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

2.3. European Values and the EU

"We need a moral code of unifying politics above all with regard to the Europe that still has to be created. Those responsible in the institutions, especially in the Parliament and in the Commission, are required in the name of this moral code to make clear always the priorities and motives for the work of unification: peace, conciliation, tolerance, solidarity, justice, freedom."
Carrefour of the European Commission on 7th. - 8th. May 1997 in Santiago de Compostela.

The point of departure of most discussions on European identity is the idea that a political community needs a common set of values and references to ensure its coherence, to guide its actions and to endow them with legitimacy and meaningfulness. 

Edmund Ohlendorf highlights the ‘need’ for identity: “At the latest when active solidarity is required in the name of Europe - whether internal or external - then each individual, or at least his representatives must answer the question; Do I identify myself with the values on which concrete European actions are based or not ? Without a minimum consensus on common values no state, community or union can survive.“5

So far, the identity of the European Union has predominantly been defined politically. According to the Treaties, the EU is founded "on the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law" (Article 6 of the Treaty on European Union). If there is a risk of a serious breach of these principles by a member state, some of its membership rights can be suspended. In accordance with the principle "unity in diversity", it shall promote the diversity of its cultures, while "bringing the common cultural heritage to the fore" (Article 151 of the Treaty on European Union).

Furthermore, the EU must respect fundamental rights, as guaranteed by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the Union   would further strengthen protection, if the EU Constitutional Treaty were ratified.

As regards the accession of new members, any “European state” can apply for membership, while “Europe” and its borders are left undefined (Article 49).  In addition, it must have stable and democratic institutions, a functioning market economy and adequate administrative structures ('Copenhagen criteria '). 

However, some politicians and observers argue that the EU needs a stronger identity to be viable. Fundamental disagreements were brought to light during the work on the EU Constitutional Treaty (agreed upon in December 2004) that sparked heated debates about a reference to 'God' or 'Christianity' in the Preamble, which now refers to the ‘religious inheritance’ of Europe. The prospect of a possible EU membership of Turkey as well as issues relating to globalisation and immigration have further added to the identity debates. 

So what then should be the values that underpin European identity? Marco Martiniello (cited by Lewis) talks of 5 “non-negotiable core values: non-discrimination, gender equality, physical and psychological integrity of the person, respect for cultural diversity and identities.” There is no room for taking the law into one’s own hands on these issues whether through terrorist acts or otherwise.6

Edmund Ohlendorf offers a different, though essential quite similar, list:

  • personal freedom
  • justice
  • peace
  • plurality
  • unity
  • self-determination
  • prosperity

The challenge in the above-mentioned list lies in which priorities will be made in it.

Even more important than the precise make-up of the list is the question what importance do European citizens attach to it? According to the 2006 Eurobarometer survey, peace (with 52 % indicating that it is important) tops the list. Then comes respect for human life (43 %), human rights (41 %) and democracy (38 %). The rule of law (17 %), respect for other cultures (11 %) and religion 7 %) are way down the list.

Info: University of Tilburg: The European Values Study.

The European Values Study is a large-scale, cross-national, and longitudinal survey research program on basic human values. It provides insights into the ideas, beliefs, preferences, attitudes, values and opinions of citizens all over Europe. It is a unique research project on how Europeans think about life, family, work, religion, politics and society.
The European Values Study started in 1981, when a thousand citizens in the European Member States of that time were interviewed using standardized questionnaires. Every nine years, the survey is repeated in an increasing number of countries.
The European Values Study covers a wide range of human values.

The values are mapped out in the EVS Atlas. Below an example of the item religion: the importance citizens  in different European countries attach to God.

Read more or see more maps on

Activity 6

  • On another website:, you can find maps that give overviews of how different values are experienced not only in Europe, but in the whole world! You can draft your own charts on the state of happiness in the world, how people think about work, how people vote and so on. Send us a copy of one of your maps!

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

6 Lewis, Richard. New Europeans, New Identities – Reflections on Europe’s Dilemma, working paper for The Institute for European Studies (VUB). Brussels, 2008. P.20

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