“We” is a word that we use to refer to “us” when playing a game together, dining out in a restaurant or creating a project together. What unites “us” is the interest: money, system of values, security etc. When “we” engage in long-term projects and work hard on something together, we become a group.
European Economic Community was born in 1957 and this is the event where European federalists put the first brick of the European supranational identity, which was first born because of the security concerns and grew to symbolize the Pan-European shared system of values. The local national identities were challenged: the top of the judicial pyramid jumped up several levels and made national jurisdictions less powerful and sometimes powerless, especially in cases when there are rivalries between national and supra-national laws. What matters is the European law written in Brussels and not the local ones written in national parliaments.
Sports, national holidays, national music, dance, newspapers, cuisine, cinema…all these elements have a identity-constructing function and reinforce our sense of citizenship and national belonging. Through these things people are reminded of the national ”we” and they accumulate some amount of shared emotional capital among those individuals who form the local or the national ”we”.
At the same time, it is hard to define precisely to what extent our values have to be shared to consider the ”we” as a nation. Is it possible to construct a we when we are all completely different? Some are black-haired, others are red haired or blond, some are small and others are tall, there are many criminals and a lot of volunteers who fight against criminality etc. Can the contradictory diverse mass of people be considered as a ”we”? How ideological diversity and deterministic diversity interact with each other when shaping an identity be it national or supranational?
Ideological diversity vs deterministic diversity
Switzerland has 4 official languages, but they share the same universal values when it comes to human rights and liberties, civic responsibilities, human dignity etc. Switzerland is an example and maybe a prototype of what European identity will look like in the future. Switzerland proofs that it is possible to have one identity while speaking different languages. Based on this example, it is possible to build a more integrated Pan-European identity and speak around 35 or more different languages. The construction of the Pan-European identity is already a reality in spite of the fact that it is still in the process. Some of the examples are also the fact that there are some groups of Europeans who have several identities like Catalans who are Catalan, Spanish and European at the same time. The Swiss case is more of a deterministic diversity, because the Swiss society is more or less homogeneous when it comes to the values and collective political vision of their country.
What about accessibility and mobility? The more these elements are interwoven and popularized, the more the supranational universally shared identity emerges. The new Pan-European identity limits are being set more universally courtesy of modern technologies, the more and more widespread multilingualism, travel opportunities and so on. Transnational companies are more and more common.
In spite of the fact that it is hard to precisely define Europe or the Pan-European identity because of the linguistic and some cultural diversity, it is still possible to identify several universally shared values and/or standards that almost all the European states have. The European project has been successful because of the simple fact that they have all started to want political peace and therefore settled several institutions to make sure that some peace-building values are truly understood and respected by all.
The shared past in Christianity, the fact that they were influenced by some important movements like Renaissance, Romanticism, that they have survived the same horrible wars and they understood that they all wanted the same thing: a more sustainable and peaceful continent, contributes to the unity of Europe.
Europe has already got a flag, an anthem, its own currency, a single market and so on. There are a lot of things that Europeans have in common and they have both their local national identity(French, German, Spanish etc.) and the regional supranational identity(European), too. Moreover, the personal experience of identity is something very private and some local identity holders experience the same local identity differently. For example, a Parisian lives the French life differently from her/his fellows from Nice or Strasbourg. It goes the same way for any other nationality and the European identity, too. Identity, be it local or supranational, is something very organic and depending on the exact geographical spot where one lives, it is experienced in a myriad different ways. But, what connects them all is a wide range of values and shared interests that not only keeps the European states together, but also contributes to a deeper integration.
One of the main differences between the formation of local identities and supranational one is the fact that national local identities have been shaped during centuries while the European one is very recent. More integration would be more difficult if Europe had too many contradictory ideological differences and/or incompatible values. Because European societies have not yet seen the complete fully-functioning European identity, they sometimes produce some skeptical movements. One of those movements culminated in Brexit in the UK.
Brexit and the European Union
So, Britain is leaving the EU. Their membership has neither been easy nor fully integrated. The UK has never converted to the Euro Zone. Euroscepticism was developed in the UK because of beliefs that more integration would undermine national sovereignty, that the EU lacks transparency, is too elitist, is too bureaucratic, encourages immigration and so on. British society is not the only one to have this sense of insecurity and mistrust towards the EU institutions. Some polls showed similar results elsewhere in Europe. The Brexit vote reflected the approximately 50%/50% political positions that Brits had, but was also a risky game, because the European political project is in the process and it will only succeed if anybody involved in it works hard enough towards its sustainability. It is true that the EU has problems, but so do all the other international organizations in the world. Getting out of the EU may seem very positive to some, but the past reminds us that Europe has often been divided and was in war too often. The EU brought peace and unprecedented political sustainability. Any nation did some compromises and, in order to have peace, European states should remember the past and act upon it. Brexit may or may not bring some economic advantages, but it does bring a much bigger insecurity in terms of large political conflicts, like wars.