Colloquy on: “European Culture: Identity and Diversity”
8-9 September 2005
Very briefly and without trying to draw conclusions – which would be entirely presumptuous – I shall make three main comments on the things I have heard you say:
The first concerns the various speakers’ insistence that identity – any identity, and particularly European identity – is am ambivalent concept. It can be a good thing, since it helps us all to know ourselves better and position ourselves in relation to others. But it can also degenerate into an excessive affirmation of the distinctive features that divide individuals or groups. This may lead to ghettoisation, sectarianism and possibly conflict. Exalting one’s own identity can take one a very long way. National identity, for example, has sometimes given rise to the worst of horrors. So beware of asserting identities too strongly, for the risk of “spilling over” dangerously is a real one.
To keep Europe’s identity flexible, fluid and capable of changing, we need dialogue, first between Europeans themselves, and then with neighbouring countries (particularly in the Mediterranean) and finally the rest of the world. For the things said here seem to me to make it clear that we must not confine ourselves within narrow geographical limits. Repeatedly, the speakers have insisted that identity, including European identity, is not a function of territory. In other words, Europe’s geographical limits are not necessarily the limits of its identity. That is an interesting point for some of the countries on the edges of the European Union, whose Europeanness is being questioned. What is Europeanness? There are plenty of geographical elements – but history and culture are, above all, the things that forge identity.
Second idea: importance of the goal. One uses an identity to do something, to defend something. In this case, when we talk about European identity, we are talking about something we use to build Europe, to defend a certain culture or even civilisation, or something like that. And values too, of course.
The poster inviting us to today’s colloquy spoke of humanist Europe. That was a wise choice and a revealing one. Yes, our Europe is primarily founded on humanist values derived from many sources: the Judaeo-Christian tradition, the Greek and Latin heritage, the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason, Arab-Muslim influence, etc. And the purpose of the European project is to defend a conception of the individual and society which is rooted in those values. The problem today is that Europe’s political leaders, and particularly the EU leaders, seem to have forgotten that, and are not pointing clearly to a goal which can galvanise energies and excite the young. Until we do that, we shall continue to have that generally lack-lustre climate which we have, unfortunately, today. People, and particularly the young, need a goal - if possible, a goal which embodies an ideal and a dream.
And then a third comment: I was very much surprised that so little was said about the humanist content of European identity, as if that went without saying. You will say that we are at the Council of Europe, where it really goes without saying. The cornerstone of European identity is respect for human rights and the European Convention on Human Rights. That is all obvious here. But there may be other contexts and places where it is not so obvious. The European Union, in particular, needs to give its many initiatives and policies a philosophical and cultural basis which is something more than a materialistic scrambling for economic assets.
At the end of our work, I should like to thank the speakers very warmly for the high quality of their contributions and the interest which they have aroused.