rather than a
single European identity is essential to enhance legitimization, and as a consequence

thereof democracy, of the European Union in which an identificatory link between
Europe and its citizens is still missing.
In the first part the underlying concept of `identity' in the European socio-
political context will be defined and elaborated in its different levels and peculiarities.
The second part addresses the various theories of Europeanisation as they mirror the
current state of the scientific debate. The essay concludes by extracting the additive of
the concept of `identity' for Europeanisation theories.
2 Concepts of `identity' in Europe
2.1 Spheres of identity in the European Union
Although the scientific literature on `identity', also and above all in the context
of an emerging European Union, is vast, the concept remains rather vague and
discursive. Identity is not a one-dimensional self-characterization of an individual, but
consists of multiple layers. Personal identity as the inner consistence of a person (Kohli
2000, p.155) will not be taken into consideration here as it is not an expression of socio-
political and collective belonging to a certain group. Instead, the latter superior concept
of identity are of interest. Social identity, understood as the embedding of the individual
in interaction processes with other individuals leading to the identification of them as
well as by them (ibid.), is never unique. Every single person lives in various social
positions, fulfils different social commitments or is involved in social actions and is
likely to be a member in multiple social groups, may it be the church choir, sports clubs
or political parties. Rather than speaking of the identity, people possess several hybrid
identities ranging from the local and regional level to the national, occasionally
transnational and finally the European level (Hooghe and Marks 2005, p.423; Risse
2001, p.201). European identity today is often seen as a desirable outcome of

Europeanisation processes, although the national identity still captures the priority
position as people associate with it their cultural and socio-political heritage within a
given territory. (Smith 1992, p.58) The question thus raises, why the nation state
apparently succeeded in community-building while the EU seems to be incapable to do
so. Kohli has the suspicion that, the European citizen might not be able to `balance
competing identity claims' (2000, p.115). This point of view is remarkably challenged
by the concept of multi-layered identities explained above. A European identity for
instance constitutes one other identity layer among others. Nevertheless, the degree of
identification with the own socio-economic environment as well as with the historically
risen nation state is significantly higher than with the political European community.
2.2 Towards a European identity?
The history of identity-building within the European Union can be divided into
three periods which are characterised by different approaches to install and enhance a
European identity. In its attempt to legitimise the ongoing transfer of national
sovereignty towards European supranational institutions, e.g. the European
Commission and the European Parliament, the EU has tried to establish a feeling of
community for many years. From the early 1970s onwards until the entry into force of
the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992, the then European Community tried to underscore the
commonly shared cultural heritage of all Europeans (Stråth 2002: 388). Then, with the
Treaty on European Union in 1992 the European citizenship replaced former loose top-
down approaches towards community-building. The Commission tried to delineate a
supranational citizenship that corresponds to national citizenships and that hopefully
would have similar effects on identification with the EU (Karolewski 2010, p.107).
Both phases are nonetheless characterised by top-down processes initiated by
the European Union in order to underpin the cumulative shift of national decision-

making processes towards the European with socially constructed public support. Even
though the attempts showed rather little effect, `[a] Community of Europeans' (Risse
2010) is by far not an imagination, but social reality. In a recent Eurobarometer survey,
94 % of the European population indicated that they feel tied to their national identity,
91% to their region and still 74% to Europe (Eurobarometer 2009, p.34). This does
indeed not mean that ¾ of all European citizens feel explicitly European. To use a subtle
distinction made by Demossier, the European citizens may have developed `a sense of
belonging to Europe' as well as a collective imagination of `what it means to be
European' (Demossier 2007, p.53).
2.3 Criticisms of identity formation in the EU
There might be a reason, why the construction of European identities failed to
appear so far on a large scale. Anthony Smith argued that, in comparison to the nation
state, the European Union cannot provide the old-established stimulants like a common
language, history and cultural traditions that trigger the certain awareness of a shared
identity with others (Smith 1992, p.58-60). `Europeanhood' is unlikely to accompany
nationhood. Furthermore, he described the same characteristics as being
counterproductive for a European idea as they would rather split the European nations
(Smith 1993, p.134). Kantner extends this argument and questions all-out the benefit
and necessity for cross-national identity-building: `[A] strong European identity is not
a functional precondition for legitimate democratic governance in the EU as far as
everyday politics is concerned' (2006, p.502). This view doubtless ignores the problem-
solving capacity of European identity formation as this would enhance public support,
strengthen solidarity, active participation and promote the insertion of a political vision
for a future Europe (Walkenhorst 2009, p.2-3).
Excerpt out of 17 pages


European identity and Europeanisation. Focus on an underestimated topic
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Ron Böhler (Author), 2010, European identity and Europeanisation. Focus on an underestimated topic, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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