Identity-politics in the European Union

This article discusses the prospects of a common European identity in a Hegelian politics of recognition perspective . It is argued here that the EU may play a key role in reuniting multiple identities in Europe.

ARENA Working Paper 17/2001 (html)

Jon Erik Fossum

The EU, widely held to suffer from a legitimacy deficit, faces a key challenge in the aspiration to form a European identity. The question of a European demos and identity is typically pitted against entrenched national identities. Will a European identity be of a novel, post-national species? Is it conceived of as substitution or supplement to existing national identities? These are complex issues, both in empirical and in normative terms, and they are highly politicised. Historically speaking, nation building has been marked by struggle, by people actively seeking recognition for their particular culture, history, language, and identity. Applied to Europe, such a process would draw on the uniqueness of the European experience. However, in cultural and linguistic terms, Europe is marked more by its diversity than by its coherence. Attempts at fostering a European nation-type identity based on common cultural tradition are therefore bound to meet fierce national opposition. While substituting a European nation-type identity appears unlikely, then, we need to explore instead whether national identities can be supplemented or transformed – even to the extent of becoming post-national. This article will take the politics of recognition as its starting point in the exploration of European identity. Drawing on Hegel, among others, political theorists such as Charles Taylor and Axel Honneth see recognition as a precondition for identity formation. The recent upsurge in identity politics is interesting in the European context, as the EU is a complex entity with supranational, transnational and intergovernmental traits. This suggests that it may be conducive to the co-existence of a wide range of identities and forms of belonging.

Tags: polity building, deliberative democracy, identity
Published Nov. 9, 2010 10:52 AM