The Phenomenon of European Union and Its Identity

The Phenomenon of European Union and Its Identity

Jún 28, 2013

First of all that I have to reveal and it is a well-known fact, that all people who hold the nationality in any of the 27 EU member states are also EU citizens. This means that while they are citizens of their home country, with the rights and responsibilities that citizenship involves, they are also citizens of the European Union, with extra rights and duties. Today shows us that this can be a difficult idea to grasp. While it is fairly easy to understand how one is a citizen of a state, it is harder to define citizenship of an international organization such as the EU. While certain key elements of EU citizenship are laid out in the EU treaties, wider questions exist about what it really means for the people of Europe. Can there be such a thing as a European ‘identity’ – do symbols such as a European flag or anthem actually help people to feel more European? In the last sentence I outlined two problems in fact with which I need to deal in my essay. Or to be correct, I should deal with them in my essay. Firstly, I need to deal with the question of European identity, its content and consequences, and then I would like to focus on a problem if legal construction of EU citizenship can create a basis for the aforementioned European identity.

Europeanism and European Union

Nowadays, we are often and with some kind of passion talking about European identity, about Europeanism, but I think that the problem arises, when we are trying to define these notions. The problem arises when we are trying to find a content of an idea of Europeanism, to which is the EU citizenship very narrowly connected. Therefore the question, if do Europe’s people truly regard themselves as ‘Europeans’, or if this is a fiction which attempts to transform geography into a „state of mind“, is so actual. This question is often posed in connection with debates concerning the amount of sovereignty that nation-states can, or should, transfer to the European Union. Many people are wondering, when they are asking, if they regard themselves as ‘Europeans’. When I am talking about people, I am talking about average Slovaks, because I come from Slovakia and therefore it is very difficult for me to reveal feelings of others nationalities from the member-states of European Union. I had already mentioned that people in Slovakia are wondering when they are being asked about their European identity. I will try to explain this wondering. For many of them it is for twice already, when they became Europeans. For first time, it was in 1989 after the Velvet Revolution,[1] when we recovered our freedom and self confidence after more than 40 years of period of totalitarianism. With slogans as: “Welcome, the Europe,” we were trying to declare our struggle to built up new free society in Czechoslovakia and after than in Slovakia, which should lead into our European affiliation. For the second time, in our history we could read and hear very similar slogans or statements on the first May of 2004 when we became a member of European Union. The majority of public in Slovak Republic perceived this occurrence as a moment when we ultimately finished our way towards the western Europe. It was an evidence that we became a country, which respects human rights, democracy and others principles on which the European Union was based. Despite the fact, that we were declaring our “new” European identity in 1989 and also in 2004, it was not true at all. All these declarations were taken by public in their pure metaphorical sense, because in fact, everybody felt his European affiliation long before. In my opinion, this is the rudimental problem of European identity at all. For most of us, this is a part of identity, which is somehow hidden and which we perceived like something obvious and apparent and about what we do not need to talk or meditate. To be a European was or still is for us something self-evident, it did not need to be professed. But what is the reason?

I think, that I can rely on Vaclav Havel’s opinion, who claimed: “If Europe, until recently, paid so little attention to its own identity it was because it incorrectly saw itself as the entire world; or, at least, considered itself to be so much superior to the rest of the globe that it felt no need to define itself in relation to others. Inevitably, this had deleterious consequences on its practical behavior”.[2] I have to add, that it still has a crucial impact on political behavior of European politicians. Until now, European unification, and its meaning in the wider context of civilization, has been hidden behind technical, economic, financial and administrative issues. But Europe and the world has changed and now we are beginning to feel a necessity to define our position in this new situation, where Europe has almost stopped to play the main role in the world of economics and politics. Before I try to outline boundaries of our European identity I cannot ignore a problem, which is connected with the Europe as a continent. When we refer to Europe, we are talking about it like it is an obvious notion, which we can easily imagine and define. But it is also relative.

