Op-Ed: A European Identity Through a Series of Crises

Barcelona, SpainPhoto by Alexandre Perotto on Unsplash
Barcelona, Spain. Photo by Alexandre Perotto via Unsplash

By Madison Peak

“I have always believed that Europe would be built through crises, and that it would be the sum of their solutions.” 

-Jean Monnet

Counterarguments regarding the creation of a European identity come from Eurosceptics who say that the idea of a European identity targets elites rather than ordinary citizens. In contrast, some say it is nearly impossible for “ unity in diversity” due to the enlargement of the European Union (EU). Others argue that European citizens primarily identify with their nation-state or region of origin, and the EU secondly. These statements theorize the idea of the European identity as minuscule or nonexistent. Yet, the crises from which these statements have derived from have created a new European identity of values.

EU crises have aided in the emergence of a European identity by “shaping its contents, and by mobilizing would-be Europeans cognitively through contestation and politicization of EU membership.” Jean Monnet, the father of the European Economic Community and a supporter of European integration, was correct in believing that the common European identity would arise from responses to a crisis that would bring about awareness of values and would create a stronger EU. 

Two overarching arguments highlight a European identity constructed through crises and responses. First, the idea of a common European identity dates back to the origins of the European Community (EC). European identity was first implied in the 1951 Treaty of Paris and the Treaty of Rome. It became an agenda in 1973, amidst the Cold War, when foreign ministers drafted the Document on the European Identity. This document was meant to act as a primary source in defining Europe’s place in international affairs. A secondary goal of this document was to define ‘European identity’, which states that “the European identity will evolve as a function of the dynamic construction of a United Europe.” The motives that characterize the identity are common heritage, interests and special obligations, and unity amongst EU nations. As crises occurred, democracy, the rule of law, social justice, and human rights became added values to the shared European identity. The idea of a European identity has continuously evolved from the standpoint of European integration

In 1984, the Committee for a People’s Europe, otherwise known as the Adonnino Committee, was called by the European Commission in Fontainebleau to “enable the citizen to enjoy more visible benefits from the process of European integration and to build a stronger sense of European identity.” The values from the Document on European Identity were highlighted as necessary to build up a shared identity and symbols of this identity such as a common European flag were called for. 

With the end of the Cold War, the reunification of Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the offset of globalization accelerating the economy and development, the Maastricht Treaty was signed in 1992 by members of the EC. The treaty created the EU and brought about a new era of European identity with the creation of the single currency, the Eurozone, EU citizenship, and common policy. It confirmed the values from the Document on the European Identity through  “safeguarded [safeguarding] the common values, fundamental interests and independence of the Union.” The EU was necessary for the sustainability of the EC and locked down the essential values of European identity that had evolved from numerous crises. 

Second, the EU faces low levels of citizen participation and identification, creating a democratic deficit. To solve this, the construction of a European identity was crucial. Creating a common European identity would increase the number of citizens who identify with the EU in some capacity, strengthen democracy, and increase organizational legitimacy within the EU. Since the early days of the EU’s democratic deficit, the Eurobarometer has tracked European identity: An overwhelming 61% of EU citizens feel attached to the European Union, and 70% feel attached to Europe as of Summer 2022. The increased attachment allows for the assumption that crises brought Europeans together to reconcile over shared values creating a strengthened EU and European identity. 

Jean Monnet envisioned a European Union that faced crises with strength and unity through European integration. Such integration created a collective identity that most Europeans felt attached to–hence the birth of the European identity. The European Community faced many crises in its evolution to becoming the EU. These crises began characterizing the values of the European identity, including democracy, human rights, and unity. These values are apparent in the numerous treaties of the EU, foreign policy, and through citizen attachment to the EU. In conclusion, it is evident that there is a European identity forged through crises and responses.

Madison Peak graduated from Arizona State University in 2021, with dual degrees in global studies and political science and from Boston University’s Pardee School of Global Studies, in 2023 with her Master of Arts in International Affairs, specializing in Diplomacy. Madison’s academic foci are global governance and women’s rights under international law. She has interned with the United Nations Association, was President of her graduate program’s student council and women’s group, and studied abroad in Geneva, Switzerland. Now, Madison work with the International Republican Institute’s Women’s Democracy Network in Washington, D.C. as a Program Associate.


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