European Union Citizen Identity

European Union Citizen Identity

Evaluate whether a European Union „citizen‟ identity can be produced through „social constructivism‟?


This essay tries to find an answer to the question, which is set out above: „Whether a European Union citizen identity can be produced through social constructivism.“ At the beginning we outline what the social constructivism is and then we move to the central problem of this essay – how could be such a goal accomplished, if it even is possible. Then we look into some evidence of how contemporary attempts of producing some sense of „EU citizenship“ or „europeanism“ are working out. And in the end from arguments and evidence I will try to make a conclusion, in which will be the question answered.

Social constructivism is a theory, which holds that identity is not static, but rather in a continuous process of redefinition. Identity is from her nature fluid and we can find this aspect of identity on a personal level in the same way, in which it is present on a national level. We can choose who we are, at least to some extent. This proposition about identity is central to the theory of social constructivism. In the opposition against the social constructivism theory is the theory of essentialism, which considers identity static. It sees identity as an essence inherently existing in objects and therefore it cannot be changed.[1] A man’s identity is determined by his nationality, ethnicity, race, sex etc. For the essentialists is not identity a matter of choice. But this essay will come from the constructivist assumptions, as it will try to assess the feasibility of producing a European Union „citizen‟ identity through this theory.

Given the dynamic nature of identity, we can assume that some supranational identity like the EU citizen identity could be created. But from what would be this identity derived? Or if we borrow the term essence – what would be the essence of identity of a man, who is born in the EU as its citizen? What would it mean? Citizenship includes engagement in public and political affairs and the acceptance of particular norms and values, as well as particular duties.“[2] The only way to answer the question of the citizenship meaning is by appealing to the core values” of the EU, because common norms and values are the main things, which enable a citizenship identity to be created. The core values of the EU consist mainly of shared set of ideas and values, which are based on liberal democracy and have its common roots in the Enlightenment. In the age of Enlightenment were developed ideas about freedom, rule of law, pluralist democracy and human rights, which were derived from the concept of natural rights, which was also introduced. In the same period a member of the Scottish Enlightenment Adam Smith founded the Classical school of economics, which had at least inspired all latter economic thought. The Europe have very valuable legacy passed down from the Enlightenment and it seems that the basic concepts are common to all countries in the EU. Every country that is becoming a member of this organization must subscribe itself to hold and keep these core values.  So it seems that there are sound common basis on which we can build some sense of universal Europeanism. We can also say that the essence of Europeanism comprises the common values and ideas set out above.

But is it enough to create a citizenship identity? Just one part of the definition has been fulfilled yet – the part about common values and norms, but what about engagement in public and political affairs? There is a critical requirement for the EU citizens to engage in public affairs. There has to be a common ground for it. The field on which the vital decisions of the EU come into existence are somewhere behind closed doors, where the people have no chance to influence anything. It is quite commonly called a democratic deficit. The only chance of engaging the EU public space is to attend the European election. But the European parliament is largely seen as a useless institution, because its MEPs don’t have the right of initiative. They are maybe the only members of parliament across Europe, who cannot put forward any legislation. For this purpose there is the European Commission, which has no accountability a no legitimate political mandate. Of course they don’t even call themselves politicians, they are just bureaucrats.  The turnout at the European elections is becoming smaller and smaller. In the year of 1979 there was nearly 62 % attendance, 56,67 % in 1994, 49,15 % in 1999, 45,47 % in 2004 and 43 % in 2009.[3] It will be interesting to see the turnout next year. If the institutional framework stays in this configuration, we cannot expect any changes in the engagement in the EU public affairs.

But let us say that the institutional framework moves in the direction to solve the democratic deficit somehow. If there was a purpose in the European election and people felt that their vote, can really influence and change things, there would be a chance for larger identification with the EU and its citizenship. It could be also a good chance for more charismatic leaders to take charge. For example if the European Commission became a political institution and its members had political mandate and accountability, they would also possibly gain some credibility at last. The European Commission always was an engine of the integration. It has its ideology of integration, which would not disappear even if its members were to be selected through proper elections. Such politicians would have the power to influence people with their ideas and create what is in social constructivism called ideational socialization”, which could in the end be enough to create real EU citizenship. Of course it would also take enhanced cultural and social policies, which would appeal to people as they would match their interests and benefit them.

The EU leaders can take an example from the phenomenal success of the Erasmus mobility program for students and introduce some mobility program for workers. A lot of money is wasted for example in the Common Agricultural Policy, which benefits no one and doesn’t help to create any sense of Europeanism at all.

Are there any arguments that would oppose the view set out above, how the EU citizen identity could be created and would not come from the side of essentialists? Of course, there are some and one very strong. The especially strong argument is called nationalism. Nationalism does not contradict the social constructivism theory that identity is fluid, but it fights against the creation of a supranational identity. There is no such thing as European nationalism. Maybe we could find some very rare examples – every one of them located in Brussels. Nationalism is connected to the Westphalian idea of sovereignty and a nation state. The EU is a post-nationalist, post-westphalian and post-democratic institution.[4] But in many states are still very strong tendencies towards nationalism and of course also many people who didn’t give up on democratic institutions with accountability (Which the EU, especially the EC is not).  Another danger from nationalism lies in the fact that it is becoming stronger in a crisis situation and now we are in the middle of very serious economic crisis to which there seems to be no end. As the nationalism is surging the EU institutions in the contrary are losing confidence.[5] People don’t trust the EU institutions as they are not able to fight the crisis and are doing bad and late decisions.


If we take the assumptions of social constructivism and ask if it is possible to produce the EU citizenship through this theory, it seems pretty feasible. But we cannot answer easily – yes it is – we have to ask further: What conditions and requirements must be met for this to be possible? We can say that the first condition, which is some common basis of ideas, is met. It could be also argued otherwise, but there are some at least basic ideas, core values, which we can say originated in Europe and are common to all countries in the EU. The second defining feature of a citizenship, which is the engagement in public matters, is in my opinion not met yet. The problem is in the architecture of the EU institutions. There is no accountability of the EC and elections to European Parliament cannot change anything. If the change is what people want, they still have to do it through national election. As long as the European elections will be this useless, there will be no real engagement of people in public and political matters on the level of the EU and therefore the production of the EU citizen identity will not be possible.

Even if the architecture of institutional framework changed, there will still be a strong factor opposing the EU citizen identity. It is the nationalism, which is on a surge in countries, which are dealing with the economic crisis. As the economy is in a bad shape, there is only a very limited space for dreams like the production of the EU citizenship identity. There is still an unremovable feeling in the air that it is a desire of only few people and the ordinary people fighting with so different problems couldn’t care less.



Lowe, A. Jonathan. Essentialism, Metaphysical Realism, and the Errors of Conceptualism. Philosophia scientiae, 2008. Online:

Van Deth, Jan W. The ‘good european citizen’: congruence and consequences of different points of view. 2008. p. 175

European Parliament. Online:

Rumelili, Bahar. Constructing identity and relating to difference: understanding the EU’s mode of differentiation. Review of International Studies, 2004, 30, p. 27–29

The Guardian. Crisis for Europe as trust hits record low. 2013. Online: