Enshrined within the European Union owing to its member Countries, more precisely, to its nation-States: it is constitutionally expressed in the composition of its governing body, the European Council, that comprises the heads of state or government of the member states. In adherence to EU democratization processes, member States citizens – who are also EU citizens – call for an increasingly greater role in the EU’s foundation and development. This is being done via a gradual intensification of European Parliament responsibilities and duties and thus it can rightly be described as a Union of States, which reflects the union of its citizens, and indicates European Union identity. Indeed, organization and composition, along with its expressions – policies and achievements – form part of the ways in which identity is expressed.
However, it is scarcely revealing of European identity, namely, that very awareness that makes the European Union a Community, the fountainhead of cohesion and the grounds for consent on which reposes the potential of Europe’s unity.” Naturally, such awareness includes all those aspects that compose Europe’s identity in its present Union form. Just as it is necessary to distinguish between the identity of Europe (or European Union understood as its political expression) and European identity, a distinction must equally be made between the identity of nation-States – expressed with their own regulations, initiatives etc. – and national identities reflecting the populations’ sense of belonging to a given nation with its own history, culture etc. This analogy is justified by the fact that nation-States and Europe as a whole are cultural and political phenomena resulting from integration and unification processes. However, while the respective national processes came to fruition over a long period of time, granting self-affirmation and security to nation-States within well-defined legal frameworks and borders, the status of the European Union – hence its identity – is yet unstable. Its goals remain uncertain. Its constitutional framework is incomplete, along with its geographic definition. Europe existed long before the nations that were born from Europe as its offspring. On the other hand, nation-States existed before the European Union, created by mutual agreement. European conscience thus includes the identity of European nations, connected to Europe’s identity in many different ways. It could be said that:
European identity shapes national identities and vice versa.
We become aware of this when we call to mind the premise that led to the historical, cultural, social and political development of Europe and its peoples, along with the premise that shaped European and national identities. Since the early Middle Ages, all political and cultural processes in Europe were interconnected. At the beginning a complex system characterised the relations between peoples and tribes, dynasties and ownership, States and Empires, ethnic groups and Nations. This system was developed and refined through a constantly-changing process. Just as nations are referred to as a community of destinies, the same can be said for Europe as a whole: across the centuries a common history led to the establishment of a community of differentiated yet interconnected destinies, bound together in their diversity. Geographic proximity and commonality of individual and collective experiences created a special relationship between the peoples of Europe – whether they were conscious or unconscious of it – which contributed to the shaping of a specific identity. The common historical experience was strengthened by strong cultural unity whereby – paradoxically – diversity has remained a constitutive feature. This diversity has a common root. In fact it encompasses the Greek-Roman Mediterranean culture which incorporated the experience of the ancient world inasmuch as it was conservative and steadfast, and the Germanic-Slavic continental culture constituting the dynamic, modern, forward-looking element. Christianity played a crucial role as a catalysing force of this synthesis. The European world that resulted from it has always acknowledged its unity. Also owing to its cultural unity, whereby all differentiations are aspects or individual expressions of similarities, Europe progressed in a unique environment in social and economic terms. The uniformity of social development in European regions equally determined the simultaneous occurrence of crises and social circumstances that led to the emergence of groups or social classes prone to trans-national identification. This favoured integration, rooted in the historical development of a common culture. A radical rupture of this social integration movement took place after the Second World War with the division of Europe into two radically different social and economic systems. The historical developments that followed the Second World War showed that despite the tragic, moral devastation, and the material destruction it carried with it, the cultural and spiritual strength of the Old Continent has not been consumed. Viewing their own history through critical lenses, while opening up to the new impetus of the new worlds of America, Africa and Asia, facing the challenge of Communism, European peoples developed renewed self-confidence. The European identity that ensued is marked by a determined proactive drive, which today, after central and east-European peoples joined the peoples of western Europe with an act of self-liberation, is called to face new challenges.