DIPLOM JURAJSources of Europeanism

The question is: “What is Europe?” Jacob and Maier claim: “Positively, Europe can be defined as  a jagged and ragged end of the Eurasian landmass. But there is no agreement at all where this part begins, and to call it as a continent is certainly an abuse of a language. To situate Europe geographically is therefore already problematic, but it is even more difficult to define Europe historically and culturally. For example, the question if the Mediterranean area should be considered as European has been answered in many ways. One can claim that no original founding principle for Europe can be identified. Greek and Roman origins are situated in the periphery and, anyway, these sources precede what can be called Europe. The Christian principle originated in Asia, and will only be developed fully after a millennium.”[3] Despite the facts I had mentioned, I consider this point of view a bit skeptic. The current motto of European Union is “United in Diversity”, a cheery catchphrase designed to evoke a continent working together for “peace and prosperity”. Nowadays it seems that this slogan refers more to diversity than to unity. According to me it is not a right approach. Skepticism and relativism masks elements, which are mutual and which refer to common ideas and roots. Now it is not important if they are or are not “originally” European! It is well-known fact, that the matter we call the west or European civilization emerged from three sources: 1. Greek sense for art and philosophy, 2. Roman sense for law and 3. Christian religion and morality. Reflecting on Europeanism means inquiring into the set of values, ideals and principles that characterize Europe and which are based on these tree columns. The adherence of human rights and protection of human dignity, the principle of democracy, legacy and legitimacy of state power, the principle of solidarity; the rule of law and equality before the law; protection of minorities; democratic institutions; separation of legislative, executive and judicial powers; political pluralism; respect for private ownership and private enterprise, and a market economy; and the furtherance of civil society are the result, which was created by a synergistic effect of relation of aforementioned sources of Europeanism. These values mirror countless modern European experiences, including the fact that our continent is now a multi-cultural crossroads.

Christianity as basis?

Despite the fact, that Greek sense for art and philosophy, Roman sense for law or Christian’s religion and morality were alike “responsible” for the development of European thinking and history, I think, that there exists one, which has worked as a fundament, on which the other “sources of Europeanism” were growing and developing. It is the Christianity. According to me, always, when we are talking about philosophy, law or morality at all, we refer its own way to Christianity. Though we do not realize that, the view of European is view of Christian. We were sensing and discovering the world through this paradigm (paradigm of Christianity) in the past. Religion was something, which had connecting societies and states in Europe. Of course, someone object the fact, that the history of Europe is fulfilled by religious wars. Starting with Thirty Year’s war[4] until the conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland in 90′s, religious wars were destroying countries, cities and lives of people in Europe many years. But, when I had mentioned, that Christianity (not Catholicism or Protestantism or Anglicanism or others…) was an element which had connected, I mean the platform, on which Europeans were able to unite in relation to non-European countries or cultures. However current statistics show, that still smaller group of people regards constantly themselves as Christians. For instance, in Slovakia the number of Roman Catholics decreased in 2011 related to 2001 by 6,9 %,a  number of Greek Catholics decreased by 0,3%, a number of Lutherans decreased by 1%.[5] However this feature is typical not only for countries of the central Europe, but very similar development we can observe even in the majority of states of the whole European Union.[6] It could appear serious, since I identified Christianity as a connecting element. Should we be afraid that we could utterly lose the third “pillar” of our identity?  Should we be afraid that we could utterly lose Christianity? I do not think so. The major part of aforementioned principles connected with Europeanism (including the other two sources of Europeanism) is penetrated by Christian morality and virtues. Therefore Christianity will coexist with us regardless the numbers of believers in its own way farthest. Until now we paid so little attention to its own identity. As far as the Europe represented the main “mover” of global politics we did not debate about our identity and we consider this problem for something self-evident. But the centers of power have shifted. The Europe and the world has changed and now we are beginning to feel a need to define our position in this new situation, where Europe has almost stopped to play the main role in a world economics and politics. Therefore we started to think about our invisible identity, which should help to define our position and relations to new powers, to new world. In my point of view, the right Christianity is (including the religion tolerance of course) a crucial element which could support the discovery of the European identity in the 21st century.

Construction of European citizenship

In the previous paragraph, I had presented the Christianity as a basis on which the modern Europe was built up and which can also support a creation of a material identity referring to citizenship of European Union. But is a legal construction of EU citizenship capable to do the same? Therefore, in the next section, I would like to focus on a problem if a legal construction of EU citizenship can create a basis for aforementioned European identity.

The Treaty of Maastricht[7] states that every person holding the nationality of a Member State of the European Union is, as a result, a citizen of the union. Citizenship of the union supplements national citizenship without replacing it. It is made up of a set of fundamental
rights and obligations enshrined in the EC Treaty[8] among which it is worth
underlining the right not to be discriminated on the basis of the nationality. EU citizenship contains and incorporates a considerable couple of rights, which are guaranteed and which must be protected by union and member states. With holding the nationality of European Union is connected the right to move and reside freely within the territory of the member states, the right to vote and to stand as candidates in elections to the European Parliament and in municipal elections in their member state of residence, under the same conditions as nationals of that state, the right to petition the European Parliament, the right to apply to the European Ombudsman, and to address the institutions and advisory bodies of the European Union in any of the languages of Treaty On The Functioning of The European Union and to obtain a reply in the same language.[9] Than citizen of EU is entitled to access European Parliament, European Commission a Council documents under certain conditions and to equal access to the EU Civil Service. Also, the Lisbon Treaty introduced a new form of public participation for European citizens, the Citizens’ Initiative. This allows one million citizens who are nationals of a significant number of EU countries to call directly on the European Commission to bring forward an initiative of interest to them within the framework of its powers.

