Democracy and Identity in the EU

Democracy and Identity in the European Union

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Kathleen R. McNamara, professor of government and foreign service at Georgetown University, discusses democracy and identity in the European Union.

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Kathleen R. McNamara

Professor of Government and Foreign Service, Georgetown University


Irina A. Faskianos

Vice President of National Program and Outreach, Council on Foreign Relations

FASKIANOS: Good afternoon from New York, and welcome to the CFR Fall 2019 Academic Conference Call Series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president of the National Program and Outreach here at CFR. Thank you for joining us.

Today’s call is on the record, and the audio and transcript will be available on our website, As always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy.

We’re delighted to have Kathleen McNamara with us to talk about democracy and identity in the European Union. Dr. McNamara is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University. Her work focuses on markets, culture, and politics in the European Union and the United States.

Her most recent book is The Politics of Everyday Europe: Constructing Authority in the European Union, which was published in 2016. Dr. McNamara has served as vice dean for Faculty and Graduate Affairs in the School of Foreign Service and as director of the Mortara Center for International Studies.

She has taught at Princeton University, been a visiting scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation, a German Marshall Fund Fellow, a Fulbright Fellow, and a Distinguished Scholar in Residence at American University’s School of International Service. She is the recipient of the 2018 Distinguished Scholar in International Political Economy Award from the International Studies Association at Georgetown.

Dr. McNamara, thank you very much for being with us today. The European Union seems to be in turmoil. We’ve seen over the past decades challenges ranging from migration to Brexit, which all continue, so I thought you could begin by talking about what role does identity play and will play in resolving some of these crises that we’ve been seeing.

MCNAMARA: So I guess what’s really, really important to start with is that we know, as scholars, that political communities will hang together, and stay together, and be much more stable if there is a sense of shared identity amongst the people in those political communities.

You know, historically if we look across the different types of political entities that have risen and fallen, including the modern nation-state, we know that if people feel like they share a common destiny together, they are much more likely to deal with the political turmoils that come about. So for example, something like the European Union’s eurozone crisis, which was very severe; the migrant crisis which has been very challenging; and now the question of Brexit—that it really is important that people within the European Union feel like they are bound together in some way.

But what’s very interesting is it’s quite difficult to figure out if there really is that sort of sense of European identity. There’s a lot of different types of polling that has been done. There is something called the Eurobarometer, which is a statistical polling agency within the EU, and when they ask people if they feel like you’re a citizen of the EU, people—the majority of people across the entire EU do say yes. The majority do say yes.

But there’s a lot of difference, so in certain countries like Bulgaria and Greece, it will be around 57 percent; in other countries like Germany and Spain it will be 88, 89 percent. And so there is quite a lot of variation. And the notion that only half of your citizens actually do feel like they are part of this political entity is problematic.

Another really interesting thing is, of course, the European Union exists on top of the nation-states and the national identities inside the European Union, so again, one of the questions that’s often asked is if you see yourself as only your own nationality—say, Italian—or whether you think of yourself as Italian and European, or perhaps only European. So we have some polling numbers that show that, once again, a majority of people do see themselves as both their own nationality and European, but there is also a strong subset—about a third—that say they only feel their own nationality. Interestingly, the people who call themselves European only is really small. That’s about 2 percent.

We also see that this sort of sense of frayed European identity or absent European identity tracks really closely with what we call Euroscepticism, the notion that the European Union is viewed in a skeptical way on the part of a polity.

But I would say one thing about looking at polls is it doesn’t really capture everything we need to know about European identity. I think about identity as something that’s much more dynamic—what we call socially constructed, something that actually depends on you being part of some sort of particular group of people as a set of social processes at work. So it’s not something that you are sort of born with or it’s intrinsic inside of you, not something like this notion of a clash of civilizations, right, where we all have our—kind of part of our DNA. But instead, I think we should think about identity as something that sort of shifts and changes, and is a part of and dependent on the broader kind of cultural setting that you’re in—what’s the social setting that you are in.

Now culture and identity matter, I think, because they help us perceive and understand the world, right? We make sense of the world in part because of the identity that we have and the culture that we’re in. So it’s pretty fundamental to sort of thinking about the politics of the EU. It’s really fundamental to how people perceive is the EU giving me what I need, is it successful, is it a good thing? And those shared, everyday lived experiences that shape our culture and shape our identity are really important.

