European identity is elusive, by Annmarie Kiiskinen

As Paul Gilroy said, identity is elusive; it is an essence of self-understanding, related to the notion of belongingness to a community that shares similar identity markers (1997). Yet, the de-territorialising effect of globalisation has led to a situation where societies are no longer bound to one geographical space as the movement of people, whether internal or external, free or not free, forced or voluntary, has resulted in reshaping the understanding of these identities at the altar of blending communities.


Whereas movement of people has always been a trend in the continent, the invention of the European Union and the principle of freedom of movement has allowed us to extend this right to some, and limit it from others. Because when we draw boundaries, naturally everything that does not fit in, will fall out. This is a way of strengthening identity of the in-group by contrasting it with, or even by ousting the other.


Also the European identity has been formulated alongside these lines; however, on this quest for united European identity a paradox emerges. How to have an united identity to make supranational decision-making easier through common values and “European” agendas, when the diversity of populations, values and cultures is so rich in nature and every state holds on to their national interest rather than a common one?


The role of nation state is still strong, as proven by recent global issues. European identity is multilayered, it is elusive, it incorporates characters from regional, national and supranational layers; it also reflects where we are now, yet being only suggestive in manner of where we might be going. European identities are not yet ready for combining the national identities into one entity. The accession of new Member States as well as arrival of fleeing populations from surrounding regions has shown that the notion of European identity as a monolithic body is unrealistic to begin with, and we have been lacking the respect towards how strong in diversity it in reality is. I like to believe we can work together regardless our differences.


There will always be “us” and “the other” in identity. But what matters is how you choose to treat your other.


Annmarie Kiiskinen

Researcher, University of Lund (Sweden)

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