Introduction to the Special Issue

5 Colum. J. Eur. L. 365 (1999)

George A. Bermann.

The subject of this year’s topical issue of the Columbia Journal of European Law promises to be topical for some time to come. Every model of European integration that has been competing for consideration-whether within the Union institutions or within the corridors of national power, or virtually anywhere for that matter- presupposes a European identity of sorts. Butjust at the time that a “European” identity might hope to be developing in the midst of the “national” identities with which it was commonly contrasted, the identity “landscape” has itself been growing more complex. Forces of globalization, and more particularly the growth of global institutions (such as the World Trade Organization or the International Criminal Court), are challenging the notion that the European Union is inevitably the broadest community of interest with which the peoples of Europe might meaningfully identify. On the other hand, a still sharper challenge to the nascent European identity arises from the fact that the community with which Europeans most closely identify (and against which the progressive development of a European identity is to be measured) is in fact not a national community at all, but one or more regional or other sub-national communities.

The strength of such identities are not merely the data of cultural history. Legal scholars have long observed that the viability of the European Union legal order depends on a shared belief in the existence of a European polity. Now that Member State populations must reckon with the possibility that they and their national legal order will be legally bound by measures adopted over the political objections of their representatives in Brussels, it is all the more important that the decision making apparatus at that level be invested with a strong dose of Union-wide political legitimacy. Such legitimacy may well depend on a Member State population’s sense that it shares a genuine political identity with the populations of most if not all of the other Member States. Obviously, the existence of social and cultural divisions among subgroups within or across Member State populations potentially complicates the development of such a Union-wide allegiance.

Member State political leadership may w ell face no greater political challenge today than that of helping to build an overarching sense of”Europeanness,” while at the same time accommodating the various national, sub-national and cross-national bonds that their populations have formed on the basis of a shared history, shared language, shared culture and shared customs. Poised as the European Union is on the brink of its largest enlargements to date-boasting a more heterogeneous membership than the founders of the EU could ever have imagined-the development of a true European identity may be more elusive than ever. At the same time, the drafters of the Amsterdam Treaty have gambled on the proposition that the new provisions on “closer cooperation” that they have introduced into the treaties establishing the European Community and the European Union will better enable the Community and Union to harness the heightened centrifugal political forces that enlargement will bring. Detractors are quick to suggest that, far from fostering the emergence of a European identity, the regime of closer cooperation will only expose and harden the social, economic and political fault lines that enlargement will bring.

Will participation by the European Union and its Member States in international regimes complicate the emergence of a European identity, vis-A-vis preexisting national and regional identities, or actually facilitate it? Arguably, national and sub-national European populations will as a result progressively consider themselves citizens of the world more than citizens of a specifically European polity. Even if they do not, they may form significant social, economic and political bonds with non-European actors within the relevant international fora; obviously such bonds will not in themselves necessarily advance the elaboration of a common identity among the peoples of Europe. Conversely, Europeans may actually deepen their sense of shared identity as their representatives discover-if indeed they do-a consistent commonality of values and coincidence of interests in these international fora.

Though these tensions will preoccupy the European Union for the foreseeable future, only on occasion will they present themselves in abstract terms, that is to say, in the terms that an intergovernmental conference is likely to address them. Far more often, they will be embedded in concrete legal and political contexts, and resolved only in conjunction with the resolution of the particular legal or political issue at hand.

The contributions to this special issue of the Journal on “European Identity: Opposing Pulls of Globalization, Nationalism and Regionalism” address these problems both in the abstract and in a few of the concrete settings in which they arise.