You can think about this in lots of different ways, right? You can think about how we’re all part of different cultures in our universities, you know, in the major that we decide to major in, in the kind of groups that we belong to—you know, are we sort of hipsters who go to coffee houses, or are we in, you know, science labs, or do we go work at Goldman Sachs and become finance people? Those are all different types of cultures.

But what’s really important for thinking about the EU and the future of the EU is that we know from history that nation-states have been able to create this common bond and this sense of identity even when people have very different identities, through lots of different types of government policies; that governments actually often have used symbols—things like flags, things like currencies with pictures on it of George Washington, for example, for us—and that those types of symbols as well as the practices we engage in—things like going to a baseball game and standing up and singing the national anthem. That’s something we all do together across the entire country, and it’s a practice that creates this shared sense of community and shared sense of identity.

So it turns out that the EU actually has been quite busy doing those sorts of symbols and practices, and trying very hard to create a sort of common European identity. The Euro itself, of course, has a European map on it, has European symbols on it. The Europeans have shared common passports that are burgundy in color that have European Union symbols on them. But you’ll notice in both of those cases—currency and passports—the European symbols are also joined to national level symbols, right, so the European coins will have an Irish harp on it or a picture of Cervantes, right, for the Spanish coin, as well as the European symbols. The passports will also say France—you know, the Republic of France, as well as saying the European Union.

So the EU has had this really difficult task of having to navigate national identities, which are still quite strong, at the same time as creating this overlaid European identity. And that—to sort of, you know, conclude and open up the conversation—to me that has created a much weaker sense of European identity than what we’re used to seeing on the national level; that in fact the EU has sort of resisted trying to be kind of in your face about a common European identity. It has been quite subtle on what I call sort of banal, right—that they’ve chosen things that aren’t challenging to those national identities.

But we’re at a point in time now where the European Union has done so many things and is now so intrusive in people’s everyday lives that actually that sort of thin sense of identity is no longer enough; that the big project for the EU going forward and for it to be a successful democratic project is to create a deeper sense of European identity.

And I have some ideas about what it might do, but a lot of those ideas really focus on the need to move away from the sort of banal type things and actually engage in much more direct, contested, impassioned conversations about what the EU should be and where it should go.

So I think I’ll stop there and let’s see what folks have to say.

FASKIANOS: Great! Thank you so much. Let’s go to the students for their questions.

OPERATOR: At this time we will open the floor for questions.

(Gives queuing instructions.)

Our first question comes from Washington and Lee University.

Q: Hi. My name is Gabriel Worthington (sp).

So I was wondering if you see the European Union as just an extension of, like, nation-state identity, or if you see it as kind of a new type of way people identify.

MCNAMARA: Gabriel, that’s a fantastic question and actually goes to a really important kind of debate that hasn’t at all been settled yet.

I think the EU is trying to construct a very new type of political identity, and that’s in part why it’s such a heavy lift, right—that’s nation-states were really built on an identity that was much more focused on things like military might, and national sovereignty, and a sense of kind of homogeneity of sort of ethnicity, religion, race, and so on. And the EU has been built by design, right, to be something that tries to be a universal identity that crosses over all of those different specific identities, that focuses on things like liberal values, freedom, democracy, markets that are open but markets that are also protecting the citizens who work within them. So it turns out that history does not have a great template for trying to design a sense of kind of emotional attachment to something that is not the kind of traditional nation-state.

Q: Thank you.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Washington & Jefferson College.

Q: Hello. Professor McNamara, this is Bugu Mesal (ph) from Washington & Jefferson College.

Why is there a disconnect between the European identity in terms of the elites and the public if there are really—if the notion was to build, it was built around common values? These common values were seen differently by the European elites and the European public.

MCNAMARA: Another terrific question that, again, gets at a heart of one of the challenges.

My view—and, you know, in my writing I’ve often critiqued the European Union for being too elite-centered, for being—you know, I think the values that came out of World War II and the construction of a European Union after, you know, two horrendously destructive world wars was a very, very good thing, but I think the EU sort of rested on a very technocratic or elite-centered way of governing, and that that’s simply not sustainable any more, right—that it may have worked for the early few decades of what the EU was doing when it was created, but the EU now has become just this huge kind of intrusive political authority in people’s everyday lives to the point where that sort of elite technocracy is simply not sustainable, right?

