Europe in Search of Europeans   /   Spring 2014   /    Europe In Search Of Europeans

Ethnopolitics and the European Project

Montserrat Guibernau

Marine Le Pen at a party meeting in Paris in 2013; © Getty Images.

The rise of populist radical-right parties now poses the single greatest challenge to the political, social, and cultural project of the EU.

Can there be a European identity? More specifically, if the European project proceeds—and if the political institutions of the European Union grow stronger and more responsive to the will of its citizens—should we reasonably expect Europeans to acquire an additional, shared political identity, a supranational identity? The answer depends on how we define such a new form of collective identity: that is, on what type of attachment we imagine.

Experience suggests that popular identification with a nation-state comes only at the end of a long process, typically involving linguistic and cultural homogenization, wars and other conflicts with common enemies, acceptance of a common tax burden, establishment of citizenship rights and duties, construction of a certain image of the nation endowed with its own symbols and rituals (instilled by the state), and progressive consolidation of national education and media systems. All of these lead to a sense of belonging and a deep emotional attachment to the nation.

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