We Europeans

We may well ask where Europe is heading these days. Public opinion is notoriously fickle, and we are getting conflicting signals from different sources.

Adversity, as in recent times, tends to reinforce the hold of traditional national identities. So we still have to see whether we have really seen the back of old-style nationalism in Western Europe. Currently a mix of grievances over immigrant minorities and bailing out other countries is mutating into a new form of nationalism, less vicious than the old but equally insidious.

There are also long-term influences at work that challenge the existing order. One inevitably is globalization, another is the spirit of localism. “Not long ago, people said that globalization and the revolution in communications technology would bring us all together,” comments David Brooks in an op-ed piece in the New York Times. “But the opposite is true. People are taking advantage of freedom and technology to create new groups and cultural zones. Old national identities and behaviour patterns are proving surprisingly durable. People are moving into self-segregating communities with people like themselves and building invisible and sometimes visible barriers to keep strangers out.”

Many younger Europeans are imbued with this spirit of localism. People are going back to their roots.

Evidence of the power of localism is the dramatic growth, with the help of new technologies, of media that identify with the local communities they serve. Piet Bakker, a Dutch professor of journalism at the Hogeschool Utrecht, says “if you ask people what kind of information they want in a newspaper, local information almost always comes out on top.” Also the fact that a country like Spain has independent TV stations transmitting to communities no more than 20 kilometres apart would have been unthinkable even 20 or 30 years ago.

TV producers in most European countries have reported a subtle shift in viewer priorities since the early-90s – partly no doubt reflecting the troubled times we live in, but also pointing to something deeper. They detect a trend in demand away from international news and documentaries towards domestic issues, national and regional news.

Other straws in the wind are the growing popularity of regional folk music groups across much of Europe, East and West, and efforts to revive minority languages, some of them almost extinct.

Maybe the spirit of localism even helps explain the strange phenomenon of voter behaviour in the Eurovision Song Contest. People demonstrate a sense of solidarity with their neighbours. Old enemies like the Portuguese vote for the Spanish, Norwegians vote for the Swedes, young enemies like the Slovenes vote for the Serbs, and so on.

Quizzed on their cultural identity in a random survey in 2009 at the KUL University in Belgium, Catalan students said that they thought of themselves as Catalan first, then Spanish, then European. Scots saw themselves as Scots first, then British, then European, while Flemish Belgians considered themselves Flemish first, then Belgian, then European. Probably the most committed Europeans are the Italians but, in their case too, there is a renewed trend towards localism.

So where in the world are we going? Helped or hindered by the new technologies, Western Europe seems to be reconsidering its identity.

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Comments

  1. In my view, localism never dissapeared from Europe. Even with the age of empires, local identity alwas prevailed over center-influenced values. Also is the situation with European Union, an inter-state association and not a people union. The bond between people and EU is so weak, that even a music concert organised on 9th May cannot attract more than 1000 persons. The people look to the EU as to a funding mother, but they don’t feel like being its sons. It is always about a conventional marriage of European states, based not on common values, but on common economic interest. It is obvious that, when it comes on allowing foreigners to settle on their nationa land, the so-called “european citizens” runs desperately to their nationalist leaders, which to protect them from “strangers”. Far from being a citizens’ union, the EU is an artificial construct which cannot last too much. Both the Eurozone and Schengen crises are signs of its decline and fall.

  2. Hopefully, the EU project is maturing not disappearing. The fact the we are going through self-reflection on the issue of the EU is a sign that this ‘organism’ is alive. Negative emotions towards the EU are still emotions, they show attachment and that people do care.
    In terms of future the EU is a like a teenager about to make its own choice for next 5/9 years but we have to make that choice we can not keep blaming ‘them’. It is also without a doubt that the EU is seen as funding source on national levels and a scapegoat for politicians for uneasy choices. This seems to be one of the most acute elements of the current crises of the EU- because we are in a crises no doubt about it- lack of political leadership.
    The EU is almost like an abandoned child, there are no founding fathers, there is no caring mother. The UK is like a cousin who does not want to admit it belongs to the family, and Germany is like an old and tired uncle who can not be bothered to get politically engaged and it is easier to give some money now and again. France seems to be thinking what to do for good few years now and other Member States are to shy to express any views.
    This leads to a handful of European politicians of an average potential and intelligence, almost no charisma and vision, leading a continent… On the whole we are a dysfunctional family but still a family

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