Is There a European Identity, Is there a Europe?

PRAGUE - Do Europe's peoples truly regard themselves as ‘Europeans', or is this a fiction which attempts to transform geography into a ‘state of mind'. This question is often posed in connection with debates concerning the amount of sovereignty that nation-states can, or should, transfer to the European Union. Many say that if national affiliation is pushed into the background too fast in favor of an unfamiliar, perhaps chimerical, concept of European affiliation, it might not end well.

When I ask myself: ‘To what extent do I feel European, and what links me with Europe?", my first thought is a mild astonishment at the fact that it is only now that I ponder this question. Why didn't I think of it long ago, in those times when I began to discover the world? Was it because I regarded my belonging to Europe as a surface matter of little significance? Or did I take my European linkage for granted?

My entire background was so self-evidently European that it never occurred to me to probe my thoughts. Not only that – I have a feeling that I would have looked ridiculous if I had written or declared that I was European and felt European; or, in fact, if I professed explicitly a European orientation. Such manifestations would have appeared pathetic and pompous; I would have regarded them as a haughtier version of the kind of patriotism that I dislike from national patriots.

Such hesitation apparently holds true for most Europeans: they are so intrinsically European that they are unaware of it. They do not call themselves Europeans. When asked in opinion polls, they show mild surprise that, all of a sudden, they should declare their European affiliation.