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This page was published on 10/11/2006
Published: 10/11/2006

   Science in society

Published: 10 November 2006  
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Despite political hiccups, European identity on the rise

More and more EU citizens are likely to include the idea of ‘Europeanness' in describing their identity. Austrian demographers studying Eurobarometer (EB) statistics from between 1996 and 2004 found that younger people are more likely than older generations to claim, at least partially, a ‘European' identity in addition to their national one. So despite concerns that the European project has embarked on an irreversible slide after French and Dutch ‘No' votes, young people like the idea of being European.

A European identity is popular with the kids. © Matt+
A European identity is popular with the kids.
In their study recently published in the journal Science, researchers grouped together three different questions from the EB survey that include ‘European' as an identity marker along with national identities. For the purposes of their study, they labelled this category ‘multiple identities'.

In the 2004 EB, 58 percent of respondents were likely to include the notion of being European alongside their national identities. That means that 117 million citizens of the EU-15 above the age of 18 fall into the ‘multiple identities' category.

There were some discrepancies between individual countries however. Luxembourg proved to be home to the most citizens willing to describe themselves as European, with 78 percent respondent doing so. Brits were least likely to do so at 40 percent.

Perhaps most surprisingly, France and the Netherlands figured near the top of the list, with France coming in third out of the 15. Sixty-eight percent of French and 59 percent of Dutch respondents claim a European identity to some degree.

Next, the sociologists examined ‘Europeanness' over time. Would the young people in the EB surveys continue to feel European throughout their lifetime, or would their perception of identity change and come to resemble those of current older generations more willing to claim a single national identity? To get at this concept they studied the ‘cohort factor', which measures whether or not a generation is likely to see themselves the same way throughout their lives.

The researchers, through statistical models, were able to confirm the presence of a cohort effect, leading them to conclude that younger people will hold on to their European identity into the future, confirming that European identity is indeed on the rise. As older generations pass away, fewer and fewer proportions of Europeans will think of themselves as having only a single, national identity.

If current trends continue, the researchers estimate that by 2030, 226 million EU citizens will consider ‘European' as a valid way to describe them along with their ‘(National)' identity. Those calling themselves European will outnumber those who don't 3 to 1.

Another notable point brought out by the study shows that EU citizens' decision whether or not to call themselves European is not influenced by political events. Researchers ran models taking into account such events as the Amsterdam and Nice Treaties, as well as the introduction of the Euro. They detected no notable difference in the figures, again confirming that ‘Europeanness' is real despite some public scepticism of the European Union.

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