Research objectives

WP 8 – Identity Formation and Enlargement


WP 8 has two interrelated objectives. First, it addresses the crucial question of how much trust and commonality is needed to establish democracy, as a means of collective will formation at the various levels of governance of the compound EU-polity. Second, it analyses the formation of collective identities with regard to enlargement processes, with an emphasis on comparing the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ member states in how they confront particular contextualised (foremost national or European) belongings with larger cosmopolitan attitudes. The comparative study is based on an analysis of identity conflicts emerging in the process of EU constitutionalisation, democratisation and enlargement

The RECON models open three different scenarios for reconstituting democracy in Europe, each with a distinct definition of collective identity and belonging:

  • the EU as an association of ‘patriotic’ nation states
  • the emergence and consolidation of EU patriotism that replaces national identities
  • the EU as a post-national Union with a cosmopolitan imprint in which different local, regional, national and post-national belongings are reconciled

The enlargement process and the EU’s democratic mission reveal a tension between contextualised (localised) and cosmopolitan (universalistic) strategies of defining collective identity and belonging in Europe. We assume that this tension, which is basically reflected in the opposition between Models II and III, is reproduced in contemporary conflicts of mobilised collective identities at the local, regional, national and European levels. The past, present and future enlargement processes thus become the principal laboratory for exploring the meaning of collective identity in a multilevel political and institutional setting. A process of shifting borders has direct impact on the traditional and new ways of defining people’s belonging. Can European democracy be perceived as a way to balance inequalities between different ways of defining and demarcating collective belonging, and if so, how?

The synthesizing theoretical aim is to identify the mechanisms of European identity construction. How and with what effects are experiences of integration (successful or not) transformed into collective memories and practices of commemoration among the Europeans? And to what extent are such collective representations needed for the promotion of democracy? WP 8 establishes the link between democracy and identity prerequisites in a post-national polity, produces practical knowledge on the ways of reconciling the tension between the EU’s cosmopolitan vocation and contextualised identities, and conceptualises the role of collective identities in a theory of democratic deliberative supranationalism. It opens a long-term and cross-sectoral perspective of collective identity formation, integration and democracy in the old and the new member states.

The formation of collective identity is analysed in relation to central normative questions with regard to the prospects for democracy in the enlarged Europe. In empirical terms, long-term, historical-structural legacies, collective experiences, memories, symbolic discourses and attitudes are reconstructed in the process of enlargement and related to the enhancement or to the inhibition of democracy at the different levels of governance. If democracy relies on identity, then it also relies on exclusion, border drawing and distinctions. Identities are thus a condition of and a constraint on justice. The research activities focus on processes of boundary construction, of inclusion and of exclusion, through which a particular balance between contextualised identities, democratic practice and global justice is searched for.

WP 8 analyses processes of collective identity formation within particular media formats and within particular groups of society (ethnic minorities, women and returned migrants). This is a way to overcome the traditional research focus on official identity discourse as issued by European actors and institutions. It makes use of an integrated methodological approach: media-discourse analysis, symbolic-interaction analysis and opinion polls.