So this gets to your question about this disconnect between the public and the elites—that I think, you know, the elites very easily saw the benefits of the EU, and believe me, this thing is so complicated. I’ve been studying it for, you know, over two decades and I barely understand it myself, right? It’s a very complicated, very kind of legalistic, institutionalized thing.

And so I think elites—political elites, and activists, and people in Europe who think that the EU is a good thing really have to figure out how to make it feel meaningful, and accessible, and important to the people on the street, and that’s a very difficult thing.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: And as reminder, if you would like to ask a question, please press the star key followed by the 1 key.

Our next question comes from Monroe Community College.

Q: Hello, my name is—my name is John Zayela (ph). I would like to know what’s the identity of people that voted for Brexit.

MCNAMARA: Wow, you guys are good—another great question.

So the people who voted for Brexit—the best predictors of who voted to leave the European Union in the U.K. are age and where you live, right—that in fact young people tended to support remaining in the EU by, you know, a very, very large percentage—75 percent or something if you were twenty-five and below.

But every time you get, you know, sort of each cohort five to ten years older, you saw a movement away from support for the EU and an embrace of the notion that the U.K. would be better outside of the EU.

The second thing is it also tracks sort of the geography of urban settings, places where the economy is doing quite well and it’s quite vibrant, and you also tend to have a much greater diversity of race, and ethnicity, and types of people living around you—that those folks tended to vote very much to remain whereas the more rural-based communities and those that are suffering through economic hard times, again, tended to vote to leave the EU.

So you can probably connect the dots yourself, right—(laughs)—that in fact, you know, these are very distinct populations in terms of the way people think about themselves, think about their life chances, think about the role of something like the EU, which is this, you know, very large—twenty-eight countries; soon, presumably to be twenty-seven once the U.K. leaves—but this, you know, large, kind of diverse, open place, open market, open borders, and I think ultimately that those whose identities feel very challenged by that sort of cosmopolitan openness are the folks that did decide that it would be better to leave the EU.

So there’s a very kind of, you know, complex and important relationship, I think, between your everyday lived experiences—you know, are you living in a place that is—where you feel like there are opportunities, and there’s possibilities for growth?

You know, I think—in terms of the young people, I think, you know, they’ve grown up in a world where they can get on easyJet and fly to Italy for the weekend, and fly back, and never have to, you know, show their passport to cross borders, whereas perhaps their grandparents—you know, that world seems perhaps frightening and inaccessible.

So I think that the Brexit vote really sort of demonstrates how, even in one country, you know, you can have very different experiences and very different notions of what is desirable and important.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from University of Southern California.

Q: Yes, hi. My name is Harry Burke (sp).

So I read your piece in Foreign Affairs from May 2018 where you argue—I think quite persuasively—for less—as you I think mentioned in a previous question—of elitist, technocratic implementation of EU rules and having more flexibility among member states.

But my one question is, you know, where do we exactly draw the line in terms of—and I’m thinking specifically of Hungary and Poland’s recent descent into more illiberal practices, Orbán saying he wants a, quote, “illiberal democracy.”

And specifically, is it possible for the EU to carry on with member states that, at least currently, have leaders who espouse such—are so hostile, I would argue, to liberal values that I’d consider to be foundational  to the European Union and, you know, if they can’t carry on, like, what are the remedies to try to correct those issues in Hungary and Poland where they’re attacking the rule of law, packing the courts, and attacking the media? Is it simply like what the EU in Brussels tried to do in September, I think it was, where they are practicing an Article 7 case against Hungary? Or is there other remedies to try to solve that problem?

MCNAMARA: Thank you for bringing this up. I think this is, again, one of the kind of crises facing the EU which I didn’t mention in my kind of introduction but absolutely I think is, you know, up there along with the eurozone crisis which, you know, has sort of gone away for now but I think will come back—(inaudible)—Brexit.

I would absolutely put the kind of rollback of liberal democracy in some of the European states as, you know, on equal footing with those other—those other crises as a huge and important challenge.

So I also like the way you framed the question. I mean, I do think we need to allow for kind of diversity and contestation around EU policies as opposed to just saying, you know, we’re either all in and all on board with the EU, or we’re all out, right? We need to sort of have normal politics of, you know, arguing about kind of the best way to go forward, and so on and so forth, but I would not say that normal politics should include, you know, the types of activities going on in Hungary and Poland right now. I completely agree with you that the EU needs to be much more aggressive at sanctioning and, you know, actually sort of having costs to those different types of activities going on.

