Jagten på en fælles europæisk identitet: Om demokratisk legitimitet i Den Europæiske Union

Sara Holm Petersen

Student thesis: Master thesis


It is broadly agreed that the democratic legitimacy of the European Union relies on the existence of a common European identity. There are, however, diverging opinions as to whether the basis of such an entity needs to be made up by cultural or political elements. By virtue of its legal foundation formed by the treaties, the European Union constitutes a community based on civil rights. Nevertheless, the support of European citizens to the community seems to be deteriorating and the apparent strengthening of distinct national and cultural identities is difficult to ignore. The question in this regard is whether the EU can continue to base itself around civil rights or whether a common cultural foundation is necessary? This thesis compares the European Community with the French political nation, which is also based on civil rights. Eric Hobsbawm's constructionist approach to nations and national identities is founded on this conception of the nation, which constitutes the basis of the French national identity. To ensure the democratic legitimacy of the French nation state however, cultural elements were added to the political nation because cultural attachment proved crucial to the social cohesion of the society as anticipated by Anthony D. Smith in his ethnosymbolic approach. In contrast, the German cultural nation was based on an already existing German identity and the political element was added later on which makes Germany a prototype of a cultural nation state according to Adrian Hastings' essentialist approach. Thus, even though modern democratic nation states emerged in different ways, they are all based on political as well as cultural elements in order to ensure their democratic legitimacy. Democracy is stated as a common European value in the Treaty of Lisbon which recently entered into force. However, there has been much debate about the Community's 'democratic deficit' which is related to the restricted authority of the European Parliament, as well as to the lack of transparency in the institutional decision making. Nevertheless, the solution - according to constructionist Jürgen Habermas, a proponent of Constitutional Patriotism - is for the EU to create a European-wide public sphere whose communicative arena of public opinion and will-formation embeds the democratic process, which is the essence of a common European political identity and that will eliminate all cultural differences and therefore ensure the democratic legitimacy of the Community. The EU has, however, effectively failed to create the necessary cross-national public discourse despite several attempts. From an essentialist point of view, the lack of democratic legitimacy in the EU is in part due to the fact that the alleged 'universal' democratic values are interpreted differently in the European nation states according to the diverging national identities, which makes it hard to define the notion of democracy at the European level. A common European cultural identity therefore needs to be created in order for the EU to make up its democratic deficit. However, despite the numerous means of national identity-building introduced by the European Commission, currently it has still failed to create a common European cultural identity due to the absence of a collective European history and memories. As a result the search for a common European identity continues.

EducationsMA in International Business Communication (Intercultural Marketing), (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2010
Number of pages75