There is even one right, which presents, according to me, the connection between EU and its citizen outwards and therefore is very crucial. It is the right of every citizen of the Union; in the territory of a third country in which the member state of which he is of a nationality is not represented, to be protected by the diplomatic or consular authorities of any member state, on the same conditions as the nationals of that state. Why I consider this right so important? The answer is very simple. I think, that just this entitlement gives citizens of EU the feeling of companionship, because when they get into the trouble anywhere in the world, they can rely on the aid of the whole European 27, not only on their own country. It is the moment, in which citizens can sense the power of the united Europe and maybe it is also a moment in which we can discover our European identity at least for a while.

Anyway, despite of aforesaid, there are two views on European citizenship. The first view is positive and highlights benefits of existence of European citizenship. People, who have this opinion, claim that: Giving people EU citizenship gives those concrete rights that benefit everyone. The idea of EU citizenship contributes to bringing the people of Europe closer together. This not only benefits the process of European integration, but supports peace and understanding across the continent. Despite a history scarred by conflict, Europeans do have much in common and it is good to celebrate this. The principle of European citizenship encourages people to travel across the EU to study or to find work. On the other hand, the Eurosceptics state that Citizenship has long been linked to national identity. An important part of the way in which people define who they are relates to the country in which they live. This cannot be transformed through a treaty. For Eurosceptics European citizenship is meaningless. Although there are broad similarities between the identities of European states, they claim that there are more significant differences and the symbols of EU citizenship is a means of challenging the existing symbols of national identity.

Despite the aforementioned counter arguments against the citizenship of European Union, I have to express a support to this institute of European law. European citizenship I perceive as a next step towards building a viable European identity. Someone could wonder or could be completely surprised, that I had identified the citizenship – a simple legal construct as an element, which could help to built up a mutual identity. But it really is! Of course, no one had thrown away its “national” identity at a moment when he became a citizen of European Union. It is not even a goal of being the EU citizen! On the contrary, Citizenship of the union supplements national citizenship without replacing it. The EU citizenship is just capable to lay down a fundamental element for communication. The EU citizenship is capable to lay down a fundamental element for an interaction between nationalities, young, between European at all. The opportunity to travel across the EU to study or find work is directly incorporated in citizenship of EU and it is a guarantee of a future development of mutual relationships and cooperation. It is also an opportunity to get to know new people and new cultures. It is a way how to look over its own national identity on Europe. Of course, just create the citizenship in legal way is not enough to built up European identity. But it is a good beginning. It is a right starting point to think about our own identity.


The most vital question, which refers to the aforementioned problems, seems to be: how to define yourself as a European without losing national identity. According to me, the coexistence of these two identities is possible. It is not just possible, it is required! The fear of loss a national identity is exaggerative. In the time of a financial crisis we are feeling a necessity to involve more people into European affairs and encouragement a development of European identity is the right way how to achieve this difficult objective. It could also have a positive impact on foreign policy of European Union. The most important thing, which the policy of EU desires, is the unity and consistence of an opinion of the European Union member states. Right here the sense for fellowship, commitment a mutual identity can help for sure.

Despite the research, which had been published by Slovak Academy of Science, I think that the idea of Europeanism and its identity is not lost or defeated! This research: Orientations of Young People from Bratislava and Prague to Citizenship and European Identity[10] shows that to be more enthusiastic for the independent Slovakia does not necessarily transfer itself into lesser enthusiasm about Europe and European Union, but on the other hand, the results of this research indicate the close social relationships such as friends, family and partner, as well as the professional career and education are the most important sources of the identity; more important than “being a future EU citizen”. This is the general pattern also found in other studied counties.[11] According to the aforementioned research, the most important criteria for definition of what is Europe, by Slovak and Czech respondents, are political – membership of the EU and then cultural – certain values and traditions. The outputs of polls, on which was the research based, just endorse the observed state in European Union. People in the European Union have still not accepted the European identity as a part of their own identity. It will be a long and difficult process, but it is also an inevitable process, which we need to handle. We simply need to handle it, if we want to find out our position in a new situation, where Europe has almost stopped to play the main role in the world economics and politics. It is also necessary if we want to contend with problems inside the European Union.

