Speaking on European identity to the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels, the Minister for Europe summed up the situation as he saw it and asked a pertinent question:
“Much of Europe’s long historical development, certainly since the Middle Ages, has been about the gradual evolution of national identity out of tribal, cultural, and ideologically-based units. By the 19th century the nation state had become the embodiment of that expression of national identity. At the same time all those emerging and actual nation states had certain common features - political, cultural, philosophical, and increasingly economic and social - which were to an outsider identifiably European.Well, now, what a good question. And what, according to Mr Alexander, is the answer?
That has not changed with the creation of the European Union. But what the EU has brought is, for the first time, a common European political structure and framework for managing the previously competitive and unstable relationships between those states. Does that mean that we are now seeing the creation of a European political identity?”
“No. Thousands of years of common history, language and geography have developed into a common sense of European identity. In the 21st century, our European identity is one based on the values of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law, values tempered in the aftermath of two world wars into a project to bring peace, stability and prosperity to our continent.”Fascinating. What is this common language that Europe has developed over the centuries? English, one presumes, but that is first and foremost the language of the Anglosphere, not of Europe.
And the common history? Really? I doubt if Mr Alexander really means that the centuries of fighting various Islamic invaders, which chararterized Central and East European history, also applies to Britain.
As for the Anglo-French wars, which shaped developments in the west, they were largely of little significance in other parts.
So we are left with the “common” values of “liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law”, values singularly absent for large chunks of European history and in many parts of Europe.
In fact, we are faced with the usual conundrum. On the one hand the European Union was a necessary creation after the horrors of the first half of the twentieth century (actually, in some parts the horrors went on till the end of the centur, but Mr Alexander cannot be expected to know that).
On the other hand, it is an embodiment of all those wonderful European values, which flourished, when they did in some of the despised nation states. So, what is the answer to that question on identity?