Identity is a process, and not a concept which can be defined as such. If we want to define it in broader terms, we could say that identity is what defines us as human beings and as “political animals” in relation to others. European identity has come to be challenged not only in the light of recent events on the international arena, but also due to natural processes that have occurred as a result of globalisation, multiculturalism and integration. As supranational institutions have come to have a more and more important say in shaping identities, the question of how this will interact with societal rules and cultural mentalities existing within the same European Union, occupies a wide space on the political agenda of European leaders (or at least it should do).
The European Union, having grown institutionally, politically and socially into an entity with whom citizens can empathize and synchronize their ideas with, has set right from the start the goal of making citizens residing in the European Union to feel they actually are Europeans. And since European identity is already a complicated concept, putting it into practice becomes even more problematic as the word “European” used to be associated with peace, understanding and common values. The only problem is that the world is not a peaceful, understanding place in which we share common values. Multiculturalism has become anti-culturalism in many countries where large communities of immigrants reside for long periods of time. Cultural fragmentation has taken its tolls on its European member states and in the light of recent events we can only see how much we don’t know about each other and how societies are somehow clueless about what’s happening at their peripheries, in places where “Europeanization” is a word whose meaning does not echo into the mind or soul of those whispering it. In countries such as France or Germany there are large communities of gypsies, Muslims, Indians or Chinese who have been living there for 10 or 20 years but still do not feel European at all. Many have been struggling to keep their identity as it is, not negotiating a bit of it. Citizenship and nationhood are two of the most sensitive notions in European politics and with massive influx of immigrants they have become “the issues” in the last quarter century. The conditions for having citizenship differ from state to state: while birth and residence makes citizens second-generation immigrants in France, in Germany birth and residence has no influence on citizenship.
Taking a look at how immigrant communities relate to the nation states they live and work in, we cannot but question how much this European identity is a peaceful and conciliatory factor in the quest for national identity and how reassuring it is with a rising European crisis that has pointed out the many flaws of European democracy. In times of crisis people search their identity and they can be easily or easier influenced to be told who they are; values readjust to the political setting and cultural differences come in the way of shaping identities. The whole project of European identity is a very risky one, since there is such a huge responsibility by dealing with national identities and overcoming the national crisis that characterized the 20th century European politics. The belief that European identity will solve all the “national identity related cleavages” was sustained by institutional adjustments in countries such as France, Germany, the Netherlands or Great Britain in order to reconcile differences related to national identity. In this sense, the common European Immigration policy provides ten principles on which the common policy is built such as to “provide information to potential immigrants and applicants, in particular on their rights and obligations as EU residents, the development of labour-matching tools and policies, the endorsement of mechanisms for the recognition of foreign qualifications and the organisation of training in countries of origin; an assessment of the current and future potential for entrepreneurship among immigrants, including the legislative and operational framework for establishment, and the development of supportive measures;promote integration programs targeted at new immigrant arrivals;ensure equal advancement opportunities in the labour market for legal non-EU workers;apply social security schemes equally to immigrants and to EU nationals;support the development of non-EU countries’ immigration and asylum systems, as well as legislative frameworks;enhance collaboration and capacity-building in partner countries and develop mobility partnerships on labour migration”.
Still, the failure to assimilate immigrants was based on a mistaken interpretation of multiculturalism while governments did not sufficiently involve in actively integrating individual immigrant communities into a broader national culture by specially designated policies. Latest events show that there is a gap between what integration of Muslims communities means to them and what integration means for officials. For example, there is a gap between how officials perceive European identity and the antagonist feeling of European identity with thinking that European identity is defined by treaties and documents that have been signed at a state level, while at a micro societal level the consensus on European identity lacks. What we need are more policies coordinated at a European level towards integration and less economic oriented policies of integration when it comes to immigrant communities, as the feeling of belonging includes the economic factor but is not limited to it. European identity should be more about how immigrants feel about their community and the country they reside in, while offering them real solutions to problems such as poverty, insecurity and discrimination at the work place. A community is bound together by its shared values and rules, and if the European community aims at unity and continuity it must completely reconsider its national policies and institutional tools in order to achieve unity and to make immigrants, especially young immigrants who are torn between their home place and the new world they live in, feel they mean something more than a potential economic asset to the “adopting” country. The European identity is first about people and then about economics. And so should the European Union be. At least that’s the ideal plan.