How should we see the immense diversity of identities with respect to the objective of a united Europe – as an obstacle or a driving force?
Europe is perhaps unique in the world regarding its relatively small geographical space and its large diversity of cultures. In 2018 the EU has 28 member states and 24 official languages, plus another 60 indigenous or non-indigenous languages. Europe is further home to the three main denominations of Christianity; Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox, as well as millions of Muslims and many deeply rooted Jewish communities. Leaving such figures aside, Europe consists of many different cultural blocks with specific traditions, attitudes and values. One could cite a long list of European cultural worlds: Scandinavian, Francophone, Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, Germanic, Latin Mediterranean, southern Slavonic, western Slavonic, Baltic, Greek, Magyar, Roma, and so on. That list could be further broken down into literally endless anthropological, ethnic, linguistic or cultural groups.
We should not mince words: a single European identity is still a remote target. Most of Europe’s inhabitants are emotionally connected to their nationalities and languages rather than to their continent . What is missing is a joint language and a political consciousness to bind them together. The average citizen of the USA is above all “American”, and secondarily “Californian” or “Floridian”. This is not yet the case in Europe and perhaps it never will be. Language is the main hindrance to a common identity because it constitutes the agent of thought and self-determination, and thus can function as a strong barrier or bond between people. As long as we lack a single European language, we have to accept that the European project is subject to a serious limitation. Moreover, language is not the only divider. There is a long history of conflicts, wars and antagonisms as well as diverse educational systems, religious beliefs and geographical circumstances that have kept European people entrenched within their own identity groups for centuries. This is a reality that cannot be ignored or disrespected.
The small steps – projects and institutions to identity with
On the other hand, we should not be desperate. There are still many means that could be used to forge a parallel European identity. A parallel European identity could emerge and grow gradually over time. There are already some encouraging examples of this. People accept the EU flag as their second one. When they see it flying outside their public buildings next to their national one, they feel reassured rather than threatened or offended. They also accept the EU logo on signposts outside their local school projects, bridges, roads or hospitals constructed with EU funds. They are also happy to hold an “EU” passport which simultaneously functions as a German, Portuguese or Bulgarian one. This is an EU “identity acquis” which should be appreciated as a major accomplishment of the last decades – and one worth building on.
We should build institutions that help citizens identify themselves with the European idea in a soft and natural manner. Here are three examples. The first would be a European media network to connect Europe’s citizens to one another along the lines of Euronews and Eurovision, which have been a good start. Second, a European research centre with tangible breakthrough-achievements would instil pride in Europe’s public; CERN, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, and ESA, the European Space Agency, are brilliant examples. And finally, the goal of installing a single European consulate to replace all national consulates across the world and offer administrative support to all citizens – a possibility excluded by today’s situation where each EU member state retains its exclusive competence in foreign affairs.
Many other similar ideas could be imagined – examples of institutions or projects that would capture the trust and imagination of the FER’s citizenry without offending or placing in doubt their other identities. The success of such efforts would gradually build, brick by brick, a sense of common European belonging to complement national ones. This would be crucial for the FER’s success and mission.
The big step: a common education curriculum
In federal systems, education traditionally falls to the competence of the federation’s constituent parts, namely its states of regions. This would be the same for the diverse composition of the EU and any European federation in the future. Hungarian pupils have a particular interest in Hungarian geography, German pupils in German history, Lithuanian students in their language and so on. Such interests must be respected and served. Education is a classic example of the application of the principle of subsidiarity, at least with regards to the teaching subjects. This should remain so in the EU or in any form of European federation.
We also think, however, that in a globalised world a strictly national approach to education would not be enough. Some elements of a universal education would be needed in several areas such mathematics or science, which obviously extend beyond national or local identity.
We therefore propose the development of a European curriculum – one that complements national ones. It would be obligatory for all primary and secondary educational institutions across Europe. It would include subjects such as European history and culture, humanistic values, principles of sustainable development, as well as civic education with a focus on European institutions, values and missions.
The European curriculum would also include mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, geology, natural history and European and global geography – all subjects that rise above specific national or regional perspectives. This layer of education would reinforce the reading, science and mathematics skills of European pupils and thus our continent’s competitive position in a deeply globalised world. The EU member states would retain their competence over subjects of national history, language, geography, religion, culture and anything else related to the specific aspects of their national and regional identities.
Both the national and European curricula would be taught in the local or national language of the respective pupils. In addition to their native tongue, all European pupils would learn English, the modern universal language, as well as a third European language.
An unprecedented step for the European project
A common European curriculum would be crucial to fostering a sense of joint European identity and belonging. It would be an unprecedented step in our continent’s history: all European children, whether they live in the mountains of Slovakia, on Greek islands, in Irish villages or in large capital cities, would grow up receiving the same basic knowledge and set of values. This should be seen as one the most fundamental revolutions of the European project that we envision. Such a program would work in parallel with the small steps that we identified above.
Forging a common identity takes time. This is not something to be imposed by law. It rather grows naturally through a mixture of common experience, institutions, needs and visions. It grows together with a society and its transformations.
For more information, See European Commission, DG Education and Training, Linguistic Diversity.
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