The Euroculture: Identity and Citizenship Within the European Union


Identity and citizenship concepts are crucial in order to complete the integration of the European Union (EU) in every aspect. Shared values and culture within European nations are evaluated as determinants which accelerate the formation of common European identity and EU citizenship. In what way have the discourses of “Europe in unity” mentioned by various philosophers from the past to the present as well as the common European culture developing in this direction contributed to the development of the common identity within Europe? Has the European Union been successful in creating the culture of European citizenship which was legalized with the Maastricht Treaty? In this article, the answers to these questions and European identity and EU citizenship have been examined in the context of European culture by using literature review.

Keywords: European culture, identity, EU citizenship, European Union, Europeanization.


The idea of “Europe” or “an integrated Europe” cannot be limited with the process of the European Union. Especially “an united Europe” dates back to the early ages of the Roman Empire. The foundations of values ​​such as democracy and human rights, which have helped Europe to reach its present position by leading Europe’s progress and are also accepted as universal values, led in this period. According to Zweig, the unity and integration of Europe in the sphere of politics and ideas started for the first time during the Roman Empire, and Europe could not reach such a unity again (Zweig, 2020: 19-20). After the emanation of the Renaissance, “a common Europe” has revived once again under the name of European humanism. In the course of time, developments such as Reform, Enlightenment and the French Revolution have emphasized the importance of unity. In 1712, Abbé de Saint Pierre proposed in his book titled “Projet pour rendre la Paix perpétuelle en Europe” that lasting peace can only be achieved through a European Federation along with 24 European countries. After nearly eight decades, Immanuel Kant introduced the idea of ​​the United States of Europe in his book Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch as Winston Churchill did in 1946. As a result, in the late 18th century, the Europeanization concept has started to expand and has reached to large-scaled communities (Lowenthal, 2000: 316).

Europe as a unity did not emerge at least until the 17th century. Particularly after the 1648 Westphalian Peace, common identity formation and national consciousness gained momentum in Europe. National consciousness includes the political part of identity whereas cultural identity was formed during both the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. Instead of being a religious element as it was before the 16th century, Christianity has become more culturally-based during the period of the Enlightenment (Aksoy, 2020: 34). Cultural interaction between European societies has increased with the aim of the development of rationalist thinking doctrine and the replacement of religion-based social structure with sovereignty of reason. As for the Industrial Revolution, although it caused an increase in social tensions, it has increased the interaction between nations by facilitating communication and transportation. Europe remained as a leading global power until the First World War (Van Gorp & Renes, 2007: 410). While World War I (WWI) caused dissolution between European states, it also brought severe social and economic problems. From this period until the post-World War II era, Europeanization and common European culture have become fragile. In order to prevent recurrence of a disaster such as WWI, the League of Nations was established. Occurrence of the Second World War demonstrated that the League of Nations was a failed attempt to bring world peace. After the Second World War, the idea of European integration has burgeoned once again. As a result, The European Coal-Steel Community was established on 18 April 1951 within the framework of the European Union, the foundations of which were laid with the Schuman Plan, the first concrete step towards unity was taken. The long-lasting structure of the European Union has enabled member states to offer EU citizenship to their citizens with the Maastricht Treaty. EU citizenship, which was issued in order to embody the concept of Europeanization and to give legitimacy to the EU, is a complement to the European identity.

The role of the common European identity, which has continued its development from past to present, in accelerating the citizenship process is undeniable. Although there is a legalized concept of citizenship, it is still debated whether such a culture has developed within the EU member states. Therefore, this article aims to comprehend how the culture of identity has evolved in Europe in the course of time. Also, it will be examined if EU citizenship within member states has reached what it proposed at the beginning.

1. Towards a Culture of Identity in Europe

With the spread of the concept of Europeanization towards different regions, the discourses of “Europe in unity” have also been put forward by various philosophers. The idea of integrating Europe was a dream of many philosophers and visionaries as it was mentioned earlier (Vataman, 2010: 128). However, this intention was delayed nearly for two centuries due to the destruction caused by the two world wars. While attempts to create concrete unity within Europe failed in this process, cultural intertwining played a role in the emergence of a common identity. The combination of cultural elements such as shared values, religion and traditions created the perception that people share the same identity. This should not be confused with the identity of the innate human being. Rather the European identity, whose pioneer is Europeanization, is socially constructed and continues to change over time according to the context in which it is located (Noury & Roland, 2020: 423). This fusion has taken place not only through cultural elements, but also through conflicts and competition. For example, the wars between and against the countries in Europe and the rise of capitalism have contributed to the development of common culture. Especially since nationalism was felt fanatically during the Second World War, it was not possible to meet and act on a common ground. Therefore, in these periods, the common identity culture remained in the background and continued its existence hanging on by a thread. For these days, while the refugee issue arising from the Middle East region reinforced the nationalist and right-wing stance in the EU member states in general, the Brexit process of the United Kingdom, which has been abstaining since its membership in the EU, has dealt a blow to European identity. Also, the developments of Poland and Hungary, which has made homophobic regulations in violation of EU principles, cannot be ignored.

