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  Revisiting the Issue of the EU Cultural Identity Revisiting the Issue of the EU Cultural Identity
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2015-05-09 11:05:04
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Recently we have seen in Ovi’s pages a timely and illuminating article by Professor Anis Bajrektarevic which reminded us that the geopolitical roots of Europe are extremely complex and not easily disentangled. He pointed out in such an article that there is a Europe, the Balkans, or the Eastern part of Europe bordering on Russia which is often overlooked vis a vis the Atlantic West and the Mediterranean West in the center. This analysis, to my mind at least, exposes the weakness of defining the EU only in purely economic or geo-political terms. By implication, it also hinted at the fact that there may be another aspect to the European identity which may need to be rediscovered and appreciated, and it will be futile to search for it with the tools of political science, what are needed are the tools of cultural anthropology.

Not that there haven’t been academic studies galore on the subject. In fact, at a minimum five European identity models have been identified. They all have their methodological and theoretical assumptions. Here I’d like to list them briefly and then make a few comments on the first one, the one that I have been proposing in Ovi for the last eight years or so and which I believe is the most comprehensive as well as the most overlooked. The whole will function as a preamble to the issue of new paradigms for the idea of Europe and the relationship between liberty and democracy which we will explore in the next issue of the Ovi symposium.

The five models are as follows:

1. Historical-cultural identity — This model of European identity refers to a perceived common European past with cultural roots and common values. Politicians use this concept in order to signal a historically grown. Academics, such as politico-historians apply a primordialist approach.

2.  Political-legal identity — In order to bypass the ethnic dimension in European identity, politicians favour a republican reading which is based upon citizenship, representation and participation. The academic debate looks at the issue from the perspective of democratic theory and legitimacy.

3. Social identity — The sociological variant of European identity focuses on the popular basis of politics. In the political arena this approach is often referred to as a ‘people’s Europe’ approach. The academic approach is based on communitarian and constructivist theories.

4. International identity — In terms of social collectiveness, this is probably the weakest interpretation of European identity. When politicians use it they mainly indicate the need for a more united image of the EU in world politics. In political science, this interpretation is typified by governance or regime approaches.

5. Post-identity commonness — this model strives to avoid the identity-trap. Political models are inexistent. Political philosophers discuss this question on the grounds of post-modernist and postnationalist theories.

It is worth mentioning here that there is no strictly chronological order in the above models,  each new framework clearly responds to shortcomings in the previous one, except for the last one which declares the incompatibility of identity and integration and negates all the others. However, the first one remains the most comprehensive.

The historical-cultural model of European identity is based on the premise that there is a missing or forgotten historical consciousness of being European. It highlights a common past which needs to be remembered and even commemorated and celebrated for the successful continuation of the European integration process.

Historically the political use of historical European identity is usually linked to the Enlightenment as one of the truly European achievements, but, if truth be said, the roots go much deeper, all the way back to ancient Greek civilization and the Italian Renaissance which was a rebirth of Greco-Roman civilization synthesized, albeit imperfectly, to Christianity. This kind of identity harkens back to a commonly perceived pre-national or pre-modern past, when political and intellectual elites across Europe shared the same cultural, linguistic, philosophical and religious framework. It was called Humanism, and precedes both the Italian Renaissance and the Enlightenment. The process as a whole embodies the myth of a common origin, a continental unity with common traditions, values and achievements.

This search for ‘European-ness’ has indeed divided scholars into those who defend the existence of a historical European identity and those who deny it. The latter point to a lack of a transnational historical experience in the relatively early stage of European integration which itself needs to become a historical process before social bonds grow into a common social reality.

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Vaclav Havel

The political use of European identity is reflected in manifold speeches and dossiers on European integration.  A typical example is Vaclav Havel’s speech “About European Identity” (1994). In Havel’s words: “The European Union is based on a large set of values, with roots in an antiquity and in Christianity, which over 2000 years evolved....” Thus it cannot be said that the European Union lacks its own spirit from which all the concrete principles on which it is founded grow. It appears, though, that this spirit is rather difficult to see in Europe. It has been quipped that it is easier to see outside of Europe.

Under Havel’s guidance a subsequent “Charter of European identity” was drafted, with passionate calls for the European Union to strengthen its federal structure and to establish strong education and cultural policies. The process of re-inventing the European tradition would be one of identity politics with a particular focus on Europeanized education in schools such as a European history book and a European curriculum.

During the European Convention, discussions on the historical model of European identity occupied a great deal of time and space, as it embodied the spiritual and cultural foundations of Europe many were searching for. It accounted for 28 percent of the contributions to European identity, these accounts of European integration discovered the roots of ‘European-ness’ in the humanist values of the liberal-democratic writings surrounding the French Revolution, which even found their way into the preamble of the “Draft Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe.” It stated that the universal values of inviolable and inalienable rights of every human person, liberty, democracy, equality, the rule of law, are derived from the  inspiration that the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe offers to all the citizens of the EU,

As I remember, since I was actively involved in it myself, one of the most controversial debates in the European Convention arose from the question of a specific religious European heritage, namely Christianity. For example, Elmar Brok, chair of the European People’s Party (EPP), supported a reference to Christianity and God, as did the then Italian Deputy Prime Minister Gianfranco Fini, who promoted the European Union as a “community that shares a Judeo-Christian heritage as its fundamental values....” He also stated that “We must make more explicit the roots of European identity, which we see as part of the value of the Christian religion.” As is well known, the majority of the Convention rejected the Christian reference in the final document. The secularists, excluding religion from the public agora and delegating religion to the mere private sphere had won the day. The rest is history!


   
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Emanuel Paparella2015-05-09 15:15:03
As a footnote, let me add here that after the British elections yesterday, it remains to be seen whether England remains in the Union or Scotland remains in the UK. If they don't, they will be further proof, if indeed we needed them, that to form a real political union what is needed is a genuine and strong sense of cultural identity. Moreover, it is a mistake to equate real democracy with liberty. One can have the shell of democracy long after liberty has died and we have gone back to good old xenophobic nationalism. Mere geo-political economic considerations based on power simply will not do.


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