Identity is not the same
as consciousness. Consciousness is not sentiment. The first task
of the European identities network of researchers was to
define these three concepts, and then to study their variations
in time and space, and in different socio-economic contexts. 'Identity,
that is the sense of belonging to Europe or the consciousness of
being European, is linked to a socio-cultural dimension,' they explain
in their presentation. Going back a long time, this identity is
based on a shared civilisation and a common destiny. On the other
hand, European consciousness is more recent - it emerged
after the horrors of 1914-18 - and adds a moral and political dimension
to identity: 'It is already a consciousness of the need to build
Europe.' Finally, under the influence of consciousness and sentiment,
European identity develops towards a sense of belonging to
the European Union, even if this is still fragmentary. These different
'states' do not, however, develop linearly.
After the first phase involving 120 researchers
working from 1989 to1994, a network of 180 historians continued
the exploration in two directions (1995-1999). On the one hand,
they investigated the processes by which European identities are
formed and the resistance they meet and, on the other, the behaviour,
alliances and action which help give birth to consciousness and
sentiment, the mortar of European integration.
'We first wanted to focus on relationships between
European identity and national identity, or European identity and
Westen identity,' explains Robert Frank, a professor at the
Université de Paris I (Sorbonne) and the network's co-ordinator.
'We wanted to gauge to what extent national diversities are an obstacle
to this process or, on the contrary, if they are perhaps a component
Some groups studied cultural transfers - 'influences'
in terms of lifestyle or ways of thinking - between countries and
the part they may have played in creating the concept of identity.
Others studied the same phenomenon with reference to regions, social
classes, religious beliefs, the media, etc.
A sense of belonging
Two components of European society were the subject
of more precise research: the economic players and intellectuals
(see box01). The sentiments of the former seem
to be marked by a constant desire to 'build' Europe. The motivations
of the latter are more complex and less constant.
It was in the 1920s that business managers first
became aware of the importance of external competition - mainly
from the United States - and of the benefits of joining forces.
They thought in terms of the 'European area' and the Franco-German
axis, the latter becoming one of the cornerstones of European integration
and already an important 'sub-area', that was soon to be destroyed
by the Second World War.
'Monetary Europe and social Europe are more rooted
in history than is generally believed. These two areas are two very
important elements in the sense of belonging.' (2)
Professor Frank believes that social Europe is of fundamental importance
in strengthening a common identity. 'Europe will become a reality
when its citizens have the real sense that it helps them progress
in their day-to-day lives. For decades the nation state had a monopoly
on welfare, and the welfare state has continued to exist in our
countries, despite the onslaughts of neo-liberalism. Europe could
now shoulder part of the burden and become welfare-Europe.'
The sense of belonging therefore needs to have
its roots in the concrete. In this respect the euro is a valuable
tool. Pragmatic and symbolic - while also providing a political
instrument - the euro could make up for the deficiencies and strengthen
the sense of identity. 'The general public is aware of the poor
distribution of powers in Europe. Many Europeans no doubt want more
from Europe, while remaining dissatisfied with the way Europe is
being created. They have the feeling it interferes in questions
of no importance because it is incapable of resolving major issues.
Institutional changes, both real and symbolic, could boost motivation
for Europe and thus act as a catalyst. Recent progress towards European
defence and a rapid reaction force for the EU is encouraging in
But what Europe are we talking about here?
Where should we set the limits to this Europe in the making? Is
it enough to experience a sense of belonging in relation to a political
area to integrate into and become a part of it? 'Although the Russians
have a European cultural identity, is it true to speak of their
European political identity when most of them believe that Russia
is a political entity in itself? Can we deny Turkey's European cultural
identity on the grounds that it is a Muslim country? No, because
Islam is also part of Europe. In this case, too, it is Turkey's
political identity which will be the determining factor.'
The notion of the European area is one of
the research network's future projects - a network now enlarged
to include Polish, Hungarian and Russian historians, and seeking
to include a range of disciplines. In addition to the palpable and
concrete notion of area - northern, southern and central Europe,
etc. - they will also be looking at the 'abstract' area. 'Is there
a European democratic area, symbolic areas, a European-opinion area?
These are all complex questions. Take just one example. There is
often the feeling that there are national opinions on the one hand,
and international opinion on the other, in the form of major global
emotions. But the intermediate area - European opinion - is much
more difficult to detect.'
(back to text)
(back to text)
Université de Paris I
Fax: +33 1 40 51 79 34
The first stage of the research is reported in
seven publications, summarised in the single volume entitled Identités
et conscience européennes au XXe siècle, published
by René Girault, Paris, Hachette, 1994. Ten publications
present the second stage of the research, for which a summarising
volume is about to be published.
Intellectuals, especially German and French,
played an important role in the formation of a European consciousness
in the period between the wars. Based on pacifism and linked
to Europeanism, this movement was partially interrupted
by the Second World War. The Cold War and decolonisation brought
a long period of indifference on the part of intellectuals,
most of whom took up positions in favour of either the East
or the West, against colonialism, for the Third World, or
supported Marxist theories and structuralism.
'Paradoxically, the intellectuals were
interested in European unity as long as it was not becoming
a reality. When Europe actually began to integrate, they turned
away from it, finding it too economic and technological,'
points out Robert Frank. Since the decline of the major ideologies
and the fall of the Berlin Wall with its symbolic value, there
has been a new confidence among intellectuals in the democracy
embodied by Europe, as opposed to that of the United States.
'Europe is becoming an area which can provide shared values
and propose a certain kind of globalisation which is not the