From a general point of view, the formation of identity is related to the social relations of the individual with the other party. Based on this, the creation of a European identity by social actors influencing each other only depends on the creation of a unity within Europe which allows them to define themselves. Hence, it is safe to say that until the formation of the European Union, there cannot be a visible emergence of a common identity, or can there be a cultural, political and economic unification.

2. Legalizing Identity with the EU Citizenship

On May 9, 1950, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Robert Schuman announced the plan prepared by Jean Monnet which was the first concrete step towards European integration. This plan envisaged that West Germany and France would bring together the coal and iron resources and production, and that European states who wanted could also join this community (Aydın-Düzgit et al., 2020: 3). This plan, which initially aimed to advance economic development in unity, later became the current EU by providing institutionalization and unification in political and social fields additionally. As Europe became more unified, it became easier to create a European identity and its legal form, European citizenship (Luhmann, 2017: 1360).

The concept of citizenship was put forward for the first time at the Fontainebleau Summit which was held in 1985. At this summit, the heads of government declared that the European identity and image should be reinforced (Ongur, 2014: 24). In addition to that, evaluating the situation of the citizens of the member states under European Union law and ensuring the direct involvement of the citizens in the integration process of the EU were among the primary objectives of the summit. Later, with the Maastricht Summit held in 1991 and the Maastricht Treaty signed in 1992, EU citizenship became officially legal. It can be understood that the encompassed rights of citizenship were multi-layered and complex (Bader, 1999: 167). Individuals who have this citizenship status have had legal rights and some privileges specified in the treaty. However, it should not be confused that EU citizenship is not an alternative to citizenship granted by any member state of the EU. “European citizenship does not suppress any of the rights inherent in national citizenship” (Toader, 2019: 44). This matter was stated in the Amsterdam Treaty signed on October 2, 1997, as “Citizenship of the Union shall complement and not replace national citizenship” (Treaty of Amsterdam, 1997: 27). Instead of that, it introduces additional rights such as free movement within the EU, diplomatic asylum, electing and being elected at the EU level. In addition, with the economic transformation of the EU, these rights have been expanded and included such as: free movement of goods and services, consumer protection and public health, equal opportunities and equal treatment. Nevertheless, the Maastricht Treaty did not go beyond legitimizing the already existing rights for EU citizens. The treaty enlarging the citizenship rights was the Treaty of Lisbon. Thanks to this treaty, not only did it bring serious reforms within the European Union, but also several political and civil rights envisaged for citizens became legally binding including right to integrity, right to liberty, gender equality and ownership of non-discrimination (Vataman, 2010: 127).

The “European citizen” that first Europe and then the European Union tried to create was initially established with a plan to create a “European identity”. The main idea was to form a common human identity, supported by the centuries-old rhetoric that “being together within the framework of common values ​​can eliminate war and hostility and create lasting peace for Europe”. Yet, over time, it has transformed into a concept with political and legal characteristics by the effects of globalization brought about by the changing international order (Kaya, 2020: 48). It should be stated that, European Union acted by paying regard to international law while developing transnational featured EU citizenship provided to the citizens of its member states. Considering the rule of law principle, the Union applies specific mechanisms of functioning adapting them to the particularity of the European construction (Micu, 2020: 52). Also, the European Union has proven that it is not solely an economic or political transnational institution and borders are not an obstacle to unify.


Fukuyama argues that “European sense of citizenship has never been developed beyond the wording of the signed treaties” (Delibasic, 2013: 300). This statement can be seen as accurate to some extent. It is obvious that the migration crisis has reached critical dimensions due to the conflicts that have arisen in the Middle East in recent years. Correspondingly, increasing populism and far-right attitude have caused nationalist discourses within the European Union member states. This attitude not only awakened the nationalist and sovereigntist spirit of the citizens, but also began to overshadow the culture of identity within Europe. In addition to that, the culture of European identity, despite the legitimization of citizenship, is still not clearly defined.

Even if the unity aimed by the philosophers of the 17th and 18th centuries has been achieved, the tense developments with the Brexit process and Poland and Hungary, especially the shared values, seem to be interrupted. Therefore, it can be said that the culture of “being European” is not as well defined as before due to the transformation of the international system, and accordingly such discourses are gradually decreasing. Moreover, the multiculturalism and cultural conflict brought by the migration wave which may take place from the Middle East to Europe in near future poses a threat to the EU identity and European values.

This paper sought to reveal that it is not possible to make an absolute inference about whether the EU has created a culture of European identity with EU citizenship. It is also a matter of concern whether developments such as Brexit will occur due to member states’ opposition to the values ​​of the Union and whether the Union will be able to maintain its current position. In brief, considering the developments experienced at the international and EU level since the establishment of the European Union, the “common identity”, which was felt more clearly at the beginning and tried to be strengthened with EU citizenship, has faded over time.

Hilal Sevimli

European Studies Internship Program


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Sosyal Medyada Paylaş


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