Gerard Delanty is Professor of Sociology and Social and Political Thought at the University of Sussex, Brighton, UK. He writes for the Eurozine magazine and his main current research concerns cosmopolitanism theory with an application to issues of Europeanization and modernity in a comparative perspective. In this interview, he comments on the European identity, the Nobel Prize for the EU, EU citizens in 20 years time and cosmopolitanism. He was interviewed by European Ideas Ambassador Nadia Bonifačić.
European identity operates through local, regional and national identities
From a sociological point of view, what is the significance of a European identity for the project of European integration?
It is all a question of what one means by the term ‘European identity’ If you mean the identity of Europeans, the answer will be very different from what I suppose you might mean, namely a specifically European identity as opposed to national identity. In this case, my view is that European identity is not necessarily something in opposition to national identity but compatible with it. European identity is best conceived of as an Europeanization of identities, that is an internal transformation of national identities. This is not unlike how national identity emerged out of a process of the nationalization of regional identities or in some cases of other collective or societal identities. It is in much the same way that European identity can be understood, less of an alternative kind of identity that one that variously co-exists or operates through local, regional and national identities.
In your opinion, how does the recent Nobel Prize affect the European spirit and can it really boost the morale of European citizens or have they become too sceptical?
The only comment that I have is that the Prize does acknowledge that the post-second world war project of European integration was a success in terms of its goal of bringing about lasting peace. Given the wars that destroyed Europe in the preceding decades – three wars between Germany and France – this is not an insignificant achievement.
Umberto Eco claims that the Erasmus programme has created the first ever generation of young Europeans, by enabling young people to integrate into other cultures and enter cross-national relationships which result in “European” families. Is an investment into mobility programmes an investment into creating a European citizenship?
No. Mobility cannot be a basis for citizenship or identity. The European project was founded to make possible four kinds of mobility, those of capital, labour, services and goods. It is possible to discern in the project of European integration today a tension between solidarity and mobility.
How do you see a typical European citizen in 20 years time?
There will not be a typical one, just different types, but certainly there will be an increasingly xenophobic middle class contemplating greater impoverishment while a despondent and diminishing liberal/left looks on as the scales of global power and influence will shift Asia and the enlarging BRIC bloc.
Where do you see cosmopolitanism in action in Europe?
Cosmopolitanism, which should not be equated with globalization or transnationalism, is more concerned with the normative potentials of the present – which include both the global and the local - and is unavoidably found in social struggles, which are located in an increasingly complex political context that cannot be so easily reduced to any one level, be it national or global. Certainly much of the project of European integration is imbued with the language of cosmopolitanism, but this does not make Europe cosmopolitan, since cosmopolitan norms are often not realized in practice or are partially realized and, moreover, they are interpreted differently by various social actors.