By Griffin W. Huschke, Mayme and Herb Frank Research Fellow
Happy belated Europe Day everyone! The titular holiday is celebrated on May 9th, and while there doesn’t really appear to be too many people dancing in the streets (or even getting work off), Europe Day marks the anniversary of French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman’s proposal to create the European Coal and Steel Community, which formed the basis of today’s European Union. While the holiday used to be celebrated on May 5th to commemorate the founding of the Council of Europe, when the EU came into being it moved the holiday back four days to mark the ECSC’s founding. Update your calendars accordingly.
Europe Day is actually a pretty interesting move by the European Union to create a common identity where there really isn’t one, and the EU takes these measures seriously. After the Maastricht Treaty’s weak approval in 1992, the EU realized it had to raise support for further integration among the general public, which had always been lukewarm about deeper European integration. That’s when the EU started taking common identity policies seriously: Member states are bound by the Lisbon Treaty to support the symbols of the EU, which include Europe Day and the EU flag. The EU also changed the way it wrote communications (EU press releases and member states emphasize terms like “friendship”) and even the common monetary policy, which mostly came into being for financial reasons, serves an important symbolic function as a basis for common identity.
The EU has always been an interesting project because it’s moving towards being one big sovereign body , but doesn’t have the common history, culture, or national identity that usually underlies the modern nation state. That’s why the EU takes common identity policies so seriously—the organization wants to create a common identity among disparate people so it can integrate further and create good governance policies for generations to come. But the EU will probably need years to make these policies successful, as a person’s affiliation to its country is extremely difficult to change without a major conflict or external threat. That means older generations will be more skeptical of EU integration, while the youngsters, who were born with a greater degree of integration already in place, will usually be more open to more common policies. That means the EU will be taking symbols we usually regard as frivolous, like flags and national holidays, pretty seriously well into the future.