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The debate continues to rage in the comments to my history: starting assumptions post, much of it coming
from EUtopia regular Robin, a man firmly convinced of the superiority of national identities over any
European one:
your national identity comes readily to you but this EUropean identity seems manufactured by
those who are stakeholders in this EU project or its supporters.I also pointed out that Europeans
may not, depending on their nationality, have that much in common with other Europeans, and
many will have more in common with nations outside of Europe
Some fair points there, for sure. But what about the claim that your national identity comes readily to
you contrasted with this European identity seems manufactured the implication seems to be that
In search of a European identity
National identity vs European identity
August 15, 2009 by James Clive-Matthews
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national identities are somehow organically-formed.
This certainly can be the case true national identities are usually based on a closely-shared culture and
language. Think the Basques or Celts or Roma not confined within the borders of any one country, but
with a definite sense of nationhood.
The rise of national identities
Nation states, however, are entirely different beasts. The histories of France and Germany two of the
Great Powers of Europe, and key personifications of the nation state concept are dominated prior to the
last couple of hundred years by centuries of internal conflict and power struggles as their various
constituent parts battled for control. People in the 16th century may have felt French or German but
only AFTER they felt themselves Angevin, Bavarian, and so on. The same goes for Spain, Italy, Poland,
Austria, Switzerland pretty much every European state. Even England was formed from constituent parts,
albeit rather earlier than many other future European nation states.
In every case, a national identity had to be superimposed over the smaller-scale, pre-existing identities
of the units that were brought together to make up the new, larger nation state, to forge a sense of shared
identity between Angevins and Provencals, Bavarians and Saxons, Catalonians and Andalucians, where
previously there was not just none, but also frequently a sense of hostility and rivalry.
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Much of the time this has been due to the perception of some external threat, either real or fictional in
the case of 16th/17th century France, the rise of the Habsburgs in Spain, the Spanish Netherlands, Austria,
Northern Italy and the Holy Roman Empire; in the case of 19th century Germany, the perceived threat from
Austria-Hungary to the south and Denmark to the north; in 1930s Germany, the perceived threat was the
Great Depression, communism and the Jews. The reason for forging a new sense of unity is aimed both
internally to promote loyalty to the state in a time of crisis and externally to demonstrate that unity
to your enemies, and make clear that your constituent parts are no longer potential allies.
As Robin is so keen on his English/British identity, lets take that as a more detailed case study.
The rise of the British and English national identities
The British national identity has only been created during the last 3-400 years (first under James VI/I to try
to mesh his Scottish/English subjects together something that didnt work then after the Act of Union of
1707, mostly in response to the rise of France under Louis XIV to prevent the revival of the old Franco-
Scottish anti-England alliance). Yet this British identity *still* hasnt fully taken hold, with sizable chunks of
the population still feeling Scottish/Welsh/English/Cornish/Irish/whatever far more than they feel British
a feeling heightened by the different cultures and traditions, languages and religions and even (in the case
of Scotland) legal systems still in place in the various constituent states of the United Kingdom of Great
Britain and Northern Ireland.
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Just as the British national identity rose in response to a threat, so too did the English. The Danish/Viking
invasions of the 9th/10th centuries first led to concerted efforts at defence, then to alliances, finally to the
expansion of the old Kingdom of Wessex as the Anglo-Saxons fought back against the Danes. The
Heptarchy the old kingdoms of Wessex, East Anglia, Mercia, Northumberland, Kent, Sussex and Essex
(not to mention smaller kingdoms like Bernicia, Deira, Surrey, Lindsey, the Isle of Wight, Hwicce,
Magonsaete, Pecsaetan, Wreocensae, Tomsaete, Haestingas, the Middle Angles, and Cornwall which were
mostly sucked into the major seven during the course of the Dark Ages) was united as England not due to
any inherent feeling of shared identity, but thanks to the Viking threat and Alfred the Greats realisation that
the best bet was safety in numbers. (A very similar idea to that which led to the European Union, in fact.)
But thats just the creation of England as an entity not Englishness as an identity. As Robin rightly notes,
just because you can identify a geographical area with some common features (like England back in the 9th
century, or Europe today), doesnt mean that there is any sense of shared identity among the people of
that area.
