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European identity and national identities

To understand European identity, one has to understand how it relates to national identity.
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Nations carry a certain cultural luggage, a common language, a common set of customs and traditions, a belief in a common genealogical origin, a shared political culture, a single economy, and a common territory. Each national identity is formed by a varied combination of these elements, along with a desire for self-determination and political autonomy.
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Many people tend to think of a European identity as some type of wider national identity with cultural and civic elements similar to those of a nation, such as one territory, a common history, shared values and traditions, a shared cultural heritage. But a European identity lacks the emotional power that nationalism breathes into people. Indeed, a European identity is not a primary political identity. It does not request its members’ exclusive loyalty as nations do. Then how does a European identity relate to national identities? Some argue that it is like an umbrella, a supranational identity that brings together the European nations. Others argue that European and national identities are nested. They’re like Russian dolls.
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From the local to the regional, to the national, and eventually to the European level, people have different layers of identity. Others suggest that we should see European and national identities like the ingredients of a marble cake. They are mixed with one another but still stay distinct, like the vanilla and the chocolate.
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In our view, European and national identities are intertwined. There is something European to each national identity in Europe. And there are different national narratives or understandings of Europe. Not only is European identity compatible with national identities, but sometimes it also becomes a vehicle for them. This is specifically the case of regional nationalisms. European identity can provide an anchor to smaller nations. Scotland and Catalonia, for instance, have advocated both their will for independence and their desire to be one of the nations of Europe. Last but not least, we may also speak of European nationalism. European nationalism can be defined as the sum of nationalisms of different European countries.
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But it can also be understood as a European cosmopolitan identity that differentiates itself from non-European populations and brings unity in the continent. What is paradoxal, perhaps, is that such a European cosmopolitan nationalism is based precisely on a wish to overcome nationalist divisions in Europe and to avoid future wars like the two World Wars, but also, most recently, the breakup of Yugoslavia.

In this video, we start by defining national identity, as a combination of different elements such as language, political culture, customs.

We then move on to question European identity, stressing its lack of emotional power, compared to national identity. We introduce three models to describe the way European identity relates to national identities: as supranational identity, as nested identities and as amalgated identities.

Finally, we discuss the idea of European nationalism, which can be understood as the sum of the nationalisms of the different European countries, but also as European cosmopolitanism, going beyond nationalism and its violent expressions.

What do you think?

Do you agree that European identity does not have the same emotional dimension as national identities?

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Cultures and Identities in Europe

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