Skip to content

Europe and its frontiers: beyond geography

    • Rome
    • 7 July 2009

          Sixty years on from the establishment of the Council of Europe, which marked the start of the journey towards European integration, it is worthwhile reflecting on European identity as a necessary resource in facing today’s challenges. This roundtable discussion examined several fundamental questions related to the issue of Europe’s identity, including: What are the new frontiers that define Europe today? Are they mapped out by cultural diversity or economic geography? What is the relationship between religion and modernity and how do we reconcile scientific advancements with the demands of faith and secularism? And what constitutes the European identity?

          The participants noted that there are various indicators of the topical relevance of these issues, such as the failure of several referendums on the proposed European constitution and the growing mistrust of citizens towards the EU’s bureaucracy, also demonstrated by the results of the recently-held European elections. After the success of the monetary union, common European policy seems to have been marked by an overabundance of targets and a lack of method. One example is the Lisbon Strategy, devised in 2000 with the aim of making Europe “the most competitive economy in the world” by 2010. Yet Europe is not just a market and cannot merely be reduced to economic objectives. In recent years, while the geographical borders of the Union have expanded, new symbolic frontiers have emerged within Europe, defined, for instance, by a multiculturalism that also stems from the most recent waves of migration.

          Diversity, which has provided a rich heritage and resource in the institutional development of the United States has, instead, been a source of  vulnerability and division in that of Europe. How then do we revive European humanism, with its focus on the primacy of the individual? How do we move from the current approach of “tolerance” to one of “respect” for diversity? A widely-held though not unanimously-shared view among the participants was that Europe will only be able to determine its direction and the sense of its own history when it acknowledges the universal and inclusive values of its Judeo-Christian roots. It might also be worthwhile examining whether Europe’s identity would be better defined in relation to its objectives rather than its history. Indeed, a shared vision and undertaking for Europe might also provide a much-needed identity boost. A proposition that was, however, generally agreed is that the education of young people will play a key role in shaping a European identity for them that is capable of being reconciled with the new social dynamics of a globalized world.

            Related content
            Strillo: Europe and its frontiers: beyond geography