THE SHAPE OF IDENTITY – part 2

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Following the definition of the nation, the European Union built (or rather defined) a new form of identity, through the use of historical myths referring to a common Christian heritage, a common political and legal history going back to the Roman period and the tradition of humanism (Jakobs & Meier, 1998). Moreover, different symbols were engaged in developing this identity in people, including flag, anthem, motto and rituals such as the celebration of the Europe Day and European elections. Since a nation is imagined (Anderson, 1983), in order to create the sense of belonging and make it a part of the reality of a group, it needs to be materialized somehow (Finell et al., 2013). These myths, symbols and rituals are serving a purpose of nation building.

Why was it important to build a European nation? Firstly formed as an economic union, the EU outgrew its boundaries and was promoted into a specific political-economic concept, which, among many other goals, set promoting peace and avoiding conflicts within its territory as sine qua non. In order to increase the support and attachment of its citizens, it had to build a superordinate group identity, which would be shared among them. It is well known in social psychology that negative attitudes, and to it related behaviours, towards other groups can be decreased by inducing a shared identity. When people identify themselves as members of the same group, they are readier to cooperate and intergroup bias is reduced. Hence, the European identity was born.

Source: Eurobarometer

As is explained in the first part of this series of texts, a person has multiple social identities. Of special importance in relation to the European identity are very diverse national identities. Since the questions of relationships between national and European identities is of great importance, the EU itself started measuring the attachment to different group identities of its citizens through Eurobarometer. The data for 2018 shows that citizens of different countries feel different level of attachment to the European identity, ranging from 89% in Luxembourg to 51% in Bulgaria. Also, more than a half respondents define themselves first in the terms of their nation, and then as Europeans. In some countries, such as Greece, 47% identify only by their nation. There are also differences regarding education, class, gender and economic situation.

How are these differences related to the ongoing issues of the uprise of nationalist parties and migrant crisis? Read more about what happens when recategorization fails and national identities become threatened next week.