European Identities and Politics in the Wake of the Financial Crisis

Neil Fligstein is Professor at the Department of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, US. He has been interested in developing and using a sociological view of how new social institutions emerge, remain stable, and are transformed. He has a long publication record including  the book Euroclash: The EU, European Identity and the Future of Europe, Oxford University Press.

The European Union’s political and economic integration project has grown dramatically since its inception in 1952. While the ultimate goal of the EU is unclear, one of its aspirations has been to attempt to create European citizens. The idea is that over time, citizens would look towards Europe as their main national identity. While the political and economic integration projects are quite far along, the national identity project has lagged far behind. The number of people who have primarily a European identity is quite small and has not increased much in the past 20 years. There are a far larger number of citizens for whom their national identity is paramount, but a European identity also exists. Since 2005, this group has grown smaller and the number of citizens with only a national identity has grown larger. This paper argues that the EU integration project has pushed citizens to value their national identities more and to look to their national governments to protect them. We examine the evidence for this in the context of the 2007-2009 financial crisis. We show that in countries most seriously hit by the crisis, national identities have increased dramatically and citizens with some European identity have decreased. One dramatic effect of this has been the rise of populist parties across Europe as a backlash to both the financial crisis and the integration project more generally.