Interestingly, I think, you know, studying the EU we can often learn a lot from studying actually the United States and its sort of historical development because, you know, when we first came about, we were a very loose collection of colonies, and then we became a republic, but we still had an extremely sort of federal devolution down to the states. And one of the things that we saw, actually, after the Civil War was we had pockets of authoritarianism and this sort of illiberal democracy like you are seeing with Hungary and Poland in the South after the Civil War where basically the federal government tolerated, you know, practices of, you know, racial discrimination, and voter discrimination, and illiberalism and, you know, sort of the, you know, complete sort of subversion of legal protections and so on. And the reason they did that is because they wanted to keep the country together after the Civil War, and so they looked the other way.

And I think that’s very much what’s going on in the EU today—that there is this sense, you know—particularly Merkel, you know, shares this sort of center-right kind of policies with some of these leaders in Hungary and Poland, and so some of the sort of Pan-European politics is such that unfortunately I think, you know, there hasn’t been a kind of political will to go after Hungary and Poland as much as we should.

But again, what strikes me so much when I study the EU is that a lot of the kind of problems, and obstacles, and things that are happening we’ve very much seen if we sort of look historically at other political entities that are sort of evolving and changing over time. But I’m very much hopeful that they do move forward because it’s really unacceptable what’s going on.

Q: Thank you.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from East Mediterranean University.

Q: Hi. My name is Isanga (ph) of Eastern Mediterranean University.

Many Europeans think that the sovereignty of the state has been transferred to the EU as unelected bureaucrats in Brussels tend to make decisions and enforce it on their countries. In your opinion, is there a link between democratic deficit and the rise of identity politics in Europe?

MCNAMARA: OK, so let’s see. I would agree that the EU is absolutely impinging upon the sovereignty of the member states. You know, as I said, I think on balance the EU has been a very positive thing for Europe, but I think it’s really important not to gloss over or hide from the notion that, you know, the EU’s laws, for example, are what’s called supreme over national laws, so the European Court of Justice functions essentially as the supreme court of Europe in the same way that the American Supreme Court, right, will rule over all other laws within the United States.

So if you have a European court that has the, you know, final say on all laws, including national laws, you know, that’s way beyond anything we’ve ever seen in terms of international cooperation, right? The EU is not just an international organization like the IMF, or the WTO, or the World Bank, or something like that. It really is its own political authority, and therefore, as you say, it’s incredibly important that Europeans figure out how to get its democratic legitimacy right.

So in the past, people have argued—like Andrew Moravcsik, who is at Princeton—have argued that in fact, you know, things like identity and democratic legitimacy aren’t actually that important because the heads of state, you know—Emmanuel Macron, for example—you know, go to Brussels and they negotiate with the other heads of state—other European heads of state, and they come up with policies. And so it’s democratic because Emmanuel Macron was elected democratically.

But that seems to me to kind of really not grapple with how much sovereignty the EU now has intruded upon. In my own view, it is impossible to have democratic legitimacy without this sense of shared political community, and without this sense of shared identity. Again, going back to the American case, I’ve written a paper that will be out pretty soon with a co-author, Paul Musgrave, who is at University of Massachusetts Amherst, and we look at the early American republic, and we look at how hard it was to develop a common American identity. And in fact people thought politically that their futures were attached to the state they lived in, so there was sort of a sense of Virginia politics, or Louisiana politics, or Massachusetts politics, and not a sense of sort of shared American politics.

And it took a long time to develop Pan-American political parties and a sense of that sort of common destiny. So, you know, I don’t think this is something that’s going to happen overnight by any stretch of the imagination, and it’s often going to be ugly, and impassioned, right—as it was in the American case, and I could talk more about that if you guys want. But I do think that it’s one of the links that has to be there for true democratic legitimacy.

Thank you for your question.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Ohio State University.

Q: Hi. Calling in from the Glenn College of Public Affairs at Ohio State.

Question is to what extent do you think that European identity is related to a(n) insider-outsider dynamic with Russia in particular—at the time, Soviet Union—as the other? And if the otherness—and, you know, us-and-them kind of dynamic is going on, how have the current—or recent changes in global dynamics, with China arising and Russia receding to some extent, at least economically—changing that identity for the Europeans?

