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This content is taken from the European University Institute (EUI) & Global Governance Programme's online course, Cultures and Identities in Europe. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 10 seconds Today I will try to give you a sort of introduction about what is European identity. Before answering the question of what is European identity, I think we need to provide the definition of what we mean by identity, as identity, as the term says it, is about sameness, similarity, but it is also about distinctiveness, about how we are different from other people. Now, what we’re interested here is about what we call collective identity– so how we feel similar or different from another group of people. And what are the implications that this has for our life and our sense of who we are?

Skip to 0 minutes and 54 seconds Now, the identity that today is probably the most important for people is their national identity, because it defines their rights and duties in relation to a state. In the European Union, we have also what we call the European citizenship, which is actually dependent on our rational citizenship. In that sense, we can perceive European identity as a political identity that is tightly linked to European citizenship. However, perhaps the way in which we have conceptualised the European identity so far is more cultural and social.

Skip to 1 minute and 34 seconds European identity is cultural in the sense that it signifies a sense of a set of values, a set of shared memories, which can also be memories of conflict and war, that bring the European peoples together. For some people, European culture can have a unitary meaning, and it can bring us all together. For some people, this meaning is very much contested, and it’s actually a source of division among Europeans. What has been often argued, and what we will develop further in following sessions of this course, is the fact that European identity– one of its most important features is its internal diversity. So it is an identity that is characterised by the acceptance, acknowledgement, and respect of cultural and religious diversity.

Skip to 2 minutes and 33 seconds Another issue that is particularly important is that European identity has also emerged particularly in relation to the quest for political unity in Europe. So we might say that that is a little less spontaneous and historically and politically different from national identity, in the sense that the whole public debate about what it means to be European, who is European has emerged in the 1970s. And it was a concrete political movement of the then nine member states of the European economic communities to imbue the European integration project with a symbolic and collective identity sense. And that’s going to be made about European identity is its internal divisions in terms of region within Europe.

Skip to 3 minutes and 33 seconds Often times, it is argued that Southern Europeans have very different sociopolitical and economic experiences than Northern Europeans. But another line that probably divides European identity and that has been particularly salient until 1989 that is probably to this day is that division between Eastern and Western Europe. Actually, these are elements we are going to discuss in the future sessions of this course in relation to both European identity and European culture.

Is there a European identity?

This video defines one of the key concepts of the course: identity, and more specifically collective identities. It introduces the ideas of national identities and of European citizenship.

This video shows how the construction of a European identity is related to an effort to construct a political unity, as in the 1970’s, the member states of the European Economic Community wished to bring a symbolic component to the institutional framework they had built.

This video also points out some divisions that are commonly referred to with regards to European identities, between the North and the South, or between the East and the West.

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This video is from the free online course:

Cultures and Identities in Europe

European University Institute (EUI)