As a European affairs student and European citizen of French origin, I decided to focus on the much-discussed notion of nationalism and its impact on the European Union. When we take a look at today’s newspapers, we notice that they are made up of articles on different nationalist political parties, such as UKIP in the United-Kingdom or Front National in France, and on how those parties tend to gain more and more importance in the European society. What is more, they clamor for more autonomy and independence in a European milieu that seems to have reached its limits in terms of integration. Whether it is on a regional or on a larger scale, nationalism is used to defend common national values; however, it can be explained by analyzing different exterior factors.
Richard Handler, a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Virginia said: « Nationalism is an ideology about individuated being. It is an ideology concerned with boundedness, continuity, and homogeneity encompassing diversity. It is an ideology in which social reality, conceived in terms of nationhood, is endowed with the reality of natural things”. In the light of this quotation, I am certain that we can all visualize a group of people known to us, or even a group we are ourselves part of, which illustrates this definition of nationalism. From a social point of view, nationalism seems to be a feeling shared by various people concerning their culture, tradition, language, religion or history. The same elements can be at the origin of a community, which highlights the fact that nationalism is not always to be analyzed on the scale of a single country.
Some historians think that a specific form of nationalism was born in Europe in the 19th century, before spreading out over the rest of the world: the nation state. Countries such as France, Germany and Italy are considered to be nation states, a type of state that conjoins the political entity of a state to the cultural entity of a nation. More precisely, a nation state is the political form of nationalism; it embodies the organizational structure a certain nation adopts. However, it is important to remember that nation states also proudly represent their nation abroad, demonstrating their country’s sovereignty.
As to the structure of the nation state today, invented in Europe a few hundred years ago, we must ask ourselves whether the European Union might not stand for the end of the model of the nation state. According to Jean-Dominique Giuliani, the president of the Robert Schuman foundation, the European Union has made an enormous effort to make European citizens feel more European by encouraging trade and harmonization measures. The EU has also promoted democracy and a number of fundamental freedoms, such as the implementation of an area of free movement known as the Schengen area. The 28 member states of the European Union might not have become nation states at the same time, sharing neither history nor culture or language, but they do share the same values.
Indeed, the construction of the European Union advanced very slowly, as it opposed national sovereignty and supranational power when establishing the European institutions. The EU may have shown that economic and social union has been achieved, but after the Lisbon Treaty of 2007 and the economic crisis in 2008, its weaknesses and economic limits have become evident. On the one hand, certain European regions have seized the opportunity to point out disagreements concerning their country’s economy, and to demand independence from the mother state. This is the case of Catalonia, which is the by far richest region of Spain, and Scotland, one of the most prosperous countries in the world.
Nationalism is ultimately a way of reaffirming a population group’s identity, especially when several exterior factors are threatening it.
Paradoxically, European policies on the development and the improvement of the quality of life in those areas of Europe appear to have encouraged their desire for autonomy from the mother state. On the other hand, though, the context of an economic crisis is known to be a popular argument in favor of extreme change, such as leaving the European Union. European nationalism is ultimately a way of reaffirming a population group’s identity, especially when several exterior factors are threatening it. The on-going flood of refugees into the EU has given rise to different reactions from European member states. Some immediately asked for their borders to be closed, such as Hungary and Slovenia, others strongly disapproved of such radical measures, calling the former racists. France and Belgium, who were recently attacked by Isis, felt the need to demonstrate publicly their values of freedom, and in particular their attachment to secularism. Nationalism is also a way of exalting one nation above all others, which can sometimes suggest a form of domination. This kind of reaction is quite contradictory in the light of European values such as « living together« , which from the basis of European construction.
In general, the international economic system called globalization tends to create smaller alliances such as the European Union, which allow member states to be more confident about themselves. We can observe that what is happening in the world is quite representative of what is happening inside the European Union and even inside nation states.
Nationalism, which is originally a very strong feeling that unites the population of a nation, will at best engender a union such as the EU, when brought into contact with other nations. At worst, it will lead to the destruction of the nation states themselves.