MCNAMARA: Uh-huh—another really interesting sort of line of thinking here. You know, you are absolutely right. You know, if you look at the sort of social psychology literature which thinks about sort of what activates a sense of shared identity at more the individual level, you know, there’s lots of evidence around—you know, that it’s really handy to have an other, as you say, where you can kind of define yourself in opposition to some other group. You know, which is very problematic, right, obviously in terms of sort of thinking about having peaceful relations within a community, and so on. so we have then this idea that Putin’s Russia might be constructed as the other against the European identity, exactly as you say.

And I think that there—you know, those dynamics are definitely at play. One thing that really struck me was when Russia invaded an annexed Crimea, the European leaders were very uncomfortable about what to do, because many of the countries in Europe were very reliant upon natural gas from Russia and were sort of reluctant to get very involved or take a real stance against it. But there was this instance of the downing of a passenger plane that occurred over Ukraine on the part of these special forces—what they call the little green men, right? They don’t have Russian insignias on their uniforms, but they definitely did it. And at that moment, that’s when the different countries came together and actually officially sanctioned and worked together to use foreign policy to kind of really construct a sense of this is unacceptable, Russia has done this thing, we as Europeans are going to stand together and stand up to Russia.

So I was, frankly, surprised by that, because I thought their material, sort of, you know, hardcore strategic interests would get in the way. So it’s very clear to me, certainly amongst the elite, that that’s something that can be activated. And you didn’t mention this, but of course the election of Donald Trump is another sort of potential us versus them type dynamic because Donald Trump has been very against the EU in general. He find the notion of this sort of deep international cooperation and transnational commitments and so as unethical – or, antithetical, that’s the word – to national sovereignty. And he also has sort of rejected a lot of the basic principles that underline, I think, the sort of philosophy of the European Union. So I definitely have also seen a sort of – a sort of rallying effect that comes from Europeans wanting to sort of have their own – their own philosophy, their own way forward, their own foreign policy in opposition to the current American foreign policy.

Q: Thank you.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Wheaton College.

Q: Hello. This is Professor Imran Chowdhury.

This is a from a student who actually had to run off to class. This is from Shamar Mahon. He asks: Have you recognized any specific counties or social groups that are more open to actually adopting a European identity? So you had spoken about that 2 percent. So who are those folks who are adopting the European identity? Thanks.

MCNAMARA: (Laughs.) Yeah. Yeah, that’s a great question. And there’s an easy answer, actually. They’re what one sociologist, Adrian Favell has called the Eurostars, which if anyone has traveled between France and the U.K. knows the Eurostar is the train that goes underneath the English Channel, right? It’s a really great kind of fast way to go from Paris to London. And he basically sort of zeroed in on this group of people who are, you know, very mobile, who have lived in multiple countries in the EU, and who are the ones that really are sort of the winners from the dropping of borders and the ability, you know, to work within anywhere. If you’re a citizen of one of the twenty-eight countries the EU, you don’t need any kind of—you don’t apply for any kind of papers or anything. You can literally work anywhere within the EU.

So for those that have the interest and the ability to take advantage of this, you know, big mobile labor market, those definitely are the 2 percent. I think the other 2 percent are those whose parents may be two different nationalities, right, so have grown up what we call the third-country kids, right? The kids who grow up with a mixture of their own national identities such that to them the notion of being European is freeing because they don’t have to choose one nationality over the other. And, you know, what’s interesting is there’s another sociologist Juan Diez Medrano, who’s based in Barcelona. And he’s actually doing a big, big project on marriage across nationalities in the EU, which is growing over time and which you can imagine, the more that happens the more you’re likely to see generations growing up that are very comfortable thinking of themselves as Europeans because they grow up in a household perhaps with two different languages, but certainly with different nationalities.

So it’s a very small population, for sure, but it’s also a population that tends to vote and tends to matter in the world, because they tend to be better off. So they do have some way in European opinion.

Q: Thank you.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Kentucky Wesleyan College.

Q: Hello. Yes. So my question is as we see this identity crisis and upcoming Brexit can we expect an increase in cultural friction and an increase in cultural displacement throughout Europe?

