June 30, 2014 by apaubxl
“Imagine there’s no countries. It isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for.[…] Imagine all the people. Living life in peace” (John Lennon, Imagine).
Nation Sates make extensive use of symbols to emotionally attach and connect people. People singing the same anthem and walking behind the same flag tend to be supporting each other and may even die for their country in times of war. Pushed to the extreme, the creation of the Nation State, the emotional feeling of belonging to a nation and a sense of superiority were the nurture of World War 2.
The European Union was not meant to unite Europeans “against” others. It was not meant to replace Member States by a Superstate. It was a project to overcome nationalism and as such an intellectual project. Apart from slogans like “Never [war] again!” it did not make use of any emotionally loaded symbols. But this is what made the project too abstract to grasp for people – too much something for intellectuals. Therefore the European Communities broke with their tradition and started half hearted to follow the “nationalist” example by borrowing the flag of the Council of Europe in 1986.
After the negative referenda in France and the Netherlands on the introduction of the EU constitution treaty in 2005 the question of symbols returned. The first pages of this treaty were a nice read. They were made for everyone and underlined the common values of the European Union as well as its symbols. In the struggle for a new legal basis the European leaders decided however to blame EU symbols for the negative referenda and deleted them in the revised version. What remained was a technical document to be understood only by experts – the return of abstractedness.
This opens the question for the future: Is it better to overcome nationalism by creating a new supranational identity or by triggering the intellectual capacity of Europeans? In the campaign to the European elections, the Austrian social democrats used the slogan “Austria in the heart, Europe in the brain”. If such a concept can work may be questioned. The majority of Europeans still does not participate in the EU elections. The focus remains on national politics.
I believe that we might need to eat that frog and use nationalist tools to overcome nationalism and to unite at a European level. Critics fear that creating an identity on a European level destroys regional and local identities. But we can see already that people are able to feel a belonging to different layers, their home town, their region and their country. At the FIFA World Cup, nations are playing against each other and each game starts with the anthems of the countries, the flags are shown and patriots are supporting their teams. Even in Belgium we can suddenly find Belgians everywhere. How would such an event look like with an EU team?