What is the concept of EU identity and how have the EU and MS contributed to its expansion and recognition among citizen.
Identity is usually built by different factors such as ethnicity, culture, language and being part of a community. There can be multiple levels of identity in a single person, for example, I was born to Italian-Chinese parents so would say I am Italian and I am Chinese but at the same time I am also European (and even global!).
The concept of European identity has been formalised and reinforced by the creation of European citizenship and as Art 20 TFEU and Art 9 TEU refer to it, “European citizenship exists as a complement to citizenship of a Member State”. As EU citizens, we have acquired certain rights (freedom of movement, right to vote at EU elections, etc.) which should give us a sense of belonging to the EU but unfortunately, these rights are often taken for granted. For example, the wish of the UK to leave the EU has led British citizens to question about their rights acquired through EU citizenship and 2 new European Citizens Initiatives (ECI) have been recently registered following this concern.
In my opinion, the EU has been contributing to European identity through three important ways. First, the implementation of the Erasmus programme which allows students to go beyond national education systems to discover other European ones. Second, the development of certain programmes such as “Europe for Citizens” where funding is dedicated to projects that foster EU citizenship. Third, the creation of the European Citizens Initiative, the only official transnational tool of participatory democracy, where citizens from one Member State work together with citizens from other Member States around a common interest which is not national.
These three steps taken by the EU to reinforce European identity may not have been perfect but are certainly the examples to follow if we want citizens to increasingly feel European.
A good way to go beyond nationalism, and negative sentiments such as prejudice and stereotypes, is if you have the chance to meet, get to know and/or cooperate with other people who do not share the same national identity. When people finally realise the similarities, shared values and common interests amongst them, that is when European identity can emerge and add to the rest. However, in many cases, this is only possible if we are given the opportunity to do so through the support of transnational programmes, projects and tools.
Elisa Lironi is the Digital Democracy Manager for the European Citizen Action Service (ECAS). She develops and leads ECAS’ Digital Democracy agenda by implementing EU projects and research studies in this focus area. She is currently managing the project Digital Ecosystem for E-Participation Linking Youth (Erasmus+ programme) and coordinates ECAS’ part in the EUCROWD (Europe for Citizens programme). One of her most recent publications includes the “Potential and Challenges of E-Participation in the EU” for the European Parliament and she is currently working on research projects on crowdsourcing at the EU level and on EU online public consultations. She also coordinates ECAS’ Support Centre on the European Citizens’ Initiative.