European Identity Revisited – Discussing Identity in the EU Context

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For the past quarter of century, the European project has been trying to create a European Identity. This statement presents many questions. What is European identity? Has the European Union been successful in producing an identity of its own? Is a European Identity even needed or desired? Could a European identity peacefully coexist with a national identity and vice versa? Sixty years after the Rome Treaties, this conference’s purpose was to spur people on and to continue the discussion of these complicated and perhaps unanswerable questions. JEF Erfurt hosted a two-day conference on one of the pressing questions the EU is facing today.

From March 24 to 25, 2017, around 40 people, including a number of Willy Brandt School students, came together to discuss those questions, and many more, in the midst of Erfurt at the Domplatz facilities of the University of Erfurt.

The conference was opened by a keynote speech on the topic of “European Identity and Nationalism” by Prof. Dr. Ireneusz Pawel Karolewski – a leading expert on the topic and professor of political science at the Willy Brandt Centre for German and European Studies at the University of Wroclaw and adjunct professor at the Potsdam University. After the introductory note, participants were involved in a question and answer session.

On the next day, six workshops were given by experts in their fields, allowing the participants the opportunity to widen and deepen their knowledge on the topic and to engage in vivid discussions. Workshops were presented on the topics and questions surrounding: how is Eastern Europe integrated in the EU in terms of European identity and how is it ready to receive other migrants?; EU governance and European identity; the relations between language and communication towards European Identity; the ideas of European identity in academia; identifying Identity and researching into collective identities; and citizenship of the EU.

The final point on the agenda of the conference was a panel discussion on “Does the EU need a European Identity?”, which showed, once more, the complexity of the topic. The focus of the panel discussion first emphasized the evolvement of the conceptualization of the European identity and then shifted towards contemplating if a European identity actually exists The panelists discussed different standpoints, which ranged from believing that an EU identity is not needed to strongly supporting a European identity, to the desire to move towards deeper European integration.

We, JEF (Young European Federalists) Erfurt and students of the Brandt School, saw this conference as a platform where academics, practitioners and students had the possibility to come together to discuss these issues. We believe this inclusionary approach facilitated the bridging between theory and practice, and helped to continue this much-needed discussion. In the future, we intend to continue hosting conferences on relevant topics related to the EU. In times of Euroscepticism, this conference showed, once more, that platforms have to be created where people can exchange ideas and find solutions to current problems.

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Marie Ullmann is a second year student at the Brandt School, specializing in IPE and Profit- and Non- Profit Management. Before coming to Erfurt, she completed a bachelor's degree in International Relations at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands, and due to her interests in the Caucasus, she spent a semester abroad in Georgia.