MCNAMARA: Hmm. That’s a great question too. So it’s interesting. Brexit has been this kind of long, drawn-out drama. In preparation for this talk, I went back and looked at sort of the timeline. You know, the whole thing starts in 2013 when David Cameron makes this announcement that he’s going to actually have a referendum on the EU. And it just sort of keeps going on, and on, and on. And, you know, who knows exactly where we’re going to end up. But one of the fascinating things that happens with Brexit is that it has made exiting the EU much less attractive for all the other member states.

That there’s thinks like Marine Le Pen’s, you know, party in France has moved away from the notion that, you know, to be good populist means to exit the EU. So no Frexit, right? French exit. So instead, populist parties who may be very skeptical about the EU have embraced the notion of trying to change the EU from within. And I think that’s a very, very positive development. I think that’s exactly the kind of sort of normal politics that we should see develop in the EU, where people don’t like specific policies and they work to change them. But then they keep other parts of the European Union framework that are – that are successful.

So there used to be this sort of sense of counter-EU sort of identity construction on the part of Euroskeptics across the rest of Europe. But since Brexit has proved so damaging to the U.K., to its economy, to its society, to its politics, you know, and again we still don’t quite know where it’s going to end up, it’s actually had what we call a demonstration effect of sort of—(laughs)—you know, what not to do. So that’s been a sort of silver lining for those who think the EU is on balance a good thing, which is sort of ironic, right? (Laughs.)

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from New Mexico Junior College.

Q: Hi. My name is Aaron Prebenda.

And I just wanted to ask kind of a follow up one of your earlier questions. You talked about traditionally the kind of tendency in the EU for governance to be elite and technocratic. And I was wondering what kind of practical steps can the EU take to sort of move away from that governance, and that tradition of governance, and be a little bit more popular and understanding of rural communities, as you talked about in—like in Britain, that supported Brexit. And the constituencies—the Yellow Vest protesters in France, those types of constituencies?

MCNAMARA: Yeah, absolutely. Well, that’s the really, really hard question. If I had the answer to that, I would be a much more popular person than I am right now. But let me try. (Laughs.) I think one of the most important things is that Europeans have to build electoral party politics around the EU. What does that mean? That means that right now, you know, sort of political parties are much more oriented towards their national elections. Again, in the same way that, you know, in the U.S. in the early eighteenth century people were geared towards their local elections, right, their state-level elections.

What has to happen is there has to be kind of a shift in terms of a sense that it’s—on the part of the parties themselves, not just the citizenship and the voters, but the parties themselves. So how do you do that? Well, one thing you have to do is make the European Parliament a stronger body, right? So the EU does have this direct elected European Parliament where you, you know, elect members of parliament directly from wherever you live within the EU, and they go to Brussels mostly, although they also meet in France too. Historically, the European Parliament was a joke, right? They didn’t give it any power. It was viewed as sort of a talking shop and so on.

Gradually over time, the European Parliament has been getting more power, but most of the power still resides in the Commission, which is like a sort of executive bureaucracy that carries out rules through the European Court of Justice and carries out the decisions that the heads of state have made in their summit, and so on. And so it’s a—I understand that it’s easy for me sitting in my nice university ivory tower to say that, you know, you should do this, right? On the part of political actors and people who are actually, you know, representing their constituencies and so on domestically in these nation-states, you know, why would they want to share power with the European Parliament, right? So again, there’s kind of a big obstacle, I think, in terms of getting people to kind of realize that in the long run this is really important, and it has to happen.

And, you know, I think a piece that was circulated—another piece that was circulated was the monkey cage piece that I did for the Washington Post, where it talked about the last European Parliament elections last spring, which actually were the most kind of, you know, overtly politicized—and I think that’s a good thing—visible set of debates and contestations. We saw the Greens do very, very well. We also saw populist parties do well. Ironically, Nigel Farage, who was the head of the U.K. Independence Party, which is the big pro-Brexit party, has been a member of European Parliament himself for years. So ironically it’s the kind of anti-EU populists who have realized that this is an important platform for making their case. And I think all the other parties, left, right, and center, need to do this as well.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Washington & Jefferson College.

Q: Hi. This is Aaron Vigiano (sp) from Washington & Jefferson College.

I have sort of a similar question to that last one. So overall it seems like European Union identity’s a good thing, but what are some ways that we can convince the Europeans to buy into this identity?