English national identity took several centuries to emerge after Englands unification there were early
hints under Edward I as he battled the Welsh, Scots and French (again, the threat of war being a the key),
though most historians now agreeing that it was first fully conceived during the reign of Henry VII as a
more or less entirely political, top-down attempt to reunify the kingdom after the Wars of the Roses. (One
of the key manifestations of this new English identity was Henrys entirely PR-driven decision to name his
first-born son Arthur, after the legendary English King, made newly popular by Thomas Mallorys Le Mort
dArthur, published the very year that Henry seized the throne and brought the long-running civil wars of
York vs Lancaster to a close. How much better a symbol of Englands unity could there have been than for a
new King Arthur to take the throne? Shame he died, really)
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Englishness was maintained as an idea by Henry VIII, first to secure his throne and then (almost by
accident) during his dispute with the Papacy and subsequent Reformation. It was further solidified under
Elizabeth I as she tried to unite her religiously-divided country in the face of the constant threat of Spanish
and French Catholic invasions (trying to create a sense of national identity that could override the Catholic
identities of some of her subjects). But even that didnt work witness the Civil War that erupted 40 years
after her death.
Local vs national identities
Even today, there are sub-categories beneath Englishness that many people within England will pick as
their primary identity: Scouse; Geordie; Brummie; Yorkshireman; Northerner and so on. (Some of the
pre-English kingdoms have retained some sense of identity remain notably in Cornwall (mostly due to
the older Celtic national identity that pre-dates Cornwall as an entity); others have been entirely forgotten
how many people in modern-day Lincolnshire perceive themselves to be Lindseyans?)
All of these local identities are far more natural in origin than the English or British national identites
that lie above them as a broader unifying concept and such smaller-scale identities will always exist
because before both English and British identities arose, the most important identities were (quite
naturally) local the village, the town, and at a push the county.
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And little wonder until the 19th century, lets not forget, it would take at least a week to travel from
London to Edinburgh or Penzance. The only other Englishmen youd be likely to meet unless you were a
politician or noble would be at the local market or the county fair. Why should someone from Devon feel
any kinship with someone from Yorkshire? They would never meet, and even if they did they would speak
differently, have different customs and traditions and after the Reformation sometimes even different
religions. (The conversion to Protestantism was a decidedly localised affair in England, despite being a
top-down, state-ordained decision there are even records of neighbouring villages in early 17th century
Somerset, less than five miles apart, where one was Catholic, one was Protestant they went on to join
different sides in the Civil War, one supporting Parliament, the other the King)
This argument about not meeting people from far away and having little in common with them when you
do, of course, you could use against the concept of a European identity today what does a
Yorkshireman have in common with a Romanian?, etc.
Only today we are far more likely to encounter people from other EU member states than our forebears
ever were to meet a fellow Englishman from the other side of the country. You can drive to Romania in a
couple of days a journey time that, when the English national identity was being formed, wouldnt have
got you even a quarter of the way from Cornwall to London. Its quicker to fly from London to Romania
today than it would have been, back in the 16th/17th/18th centuries when national identities were forming,
to ride to the next town.
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An attempt at a conclusion
All this, of course, goes to explain my belief that that broad, higher-level senses of belonging at national
or European level are less important than lower-level, primary identites.
Yet even this isnt entirely true because senses of identity are entirely personal things. You can pick a
bunch of people who were all born and raised in the same village, and yet there will still be a wide range
of opinions among them as to what their primary identity (or identities) may be. Some may pick their
national identity as most important, others that of their local area, still others their religion or their class.
Because if the case study of the manufacture of Britishness and Englishness has proved anything, it shows
that the top-down imposition of a broad identity will only ever meet with limited success.
A broad identity can be a positive unifying force the creation of a sense of Britishness in particular has
prevented war within the island of Great Britain for the last three hundred years though it can also cause
conflict as in Northern Ireland, where the imposition of the concept of Britishness continues to meet with
violent resistance.
As such, although I dont see a European identity as a threat to my own sense of identity or place, I can
see how others might. And although I agree with Robin that there have been efforts to artificially create
such a European identity just as the English and British and French and German and Spanish and Italian
(and so on) identities were artificially created before it I dont agree entirely. The growth of a European
identity is also partially natural and organic as the economies and societies of Europe grow closer
together, and as improvements in technology and transportation bring Europeans from different countries
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into more regular contact with each other just as a sense of Britishness grew organically during the
course of the last few hundred years as Britains infrastructure improved and people from Devon and
Yorkshire and Scotland encountered each other more regularly, and grew to see the things that they had in
common as well as those things that were different.
