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The impact of the Euro crisis on European Identity and Democracy

Speakers
Professor Zdzisław Mach, Jagiellonian University, Cracow, Poland

 Date
07 Dec 2012

 Venue
CIT Auditorium, Computer Centre (Level 2), National University of Singapore, 2 Engineering Drive 4, Singapore 117584

 Time
3 – 4.30 pm

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ZMach-Photos 518One of the impact of the euro zone crisis has been the onset of an identity crisis on the part of the citizens of the European Union. The idea that nation-states should fight for their own interest seemed to be increasingly resurgent among citizens of the EU countries. However, Prof Mach argued that paradoxically, the crisis actually revealed that Europeans need more solidarity and integration to prepare for any future crisis. The question, therefore, is what sort of an identity can Europeans forge collectively, in order to buttress the European project of integration?

Among the rare instances in which Europeans have acted together on the larger canvas of history, they have often taken place against an ‘external Other’, Prof Mach noted. During the Cold War, it was easy to show the collective identity of the integration project by defining it against the ‘other Europe’ that was on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Today, a sense of European identity is sometimes moulded by populist and far right politicians through Islamophobia. Such ethnic constructions of identity will be very problematic with its element of exclusivity, Prof Mach warned.

A more healthy and inclusive form of European identity would be one based on Juergen Habermas’ conceptions of civic identity or ‘constitutional patriotism’. The inclusivity comes with a feeling of participation of people in a mission of constructing ‘Europe’ together. It looks to the future, rather than the past. As poetically put by Prof Mach, the question is not one of ‘where do you come from’, but rather ‘are you prepared to join us in our common future?’

For Prof Mach, this form identity-building has already been underway in Europe. There is for instance the well-established European system of exchanges in university education.  Also, the voting rights of intra-EU migrants in their country of residency – which may not be their country of citizenship – is a very real example of how a EU-wide political identity is slowly being forged.  However, because there are no EU-wide parties in existence, apart from the loose alliances of parties in the European Parliament based approximately on political ideology, the process of identity-formation could be somewhat constrained.

One classic Habermasian conundrum was raised by Prof Mach – one cannot have a working democracy unless there exists some form of common identity, yet one needs democracy to construct identity in the first place. In this light, Prof Mach believes the building of EU-wide political parties would be the key.

Looking at the current tensions within the EU now, Prof Mach drew from the oft-used metaphor of the EU as a family and said that ‘not all families are happy, but they are families at the end of the day’.

In the ensuing question and answer session, the Constitutional Treaty debates of 2005 was raised as an example of European sentiments that were stumbling block towards deeper integration. Here, Prof Mach was quick to point out that the voters were distracted by other issues – rather than expressing fundamental dislike of much-needed European integration. Referenda on EU issues have often been used as a vote of confidence against national politicians rather than the issue in question.