Skip to 0 minutes and 10 secondsThe question for European unity has been born of the ashes of World War II. It aims to avoid conflicts and destruction, as those that occurred in the past when rival nations engaged in war. The idea that a European economic and political unit should be supported by a common European identity entered the public and political debate only in the 1970s. It was in the Copenhagen summit of December, 1973, in yet another critical phase of the European unification project, that the notion of a European identity was launched and became a concrete political project.

Skip to 0 minutes and 49 secondsThe text of the Copenhagen Declaration acknowledged clearly that the respect for national and regional diversity within the continent and the flowering of national cultures was part and parcel of a shared European identity and culture. However, it was only 25 years afterwards in the late 1990s and, perhaps, in view of the reconnection of Eastern and Western Europe that the slogan "Unity in Diversity" was launched. What does "Unity in Diversity" mean exactly? And how much diversity can fit into European unity? First, the notion of "Unity in Diversity" values not only national identities but also regional, local, or minority cultures. The level of diversity that is implied is left vague on purpose so that it can be stretched farther.

Skip to 1 minute and 42 secondsSecond, "Unity in Diversity" implies a self-limitation for both unity and diversity. The unity is self-limited. It can never become a close unitary bond, an organic community, as it includes separate and multiple identities. At the same time, diversity is self-limited, as the slogan posits. None of these interlocking and integrated identities will challenge the very element of unity. There are a few problematic points with this slogan. First of all, there is a danger of objectifying the national or subnational identities that constitute the shared European identity. Such local or national identities are, themselves, dynamic and changing. They can be contested and transformed. This needs to be more clearly acknowledged in the conception of "Unity in Diversity".

Skip to 2 minutes and 35 secondsSecond, there is a danger that "Unity in Diversity" becomes too shallow, an empty shell. It transforms into a shared set of minimal civic values and procedural rules about living together, and thus loses its emotional dimension. It becomes irrelevant. The third and most important question is about how much diversity can be included in this unity. As the French philosopher Etienne Balibar argued in an interview given in 2014, "No civilisation has a monopoly on racism, and no civilisation has been immune to it." Racism has been part of the presumed cradle of European civilisation, notably ancient Greece with its slavery system, and continued through the Roman times, as well as in the Age of Discovery.

Skip to 3 minutes and 26 secondsAnd while the Transatlantic slave trade was abolished 200 years ago, it took the Holocaust to reject biological racism in Europe. While criticism against colour racism appeared already in the 1950s and 1960s in Britain and France, discrimination on the basis of religion was only recognised in the 2000s. During the last 25 years, Europe has been experiencing increasing tensions between national majorities and ethnic or religious minorities. Muslim communities have been under the spotlight for being problematic cases, already since the early 2000s, when a series of urban protests in northern England and France erupted. The situation has become particularly tense in recent years because of international jihadist terrorism.

Skip to 4 minutes and 17 secondsMany politicians and experts have argued that Muslims are impossible to integrate in European liberal and secular democracies. Such debates have shown the limits of the "Unity in Diversity" slogan, particularly in regards to religious diversity. European Islam and European Muslims, although largely law-abiding and having taken roots in their new countries of residence, are often treated with suspicion. Turkey's accession to the European Union is another case in point that signals the boundaries of the type of diversity that can be integrated in European identity. While the debate on Turkey's belonging to Europe has been largely driven by political expediency, there is certainly a cultural element in it.

Skip to 5 minutes and 2 secondsTurkey's accession to the EU raises the fundamental question whether Europe conceives itself as a predominantly Christian continent. The debate is still open. Intra-European mobility has also challenged the idea of "Unity in Diversity". European citizens of Roma ethnicity have been the target of racist discourses and of policies attempting to limit mobility within the European Union. Although native of Europe, the Roma are perceived as culturally alien to mainstream European culture while they suffered discrimination in the labour market and housing. The "Unity in Diversity" notion leaves ample margin for national and regional identities in Europe, including, also, minorities to be recognised and respected.

Skip to 5 minutes and 52 secondsHowever, a lot still needs to be done as regards to the inclusion of European Muslims and the Roma, as well as to fully extinguish colour racism.

“Unity in diversity”: really?

This video explains how culture was put on the European agenda.

The need to build a European unity appeared as essential after the World Wars, but was put into action especially in 1973 with the Copenhagen summit. In 2000, the slogan “united in diversity” was introduced.

The video then explains how Europe evolved with regards to the tolerance of cultural diversity, and points out today’s challenges such as the integration of Islam, of the Roma communities and the fight against racism.

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This video is from the free online course:

Cultures and Identities in Europe

European University Institute (EUI)