Some pre-English and pre-British identities have been lost; others have survived. The same will doubtless
be the case in Europe if the European identity takes hold. But the process will be a long one. More than a
thousand years after the formation of England, the Cornish still feel Cornish; seven hundred years after the
conquest of Wales, the Welsh still feel Welsh; three hundred years after the Act of Union, the Scots still feel
And so, in short, while I have no wish to impose a European identity on anyone who doesnt wish it, I
honestly cant see how it can be seen as a threat. And likewise, I cant see how any attempt to break down
the perceived barriers between peoples of different identities in pursuit of a common good can be a bad
thing. The creation of a European identity is not an aggressive movement, like the creation of a German
identity was in the late 19th through to the mid-20th century it is a positive attempt to bring together a
continent whose entire history has been marked by warfare and conflict.
I can only see this as a good thing.
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James Clive-Matthews
Categories: A bit of context, Europe, Featured, Forgotten histories | Permalink
Leave a reply
August 19, 2009 at 2:53 pm
Insideur: Please feel free to let me know which ones you dont agree with, and Id be more than
happy to elaborate. Perhaps my wording was off.
NM: Music to my ears.
Follow 128
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August 19, 2009 at 9:47 pm
Treaties can last, and do, for many, many years. The Treaty of Union that bind Scotland to England
(and Wales).for instance and Magna Carta is also a Treaty between the Crown and the people, and
the EU, as you know is planning for the next 50 years. We have had Governments that have simply
ignored our Constitution and Welcomed all that they EU has put before them. Right from 1972
the people have been lied to, or perhaps misled is a slightly better word for Hunter to have used?
Hunter was right and Heath admitted that many years later on TV.. However, I have visitors from
Canada and my attention must be to them for now. I must say though, regardless of how many top
legal minds have looked at the EU Treaties and compared them to our Constitution, Germany may
have said the same yet their Constitution was probably new after the Berlin Wall came down where
as ours is hundreds of years old and parts cannot be altered. This is why Jack Straw is introducing a
new written Constitution probably with a Bill of Rights included and he will then put it forward in a
referendum for the people to agree to, and in the doing they may destroy their own Magna carta
and Bill of Rights. Lisbon of course will still have competence over-all the new anyway.
For your interest, I place here some argument points
This is from HC Deb 16th Oct 1952. The law of our Constitution provides that the treaty-making
power shall rest with the Prerogative; it shall be exercised by the Executive. But the treaty-making
power is a power which cannot affect the rights of the ordinary, individual citizen.
No contract or treaty made by the Government of this country with another country can affect the
ordinary rights of an English citizen, can affect his contracts, or can affect his freedom. For the
rights of the individual to be taken away from him requires the consent of Parliament in legislation
passed for that purpose. I cannot find any separate, deliberate reference that has quite
deliberately set out to remove the peoples Rights, YET. All our rights under our Constitution are
listed for removal in the Civil Contingences Act which is only meant for temporary specific cases,
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certainly not permanently. (allegedly!)
The Solicitor General:- Throughout, the treaty making power resides in the Crown, in Her Majesty
the Queen acting upon the advice of her Ministers. It is by virtue of the Royal Prerogative in the
conduct of foreign affairs that the Government initiate, sign and ratify international agreements. As
a matter of constitutional law, no parliamentary authority is necessary before the Crown may
exercise those powers. The other principle is equally important. Those prerogative powers, the
treaty-making powers, do not enable the Crown to alter the law within the United Kingdom so as to
implement the treaty. End of snippets. That paragraph is perhaps the most important because it
highlights the fact that the Crowns own Royal Prerogative does not allow the British Crown to alter
the law or Constitution within its own Kingdom, yet here we have a Government whose sworn
allegiance is to that very same Crown, transferring that same Royal Prerogative to foreigners in a
Parliament in a foreign Country strictly against the Crowns Coronation Oath. (This in order to allow
the EU Legal Personality (Art 47) to ratify Treaties. I note also that it does not say in the Treaty that
the Royal Prerogative may not be used for WAR MAKING, only for Treaty making. What if the EU
makes a treaty with Mugabe?
