There is no denial that integration policies of European Union were leaping forward in the past few decades. Virtually there are no borders left, many countries enjoy benefits of common currency and EU flags are probably as common as national ones. However, questions of personal self-identification have not been addressed properly, but it is clear that people still more often consider themselves a part of their national state rather than Europe.
There are also states in Europe that do not belong to EU, but people are still European nevertheless. So what does make people identify with Europe more? New research at the Institute of Sociology at the University of Zurich reveals that it is not contact with contact with other people from European states as most may think.
Because a man, as Greek philosopher Aristotle remarked, is a social animal, we all tend to identify ourselves with certain groups, whether ethnic, national, professional, hobby or supporters of a sports team. Identifying with larger and more distant groups, such as Europe, is more complex, which is why scientists are researching this topic. They wanted to test the widespread belief that contact with people from other European countries increases identification with Europe. However, there is a distinction – they wanted to check if people identify more with Europe and not the EU.
At first scientists took into account binational couples, where romantic partners are from different European states. They also studied the impact of longer sojourns in other European countries. As usual is the case with social studies, surveys were used. Researchers gave questionnaires to 2,800 residents of the City of Zurich. This research did show that contact with people from other European states and sojourns abroad do in fact increase the affinity to Europe, but only slightly. Those Swiss citizens who are married to an EU citizens do, in fact, identify more with Europe than those who are married with Swiss nationals.
This research revealed a rather surprising truth – personal interests play a far more major role in identification with Europe than contacts with other people from other European states. Even taking into account such sociological variables as education, age, gender, stints abroad, social contacts and language skills, researchers found a huge difference between the Swiss and EU citizens.
Citizens of European Union living in Switzerland feel more closely linked to Europe than their Swiss counterparts, irrespective of the nature of their relationship. Even more surprisingly, surveyed EU citizens residing in Switzerland said that they feel more closely connected to the EU than their homeland. They do not even think there is such a big conflict between national and European identity. Furthermore, they consider political cooperation at European level more important than the surveyed Swiss nationals.
Professor Jörg Rössel, one of the authors of the study, explained: “this might have something to do with the fact that the EU citizens in Switzerland tend to be mobile people who have benefited – and still do – from the rights that go hand in hand with EU citizenship, including freedom of movement or voting rights. European identity seems to be linked more to individual interests than to social contacts and experiences”. Scientists also think that there is no significant difference in terms of identification with Europe of people from rural areas or cities.
These results can be interpreted in many different ways. There are many people who are worried about possibility of losing national identity, while others enjoy many benefits of belonging to a broader group. However, this research shows that it is not so much a communication with other people that determine our identification with Europe, but personal interests. This challenges widespread view towards this question and those responsible for EU integration policies should take this information into consideration.