According to me, the project of the European unification emphasizes the ethos (human values, vision of world changes, civil rights and responsibilities) and epos (personalities, products and events presenting the European cultural heritage). It provides a unique chance to all member states to incorporate their values and personalities in a common European treasury, but also to the programs of educational process of young generation to European identity or citizenship.

I would like to conclude this text by the words of Vaclav Havel, the former president of Czech Republic: A fourth great task lies ahead. Through the manner of its being, a unifying Europe must demonstrate that the dangers generated by its contradictory civilization can be combated. I would be happy if the people of my country, who are Europeans, could participate in this process of reflection, of defining a European identity, as Europeans fully recognized by Europe.[12]




[1] The Velvet Revolution or Gentle Revolution was a non-violent revolution in Czechoslovakia that took place from November 17 to December 29, 1989. Dominated by student and other popular demon

strations against the one-party government of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, it saw to the

collapse of the party’s control of the country, and the subsequent conversion to a parliamentary republic.

[2] HAVEL, V.: Is There a European Ident

ity, Is There a Europe? ,2000, read more at–is-there-a-europe#pblItdoADIko7R7w.99, visited on 1. May. 2013.

[3] JACOBS, D., MAIER, R.: European identity: construct, fact and ficion, Utrecht University, published in: Gastelaars, M. & de Ruijter, A. (eds.) A United Europe. The Quest for a Multifaced Identity. Maastricht: Shaker, pp. 13-34. Read more on, visited on 2. May 2013.

[4] The Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648) was a series of wars principally fought in Central Europe, involving most of the countries of Europe. It was one of the longest and most destructive conflicts in European history, and one of the longest continuous wars in modern history. The origins of the conflict and goals of the participants were complex and no single cause can accurately be described as the main reason for the fighting. Initially, it was fought largely as a religious war between Protestants and Catholics in the Holy Roman Empire, although disputes over internal politics and the balance of power within the Empire played a significant part. Gradually, it developed into a more general conflict involving most of the great

powers of the time. In this general phase the war became less specifically religious and more a continuation of the Bourbon-Habsburg rivalry for European political pre-eminence, leading in turn to further warfare between France  and the Habsburg  powers.

[5]See the selected final results of the 2011 Population and Housing Census on, visited on 4. May 2013.

[6] A U.S.-based Pew Forum reports that the number of Christians in the world is currently 2.18 billion, which is one third of the world’s population. This number represents a rise from the 1910 Christian population, when the world has 600 million Christians. Back then, 66.3 percent of the world’s Christians were Europeans, according to reports. That number, however, has dropped to 25.9 percent. Sub-Saharan Africa’s Christian population is up from 1.4 percent in 1910 to 23.6 percent. (CRAWFORD, S.: Christianity Declines In Europe, Increases in Africa and Asia, Say Surveys).Read more at, visited on 4. May 2013.

[7] The Maastricht Treaty served two purposes. It amended the provisions of the Treaty of Rome while significantly advancing the agenda set out under the Single European Act (SEA) in 1986, for deepening European Political Union (EPU). It created a new model for the Community based around three ‘pillars’ which, broadly speaking, covered economic relations, foreign affairs and home affairs. It also officially created the European Union (EU), which became the title to cover all the functions of the much-expanded European governmental structure. In addition, it began the process of Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), which would lead to the creation of the Euro. Coming at a time of political upheaval in Britain and across Europe, the Treaty was hugely controversial and has come to be seen as a central moment in the movement towards deeper European integration. Read more on:, visited on 10. May 2013.

[8] The Treaty establishing the European Community.

[9] Look closer the articles 20 – 23 of The Treaty On The Functioning of The European Union.

[10] MACHÁČEK, L. – LÁŠTICOVÁ, B.: Orientations

of Young People from Bratislava and Prague to Citizenship and European Identity, Institute of Sociology and Department of Social and Biological Communication, Slovak Academy of Science, Bratislava, p. 16 – 17, read more on, visited on 19 May, 2013.

[11] Read more on:, visited on 20. May, 2013.

[12] HAVEL, V.: Is There a European Identity, Is There a Europe? ,2000, read more at–is-there-a-europe#pblIt

doADIko7R7w.99, visited on 1. May. 2013.


Autor: Juraj Martaus

Jazykové korektúry: Mgr. Michal Orosz (Akademie Orlita)