I must close now though, many thanks for the exercising of the little grey cells.
August 20, 2009 at 7:39 am
Anoldun, none of what you quote shows an incompatibility between the EU treaties and the UKs
constitutional arrangements. By the way, the EU could never make a treaty with Mugabe, because
the EU cant make treaties only its Member States can.
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August 20, 2009 at 8:03 am
In fact to back up what Insideur is saying, I gather the latest draft of the Lisbon Treaty (due to the
concerns raised by the Irish) has been prepared with that in mind, that is to say the EC Civil
Servants have prepared it and worded it thus that it will not infringe on the constitutions of the
member states.
August 20, 2009 at 10:30 am
See Sittings of Tuesday 1 3 June 2003 EU-USA Judicial Cooperation
agreements. Vitorino in EU Parliament. Confirmation of that is written in Hansard Official Report of
the Grand Committee) on the Extradition Bill Wednesday 18th June 2003 (GC 298 Starting on the
first page.
The above is just one agreement done without any debate in national
parliaments and before LISBON. I hope you can raise the debate in the EU
parliament, it is quite interesting.
August 20, 2009 at 11:19 am
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Anoldun thanks for an excellent case study. The key problem here is the way that the term EU is
The EU can and indeed does sign international treaties, but not as a single, stand-alone entity. In
this case, as you can see from the key clue word Council in the quote from Baroness Ludford
MEP, the EU-US agreement you refer to was negotiated and signed by Member State governments,
and not by the European Commission or European Parliament.
The Council is berated by Lords Stoddart and Wedderburn (and in the quote from Baroness
Ludford MEP) for having carried out these negotiations in secret, without having consulted the
European Parliament or national parliaments. But this Council, as explained above, consists of
Member State governments. Indeed, many would argue that if such treaties had to be negotiated
and ratified by the other EU institutions European Parliament and Commission this would
represent an attack on the sovereignty of the Member States.
So the irony is that while Lords Stoddart and Wedderburn are displeased with the Councils
secrecy, they would probably not be any more satisfied with involvement of the European
Parliament and Commission. Their other point, which I have a great deal of sympathy with, is that
Westminster is treated very poorly by HMG nowadays. But that is really a flaw in the UKs own
system, and not with the EU.
August 20, 2009 at 11:31 am
Just to follow up, here is the text of the treaty. Article 3 is the key.
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August 20, 2009 at 11:47 am
You are missing the point. It was not debated in our Parliament. However, that is old news, and my
concern is Lisbon and this Countrys future, if it has one. You are way out in the first part of your
last paragraph.
August 20, 2009 at 11:53 am
Yep, interesting stuff. Again, to support Is comments, the agreement is just an agreement made
by a non-entity. The agreement has to be ratified by each member state for it to apply in that state,
and I gather it has also gone through a few changes, notably as regards the death penalty issue.
The following text is taken from the EC website:
The Agreement on extradition has not yet entered into force due to the complexity of the enter
into force conditions, in particular the ratification process:
1. all EU member States need to exchange written instruments with US to stipulate relationship
with existing bilateral treaties (one on mutual legal assistance and one on extradition), in
conformity with the two EU-US Agreements;
2. both the EU and the US have to go through the ratification process:
for the US this implies: to have 2 EU-US agreements + 2 bilateral instruments per member States
(i.e. 50 in total) ratified by US Senate.
for EU this implies that those EU member States that have declared that they have to comply
with the requirements of their own constitutional procedures as allowed by Article 24 (5) of the
Treaty on European Union (DK, NL, P, D, UK, IRL, S, I, FIN, B, ES and LU, and all new member States:
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CY, CZ, HU, LT, LV, PL, SI, SK, MT and EE) have completed their constitutional procedures. Only after
that has been done, can the Council decide to conclude the EU-US agreements.
As for the old 15 EU member States:
7 have finalised and signed: France; Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Belgium, Spain, UK;
5 are finalised or almost finalised: Denmark, Greece, Ireland, Italy, and Luxembourg;
3 still encounter difficulties: Austria, Germany and Portugal.
As for the 10 new Member States (+2: Romania and Bulgaria):
Lithuania signed on June 15 2005.
