The growth in the success of Eurosceptic parties at the national and international level has led EU actors to recognise that continued support for the project requires strengthening bottom-up ownership of the Union, namely by strengthening a sense of European belonging. However, political debates around identity tend to be framed according to the far-right’s exclusionary and fixed understanding of the term. That is, discussions of this topic often repeat the assumptions of Eurosceptic parties, even when their authors are pro-European – an example being Guy Verhofstadt’s repeated references to a supposed ‘European civilisation’.
Opposing this assumption, this report analyses how European identity is performed by a set of actors and institutions. It discovers that identity is enacted as a cultural trait, as a political device and as a reactive process – driven not by geography, institutional belonging or legal citizenship but by values, ideals and ideas which are collated here under the banner of ‘Europeanness’. Finally, it looks at how the EU uses its official symbols and cultural strategy to represent such a shared sense of identity.
The examples reveal that Europeanness, rather than being a pre-existent category, can emerge in specific contexts; however, such a potential is not yet deployed by the EU in a manner that is consistent with the values of progressives. This report sets the scene for a progressive understanding of the term identity – followed by recommendations to guide future strategies and policies that foster it.