Identity in Europe

I was born and raised in Carinthia. Carinthia is a federal state of Austria. So I consider myself as an Carinthian, as an Austrian and almost with the same enthusiasm as an European. Why I am telling you all this? Today I want to talk about identification within Europe and the European Union. As time is short I will concentrate on the following questions: What we understand with the term identity? Are there experiences and/or memories that are differentiate the communities of Europe from other communities? And how could we intensify an European identity?


Let us begin with the term identity:

Anthony D. Smith – professor for Nationalism and Ethnicity at the London School of Economics – pointed out that men have more than one identity. In human history there was an enlargement of identification. In the simplest and earliest societies the number and scale of identities were limited. Then men started to organize themselves in more complex agrarian societies and the number and scale of identities increased. Where once gender, age and clan had provided the identity, now there were village communities, regions and even empires. In the modern era of industrial capitalism and bureaucracy the number and scale increased again. Nowadays the nation and the national identification are dominant. Identify is situational. Human beings have multiple identifications and enjoy moving between them as the situation requires. But still, to build an identity you need memories and experiences and that leads to the second question:


Are there experiences and/or memories that are differentiate the communities of Europe from other communities?

Unfortunately you cannot answer this question completely. There are shared memories, traditions, myths, symbols and values but they have different meanings and significance for the different communities. The Roman heritage is such an example, because it penetrated certain area much more than others. Christianity embraced most of the continent, but on the other hand it split very early into separate cultural and ethnic traditions.

But there are shared traditions within Europe. Smith count Roman law, political democracy, parliamentary institutions, Judeo-Christian ethics and cultural heritages like Renaissance humanism, rationalism and empiricism to these shared traditions.


But how can we intensify the identification within the European Union?

Smith pointed out that we should not forget the power of the national mass education systems. For example history books often present a very national point of view. So this should change to a more European point of view. Also mass media play major role. So the goal should be to support media if the are reporting more about European topics. Last but not least culture influences the identity. The growing number of European music and art festivals is positive example. Hopefully all the national states of the European Union will remember the shared traditions and overcome their differences.



I used a wide array of vocabulary and an acceptable range of academic words, but my pronunciation was bad; for the audience it was sometimes difficult to understand me. I also made some grammar mistakes. A positive point was the structure of my presentation, it gave a good overview.



International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-), Vol. 68, No. 1 (Jan., 1992), pp. 55-76. In:

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