The US-UK extradition treaty, of November 2003 can be found here:
An analysis of it can be found here: http://www.statewatch.org/news/2003/jul/25ukus.htm
As noted therein The UK-US extradition treaty also means that the government will also avoid
normal parliamentary ratification of the controversial EU-US extradition treaty signed on 6 June
2003 through the following text: The United Kingdom welcomes the Agreements between the
European Union and the United States of America on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters
and extradition. Much of the legislation necessary to implement the agreements in the United
Kingdom is already in force and, where it is not, Parliaments consideration of the draft legislation
is, for the most part, at an advanced stage. The United Kingdom aims to complete its domestic
requirements in the near future and looks forward to applying the Agreements at the earliest
opportunity thereafter
The UK set it up so that it didnt have to be debated prior to ratification. The British Government
could have done so, as every Member State has to ratify the agreement, however the elected
representatives of our nation chose not to. Not, I might stress, the fault of the EU in any way. You
might also be interested to a parallel set of decisions recently taken on the CIAs illegal extradition
of EU Members State Citizens. You should find it on google.
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Pingback: British citizenship vs European citizenship | Nosemonkeys EUtopia
August 20, 2009 at 1:57 pm
Anoldun I did not miss that point read my last two sentences. The fact that the treaty was not
debated in Parliament is entirely the fault of HMG, and is indeed symptomatic of a broader trend of
abuse of Parliament by the executive.
Pingback: EU regionalism on the decline? | Nosemonkeys EUtopia
September 1, 2009 at 3:31 pm
More than a thousand years after the formation of England, the Cornish.the Welshthe Scots
blah blah blah..and the English still feel English!
September 1, 2009 at 3:34 pm
A sound point Manderson. Its true that I rarely meet Englishmen who claim to feel Chinese,
Tanzanian or Kenyan.
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french derek
September 2, 2009 at 4:20 pm
Nm Sorry for the delay coming back weve had visitors. This post is not so much to with identity
(Ive said what I wanted to say on that); but I do need to reply to Hunter #37.
After the fall of the Bastille no-one gave much thought to celebrating it as a special event. The
Revolutionaries had to spend a year or two putting down (violently) various Royalist uprisings
around France north of the Loire. South of that line as I noted before life carried on pretty much
as normal.
The 14th July continued to be celebrated across France as St Bonaventures Day for many years to
come. It wasnt until the Third Republic that anyone proposed a Fte nationale: and then the
arguments raged as to when. It wasnt until 21 May 1880 that a law was passed instituting 14 July.
However, since St Bonaventure was regarded as a special Saint, it took many years for him to be
ousted from his day.
Yes, the Marsaillaise was played when the French Army marched. But, as I noted, the French Army
were held in very low regard outside the more genteel circles of Parisian society. And it was not
usual for it to be played at town and village marches (they were noted more for their drunken
French nationalism did not really arrive until 1914; and by 1919 the fte nationale reached
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September 2, 2009 at 4:29 pm
Well you seem to know more about the matter at hand than I do, so I would happily concede but
must just suggest that surely in times of military prowess and success, nationalism naturally
soars, in the same way as cricket or Henman and the like attract huge crowds when they look set
to win. Surely there must have been strong nationalist sentiments prior to 1914. Look at the
Franco Prussian war for example; the annexation of Alsace Lorraine from France was remembered
and subsequently used as propaganda in 1914 to rally troops to the cause; surely an indication of
underlying, and strong nationalist sentiment? Again, the Empirical conquests of Napoleon, or even
the cultural triumphs of the Sun King, shows that the French must in fact have one of the oldest
and best established senses of nationalism in Europe, simply for the fact that under Napoleon it
would have been appropriate for the French to feel national pride due to their worldwide
accomplishments and, under Louis, for the cultural achievements. Would this not denote a well
established, if fluctuating sense of national pride, as opposed to a lack thereof?
french derek
September 3, 2009 at 8:16 am
@Hunter #62. I agree that, for the bourgeoisie and the higher echelons of French society, what you
say would have been true. But, given that the main means of communication to the masses was by
word of mouth, at the local markets, ordinary folk in France knew (and cared) little of their ruling
heads doings. Except when they were conscripted into the Army, of course and were mostly
treated like animals. Life was very, very different, even in the late 19th century in France, from
what it became after WW1.
But there is no doubting the arrogant nationalism of the French today!
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