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Is there a European Identity? If yes, why? If not, why not?

Hausarbeit 2017 12 Seiten

Politik - Internationale Politik - Thema: Europäische Union



1. Introduction

2. Definitions
2.1 Definition “Identity”
2.2 Definition “collective identitiy”
2.3 Definition “European Identity”

3. “Stations” of European Identity
3.1 Ancient Greece
3.2 Ancient Rome
3.3 Pilgrimage
3.4 European consciousness in the early modern period

4. Survey “Generation What?”
4.1 "Generation What?" How do young people notice Europe?

5. Conclusion
5.1 Outlook

1. Introduction

Europe is divided into more than 40 national states and over 700 million people live there. Europe has no common language, and compared to other continents, such as Africa or Australia, which are surrounded by the sea, the borders of Europe are not that clear, so one could speak of a European construct because it is artificially created and not a natural space. The question arises whether the "European identity” therefore is only a construct, or whether it actually exists. Demands for a stronger European identity are being raised by politicians across Europe. The question, however, is how a European identity can develop at all. Europe has always distinguished itself by its ability to continually evolve and renew itself, which is a glimpse into European history. The question arises whether the formation of a European identity was, or is possible at all, with constant reorganization or further development, since self-assurance, which belongs to the formation of identity, stands in tension with a willingness to develop further. The particular difficulty of this essay lies in the definition of "European identity". Some understand the "identity" as a state of shared feelings of different persons, which implies question of whether these shared feelings have already been there, or are to be created. Further questions are whether people have a single identity, or have several, and whether that identity can change or not. Also "Europe" is not clearly defined. For many people Europe is equal to the European Union, but Turkey can also be counted as a part of the country is on the European continent. In other words, Europe could also simply include all those who live "European" and thus have similar political or cultural values. In order to give these blurred definitions a clear line, the "European identity" is defined and restricted in the following chapter. In order to obtain an answer to the initial question, the following chapters will also present "Stations of European Identity"[1], which means that the history of Europe is to be sketched in order to recognize the roots of the continent and to analyze how these stations influence today's Europe and the "European identity". To get a current impression of whether the people who live in the continent of Europe feel like Europeans, I will refer to the "Generation What?" survey. In this survey, specific questions were asked about a European feeling and answered by most countries in Europe. My thesis is that the chronicle of Europe with its "stations" has created a common history which is a good basis for a European identity, but that there are still some opposing processes that stop or inhibit such identity. Therefore, the citizens of Europe are divided in relation to the issue of European identity.

2. Definitions

In my view, a European identity is a "collective" identity, and for that reason, after the definition of "identity", the principle of "collective identity" is explained. Afterwards, it is then explained what is meant by a "European identity", since this “word-pair” is the heart of this essay and can be interpreted in many ways. Due to the briefness of this essay, not all facets of an identity can be treated and taken into account.

2.1 Definition “Identity”

According to the German social psychologist Heiner Keupp,” identity” is the answer to the question of who is oneself or who is someone else.[2] In the psychological sense, “identity” answers the question of the conditions that make a life-historical and transversal equality possible in the perception of one's own person[3]. According to Keupp, identity is also an act of social construction, which means that it is always about creating a fit between the “subjective "inside"” and the “social "outside"”. In other words, identity is about individual social positioning. An individual identity construction is necessary, since it points to the human basic need for recognition and belonging[4]. In summary, the identity is a self-reflective link between the inner and the outer world. The identity should be distinctive and individual and, on the other hand, socially acceptable. Another identity theory according to the psychoanalyst Erik Erikson states that identity defines the basic feeling. The "sense of identity" is the basis for answering the question "Who am I?"[5]. The term "identity" is often used analogously to the characterization of persons. According to a concept by H.G. Petzold, the identity is the unique personality structure of the human being and gives the answer to questions such as who am I, what represents myself, to whom I refer to and whereof I define myself. According to him, the identity is a lifelong process that manifests itself, among things as in facial expressions, gestures and language, and in self-awareness and faith in oneself[6].Identity develops and is supported by five pillars: 1. Body and mind, 2. Relationships, 3. Work and achievement, 4. Material security and 5. Values[7]. Identity crises can occur when one or more of these pillars twist or change a lot[8].

2.2 Definition “collective identitiy”

Why are many people willing to donate money to people from their own nation in the event of a catastrophe, and to help in distress and hesitate, on the other hand, to help people who live far away? One answer is the concept of collective identity. According to Prof. Dr. Klaus Eder, social boundaries between the inside and outside of a community, the feeling of belonging and community belong to the collective identity[9]. When one speaks of collective identity, one asserts a certain similarity of the members of a community, as opposed to the others. The difference to the individual identity is that the collective identity can be attributed to several communities and connected with them. As a collective, a group of people is defined, which can be summarized into a group through common norms and values. Individuals identify with these groups, are part of them, and influence the formatting and transformation of identities[10].