MCNAMARA: (Laughs.) You guys and your hard questions all the time. Honestly! OK. Let’s see. So I think if you look back at history you see that nation-states have been very effective at inculcating national identity. So potentially when you were growing up and you were in elementary school you might have said the Pledge of Allegiance every morning. Yeah, yeah, exactly, right? So there you go, right? I mean, that was actually a sort of very conscious effort at identity creation, right, at creating a sense of American identity through the symbol, right, of the flag, but also the practice of saying those things every single morning, right?

And I think the EU has actually tried. And in my last book I sort of catalogue and I talk about all the different ways the EU has used all these kinds of symbols and practices to try to create a European identity. But I argue that they did it in a way that was very tepid, that actually did not directly confront the notion that, you know, this body, this political unit was actually challenging the sovereignty of nation-states and was really kind of infringing upon it. And, you know, that they’ve been so sort of careful not to step on the toes.

So if you think about the currency, for example, on the paper currency of the euro the pictures are of these sort of abstracted doorways and windows. Sort of architectural kind of history kind of things, of Roman cathedrals and things like that. But they’re not of any specific place. They’re universalized. But they’re also sort of—you know, you stamp out the sense of deep connection when you make it into this sort of abstracted universalized thing. The EU has an informal anthem. It’s Beethoven’s Ninth, the Ode to Joy, the beautiful Ninth Symphony Ode to Joy. But it’s never sung, because then you’d have to choose a language, right, and then you’d be privileging one language over another. So people passively can listen to it, but they don’t actually sing it together, right?

So, you know, it’s a very difficult task. And this goes back to, you know, one of the questions asked earlier about, you know, what kind of political identity is this. Very difficult task to think about how to create a twenty-first century political identity that’s not reliant upon a sort of us versus them type of thing. But I do think that the Europeans need to—need to think about anchoring these symbols and practices in everyday lives in a more meaningful way.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Eastern Mediterranean University.

Q: My name is Riyad Mohammed Ali (ph).

My question is very simple, maybe the extension of the previous question. Is that what can be a major stimulus to come towards the common European identity? Can financial benefit, or religion, or social structure take you together towards a common European identity?

MCNAMARA: Uh-huh. You’re not going to like my answer. You know what history and scholarship tells us is the easiest way to create a common identity is to go to war. That’s actually what we know from looking at past examples of when it is that people sort of really come together, and when we see nation-states sort of centralizing power, and legitimacy, and administrative capacity. And what’s so fascinating about studying the EU is that the EU has developed, you know, very robustly, has centralized a lot of different capacities, even without being a warfighting, militaristic entity, right? The EU is very much founded on the principles of peace, right? They do peacekeeping activities and so on, but they don’t have any kind of sense of offensive military strategy.

And that in part means that you have this much weaker European identity. It also means you have things like a European currency, but you don’t have a common fiscal union. You don’t have taxing and spending based in Brussels, right? The European Union does not collect any direct taxes. They don’t spend any direct taxes. And I believe—I’ve done some work with my colleague Daniel Kelemen about this—I believe that’s partly due to the reality that the EU has developed as a peacetime project. There’s this famous political scientist Charles Tilly who had this phrase, “War makes the state, and the state makes war.” And his idea was that war has been an incredibly important mechanism by which political elites could actually really bring people together and actually concentrate power at the center of a polity, right?

The EU, again, has been built on peace, on law, on institutions. And so I think, you know, it’s admirable, and it’s, to me, a very important kind of example of how all societies might move forward. But I think it does create much more difficulties in the sense of we’re never going to kind of replicate that similar type of nationalistic attachment.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Do we have any last questions?

OPERATOR: At this time we have no further questions in queue. Actually, we do have a couple follow ups at this time.

FASKIANOS: Great. Let’s go to them.

OPERATOR: Next question comes from Wheaton College.

Q: Hi. This is Professor Iman Chowdhary.

I wanted to ask, to what extent do you think that Euroskepticism is driven by the notion that the EU in the end may serve the interests of multinationals or large European businesses more than the interests of European citizens? To what extent do you think that that’s actually a perception that might drive Euroskepticism? Thanks.

MCNAMARA: I think that’s a really good point. I think the jury’s very much out on, you know, how we would define the European project. It is something that is kind of neoliberal and really geared toward corporate interests? Or is it something that actually focuses on protecting workers and making sure that the market, you know, is a good market that actually is sustainable and so on? But I think that the EU can very much be used by populist elites and parties, party leaders, as something that they can kind of depict as, say, austerity promoting. You know, the euro crisis, definitely the response to that toward Greece and other countries, like Spain, and Italy, and so on, was very, very harsh. I mean, it really, really tremendously degraded people’s economic circumstances.

