Module II. The European Multinational and Multicultural Identity: assets and tensions, immigration and integration policies

2.1.5. Conclusion: the European identity puzzle

How then can people have an essential equality with something that cannot be defined exactly ? Now it might be supposed that at least all the inhabitants of the European Union have felt an essential equality within their Union since 1992. That, however, is not the case, for there is no Charter of Citizens' Rights to provide the foundation at least for a legislative identity. On the other hand Poles, for example, or Hungarians think of themselves as Europeans just as much as the French or the Germans. Here the essential equality derives from a very vague concept of a common historical past that on closer examination, however, has frequently been an antagonistic rather than a common experience.2

Richard Lewis summarizes the abovementioned thoughts on both identity and its European credentials as follows: “Identity is an amalgam. It is not by acquiring a passport that one becomes a productive citizen, although that is one element. Identity is a fusion of common understanding among groups and a host of local loyalties – family, work, region, language and so on. A European notion of this identity, whether it is political, cultural or based on values, can be foisted on an unwilling audience. But the decline of the nation-state or the rise of the Brussels institutions will probably not make a substantial difference to the way individuals feel about who they are. In due course this might happen; but a European identity will not be created in the space of decades, more in the perspective of several centuries. Much more important in the short-term are the developments and policies at the local level.”3

Activity 5

  • Let’s talk on how the European Union could actively promote this idea of European identity. What actions could be taken?
  • Take a look at the identity card below: do you think tools like these are useful to strengthen European identity? If yes, why? If not, why not?
  • Let’s compare identity in Europe with identity in the US, another federation of states. Do you know what the American credo is? ‘E pluribus Unum’. Do you know what this stands for? Read more on the notion of ‘American Identity’ on

right answer

2 Ohlendorf, Edmund. European Identity as a subject for teaching and learning. EDUVINET, 1998.

3 Lewis, Richard. New Europeans, New Identities – Reflections on Europe’s Dilemma, working paper for The Institute for European Studies (VUB). Brussels, 2008.p.  9-11

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