Opinie: European citizenship? Please don't make an effort!

Afgelopen dagen was ik in Pula (Kroatië) voor de Council Meeting van de Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE). De VVD is lid van de ALDE die de liberale partij vormt in het Europees Parlement. Als voorzitter van de partijcommissie Europese Zaken bracht ik onderstaande opinie in tijdens een seminar over 'European Citizenship':

European citizenship? Please don’t make an effort!

Imagine a European Union where all it’s citizens cheer when a EU-country wins the Eurovision Song Contest. A European Union where we all go mental when a European country wins the World Cup Soccer. I don’t imagine I will see this in my lifetime. But I also don’t expect to see The Netherlands win the Eurovision Song Contest in that timeframe either. Surviving the semi-finals is already a long shot these days. And regarding European citizenship and the relationship between national identity and a joint European identity I have to take the view that a truly European identity is not in the cards.

And although this may sound a bit Eurosceptic it is not meant to be because I firmly believe that the concept of Europe surpasses the national identity. The EU has created it’s own framework and therefore the European Union should not concern itself with ethereal concepts like European citizenship and a common European identity. We should also consider the words of Luuk van Middelaar, advisor and speechwriter to the president of the European Council who recently gave an interview to the website PressEurop.eu. Van Middelaar correctly stated that due to the Cold War and the emergence of the European Community for a long time ‘European’ meant the builders of Europe. These builders who Van Middelaar calls the ‘internal sphere’ and therefore not the people who inhabit the geographical territory called Europe. This has changed through historical developments, like the Fall of the Berlin Wall, but also due to side effects of closer co-operation like the Erasmus exchange programme.  It is my conclusion that these changes never had the sole intent to forge a European identity.

As liberals we believe that society regulates itself spontaneously and that the role of government is to support this regulation and act on behalf of the common good. This also goes for the emergence of a European identity. Although Europe shares a common history, this common history has not evolved into a European identity because Europe is still, and will be for some time, a Europe of nation states with strong national identities. The strengthening of regional and local identities is at this time a safer bet than a European identity.

However I do believe that the European Union brings together the citizens of its member states through common values like the rule of law, democracy and human rights and our common interests like the internal market and the solution of trans boundary problems. If that should spontaneously lead to some form of shared identity than that is exactly as it should be. And these shared interests and rights guaranteed by the EU make us all in some sense European citizens, but not in the classical meaning of the nation state. And let’s not forget that we all feel ‘European’ when we are in another part of the world.

What the European Union should not do, certainly in these times of austerity, is trying to emulate the nation state and forge a forced joint European identity by copying the symbols and institutions of the nation state. Of course there is the Erasmus exchange programme, a European flag and we all like to listen to Beethoven’s treatment of Ode an die Freude in his Ninth Symphony as symbols of the European corporation. But a post-national identity institution like the EU should stay far away from trying to create a European identity as Bismarck united Germany. The whole raison d’etre of the EU is to forego national interests for a common European interest that is beneficial for its member states and its citizens. And I don’t think that I have to discuss the effects on the perception of the European citizens of the EU of any endeavours on the part of the EU to divert money and manpower to the forced creation of a shared European identity… It would have the opposite effect.

Let the EU focus on its core business and not duplicate the nation state. If due to the way the EU operates there should arise some form of a joint European identity that surpasses our common history and interest than good for you EU!

And in the meantime: if you could vote for the Netherlands in the semi-finals of the Eurovision Song Contest next week it would be much appreciated!

Ferdi de Lange (VVD) is chairman of the policy committee on European Affairs.