Monday

19th Oct 2020

Opinion

Europe doesn't threaten national identity

  • On Brussels' Place du Luxembourg. Young people understand intuitively that we can all have many different identities enriching our existence. (Photo: Valentina Pop)

EU leaders will come together in Bratislava to discuss the way forward after the Brexit vote. They will reflect on the need to do better when it comes to providing security, jobs and growth. They will focus on delivering results in a way that unites us, not least in the interest of the young.

As European commissioner in charge of education, culture, youth and sport, I think that one of the most pressing lessons from the outcome of the Brexit vote is this: we must do better at creating a European identity.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

A European identity not threatening the identities we already have, but complementing and supporting them. And we have to put young people at the heart of this.

Many people in Britain and elsewhere in the EU seem to feel that different identities compete with each other. That a European identity indeed threatens the national one, as well as regional, local, cultural, ethnic, religious identities. And as a result they reject the European identity.

This conflict is not inevitable. Rather I believe that we can all have many different identities enriching our existence.

Young people understand this intuitively. About three-quarters of Brits aged 24 and younger voted to remain in the EU. This is the Erasmus generation – young people who find it natural to freely cross borders in the EU, to discover different cultures, to experience life in new contexts by studying, working or volunteering abroad.

Why are many young people so comfortable with this additional layer of identity? European integration has a lot to do with it, and the Erasmus programme in particular.

Creating a feeling of community

Over three decades, Erasmus has proved an excellent example of EU action that unites without attempting to unify. It does not interfere or dictate, but brings about change simply by exposing young people and national education systems and societies to contact with others from different backgrounds, with different experiences, views and ideas.

Erasmus today is about much more than student mobility, however.

It is also the biggest teachers’ network in the world linking more than 380,000 teachers and allowing pupils to work together on joint projects.

Erasmus also promotes volunteering, with around 100,000 young volunteers over the past 20 years, and it brings together around 220,000 young people and youth workers each year to learn from each other.

All these connections and exchanges combine to help us better understand what differentiates us - and what we have in common.

When Europeans are asked to name the factors most important to creating a feeling of community among them, they point to culture, history and sport.

Strengthening and cherishing our identity

Indeed, we all have a sense of what European culture and identity are, of the influences and heritage we share - William Shakespeare is as much part of it as Franz Liszt, Edvard Munch as much as Pedro Almodovar. It is therefore only logical to strengthen a programme like Erasmus that is excellently placed to promote these factors.

And strengthen it we will. Spending should increase for the rest of the current budgetary period until 2020. We will also make the programme even more open to young people with fewer opportunities and I will also work to ensure that we continue to place a special focus on projects that promote our shared values and inclusion.

In a complex world full of uncertainty it is very difficult to find our place, to find answers to the question of who we are. But closing doors and retreating into our shells will not help. More than ever, we need to come together, to discover and accept each other - and ourselves.

Strengthening and cherishing our identity as Europeans, as a rich addition to other layers of identity, is vital in this - and where better to start than with young people, ideal ambassadors of open, multi-layered identities and the future of Europe.

Tibor Navracsics is EU commissioner for education, culture, youth and sport

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

EU plans to increase Erasmus grants

The European Commission is considering giving more money to students participating in the Erasmus student exchange programme, a move expected to increase the number of students taking part in the programme.

A ghost town haunts the future of Cyprus

One ghost town symbolises Cyprus' plight. Varosha, a Greek-Cypriot city in the occupied district of Famagusta on the east coast, has been cordoned off by the Turkish military since 1974. This is why I never saw my mother's home before.

How enlargement is running out of steam

While the EU's enlargement progress reports have moved closer to capturing the problems of the region, they are still lagging behind in capturing the decline of democracy and rule of law in most of the region.

News in Brief

  1. Italy takes extra measures as Covid-19 infections rise
  2. Coronavirus: Brussels worst in Europe, health minister says
  3. Vandalism sparks call for EU action on 5G disinformation
  4. Belgium installs curfew, closes restaurants and bars
  5. Ireland to probe Instagram's use of EU children's data
  6. Belarus: 10th weekend rally in a row against Lukashenko
  7. Warfare continues to rage in South Caucasus
  8. Turkish Cypriots elect nationalist president

Europe has forgotten the 'farm' in 'Farm to Fork'

US secretary of agriculture Sonny Perdue argues that the EU is taking an approach "more based on 'political science' than demonstrated agricultural science" in its new Farm to Fork strategy.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersUN Secretary General to meet with Nordic Council on COVID-19
  3. UNESDAWell-designed Deposit Return Schemes can help reach Single-Use Plastics Directive targets
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council meets Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tichanovskaja
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to invest DKK 250 million in green digitalised business sector
  6. UNESDAReducing packaging waste – a huge opportunity for circularity

Latest News

  1. France marks trauma of history teacher's murder
  2. Spain's Sanchez in storm over judicial appointments bill
  3. Violating promises and law, von der Leyen tests patience
  4. Brexit and EU budget in spotlight This WEEK
  5. A ghost town haunts the future of Cyprus
  6. EU leaders unsure how to talk to Turkey
  7. EU leaders discuss Turkey's air and sea 'provocations'
  8. EU's 2030 climate target left for December summit

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us