2.3 Definition “European Identity”

If the definitions of individual identity and collective identity are related to the concept of European identity, "European identity" should be defined as an identity which has a basis of solidarity and loyalty, and that people in Europe are cognitively and emotionally connected with Europe as one imaginary space[11]. At the same time, a European identity can also exist alongside other national or cultural identities or affiliations. There are many approaches that try to define "European identity", so there is not the "one" right definition. European identity can therefore also be defined, on common norms, values ​​and behaviors shared by the European population or members of this group. For my further analysis in this essay, I will focus on the European identity, which is defined by the sense of belonging to the space "Europe" and the division of common European norms, values ​​and behaviors, which have also developed from European history. This definition implies that members or residents of other European countries are closer to norms, values ​​and behaviors than other non-European countries.

3. “Stations” of European Identity

The present culture and intellectual history of Europe developed in the reception and discussion of the ancient achievements of Europe. Europe, as it is today, has evolved over the centuries, and is only because of history what it is today and the reason how people perceive Europe. The common experiences of Europe are not only negative, the world wars, imperialism and colonialism are often the focus, but Europe has also gained the basic- and human rights from its experience, introduced the rule of law and popular sovereignty, and made freedom and individualism possible. In order to show how European history has shaped Europe to this day, the following chapter outlines various "stations" of European history which were elaborated by different authors in a book of the German centre for political education Baden-Wuerttemberg[12]. These stations can be interpreted as Basis of a European Identity.

3.1 Ancient Greece

Culturally, ancient Greece has strongly influenced Europe, especially in philosophical terms with figures such as Plato or Aristotle and their writings on the rational life. In addition to Plato and Aristotle, there are also Thales, Hesiod, or Heraclitus, which have characterized the natural sciences and logical rational thought. Likewise in the field of literature there are well-known persons, to whose world literature is still referred today. Even today, fine arts are still orientated to antique works and measures.

Particularly noteworthy are the roots of democracy, which are also found in ancient Greece. Democracy is indispensable in today's Europe.

The name "Europa" also finds its roots in ancient Greece. According to Greek mythology, the Phoenician daughter "Europa" was kidnapped by the godfather Zeus in a bull shape. However, when the name "Europe" was transferred to the continent, is controversial[13].

Ancient Greece has strongly contributed to today's European identity. The philosophy, architecture, science, social and political order of ancient Greece has left great and lasting traces in today's Europe, which can no longer be thought away today. It is also characteristic that the culture was built out of freedom rather than of domination. Freedom is still one of the most important and major aspects of Europe today[14].

3.2 Ancient Rome

According to Karin Winkler, a German author of essays about the ancient Rome, the Roman Empire already had much what the EU today has or still strives for[15]. A valid currency, as well as freedom of religion, a common language or free passable borders. The Roman Empire, was also associated with conquest, bloodshed, and the destruction of other cultures, in order to emerge and flourish itself. In the course of the centuries the political order of the Roman state has changed, from a royal rule to a republic and further to an empire.[16] Later there was a stable Roman constitution and control principles, which were characterized by the annual change of the most important offices. Thus abuse of power and corruption were mostly prevented. Reasons for the fall of the Roman Empire were manifold, so it moved on for centuries. The vast domination area was at the same time a problem, as it became increasingly difficult to fight and control enemies, so that many enemy invaders entered the Roman Empire[17].


[1] Cf. Deutschland & Europa, Europäische Identität, LpB BW, Book 52/2006.

[2] Cf., keyword: Identität, (01.01.2017)

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Cf. Erikson, E.H. (1964). Einsicht und Verantwortung. Stuttgart: Klett., p. 87.

[6] Petzold, H.G.,, “Die fünf Säulen der Identität” (the five pillars of identity): online, (01.01.2017)

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Cf. Eder, Klaus, A theory of collective identity, p.1-2

[10] Cf. Eder, Klaus, A theory of collective identity, p.1-2. online, (11.01.2017)

[11] Cf., Europäische Identität und die Zukunft Europas (European identity and Europe’s future), online, (01.01.2017)

[12] Cf. Deutschland & Europa, Europäische Identität, LpB BW, Book 52/2006, (11.01.2017)

[13] Cf., „Europa“, online (11.01.2017)

[14] Schipperges, Stefan, in: Cf. Deutschland & Europa, Europäische Identität, LpB BW, Book 52/2006, p. 14,

[15] Winkler, Karin, in: Deutschland & Europa, Europäische Identität, LpB BW, Book 52/2006, p. 18

[16] Ibid.

[17] Cf., “Is the European Union like the Roman Empire?”, online (01.01.2017)


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
881 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Collegium Civitas
Europa Europe Identitiy Survey Politik Politics European Union EU europäische Union Europäische Identität

Titel: Is there a European Identity? If yes, why? If not, why not?