On the other hand, the European Court of Justice that I talked about before has worked very hard to kind of push forward job protections, particularly around gender issues and women’s rights and so on. The EU also has been a world leader in things like digital privacy against companies like Google, and they’re constantly going after and fining the big American tech companies, as well, as being a world leader on climate change and alternative energy issues. So you know, I think it’s a complicated thing to figure out how to define the EU as an overall project. But I definitely think political elites have used it to tell these kind of more negative stories.

Q: Thank you.

FASKIANOS: Thank you. Next question.

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Philip’s College.

Q: Hello. My name is Derick Wilson, Fulbright scholar at St. Philip’s.

A slight slant to your age and location dynamic for Brexit. Northern Ireland and Scotland did not vote for Brexit in the U.K. They were smaller populations where the impact of citizens through university exchanges, young people’s exchanges, business and agricultural networks, and addressing poverty and inequality were strong, they were a local identity for EU. What’s your view on that in terms of is that one way in which the EU might expand identity through these programs?

MCNAMARA: Yeah. Yeah. Thank you very much for bringing that up and correcting me on that. I didn’t focus on the fact that absolutely that Ireland and Scotland, certainly, have thrived within the EU, and would view leaving—and do view leaving the EU as something that overall will negatively impact the population. And it’s interesting you bring up the kind of things like I guess Erasmus, right, which is this wonderful student program to allow for going and studying anywhere within the EU at the same rates that you would pay in your local university. And, again the data on that is very hard to capture, the degree to which that sort of student exchange program itself impacts identity. I follow that work pretty closely.

But intuitively, it seems to me, you know, based on sort of my own experience—I grew up living all over the world, and I think has profoundly shaped the way I think about these issues, the way I interact across borders and so on. And so it seems to me that the Erasmus program surely is important in constructing a European identity. And the EU, of course, keep jacking up the budget for Erasmus, so it clearly agrees that that’s something that’s very important. I think it was doubled last time they did the budget for it. So I thank you for your comment.

Q: Thank you.

OPERATOR: And at this time we have no further questions in queue.

FASKIANOS: Kate, can we just talk a little bit about the incoming president of the European Commission’s vision of creating a geopolitical commission?

MCNAMARA: Sure. So I think we have the Stewart Patrick piece, right, in the readings that was talking a little bit about the sort of trajectory of the EU in terms of its external face to the world, and whether we’re actually going to see the EU moving into a more kind of traditional geopolitical stance. And that’s something I find absolutely fascinating. I do think that there have been a lot of sort of grumblings under the surface where there have been a lot of changes going on within the European Union to make it much, much easier for the EU to act as a single coherent body, and project power, and to have strategy for sort of world politics. And of course, many people in Brussels view the U.K. leaving the EU as the perfect opportunity for the EU to be able to be much more active in foreign policy in sort of traditional ways.

There’s been a change in the way decision making occurs around the use of force and the mobilization of different activities within the EU that makes it much easier to have consensus and go forward. So I actually think it’s going to be fascinating to watch over the next five to 10 years the degree to which the EU does start to insert itself in global politics more effectively.

FASKIANOS: Wonderful. With that, we’ve reached the end of our hour. Kate McNamara, thank you very much for your analysis and insights. We really appreciate your taking the time to speak with us today, and to all of you for your great questions and comments. You can follow Dr. McNamara on her Twitter at @ProfMcNamara. So thank you, Kate, appreciate it.

MCNAMARA: It’s been an absolute pleasure. And truly, all of the questions were incredibly informed and really interesting. So it was a pleasure.

FASKIANOS: This concludes our fall 2019 Academic Conference Call Series. Our next call will take place in 2020. We will be sending the full call schedule in the next couple of weeks. So look out for that. Best of luck with the end of your exams and papers. And wishing you happy holidays. I also encourage you to follow @CFR_Academic on Twitter. Visit for new research and analysis, as well as our new Election 2020 portal, which you can find on our website, which—where we are tracking all the presidential candidates, producing podcasts on significant issues, as well as launching a video series on the challenges facing the next administration. So please go to often.

So thank you all again for your participation on this call. And wishing you a wonderful holiday break.


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