Book Review: A Political Theory of Identity in European Integration. Memory and Policies

A Political Theory of Identity in European Integration. Memory and Policies
By Catherine Guisan
Abingdon: Routledge, 2012. £90.00 Hardback, £28.00 Paperback
Reviewed by YVES LABERGE, Groupe de recherche EA 1796, ACE en Études américaines, Université de Rennes 2, France

This dense book about the construction of the European identity since World War II appears in the “Routledge Advances in European Politics” Book Series. This interdisciplinary book focuses on the concept of a collective European identity and Hannah Arendt’s pivotal writings serve as the main theoretical inspiration. Guisan is contributing to a well-established conversation, however, she argues that discussion has not stressed sufficiently the need for principles of action and the relevance of “founding stories” needing to be reinvented in order to construct the European nation: “These narratives may consist in fictional or historical accounts, and they remain open for rectification and retelling” (p. 2). Because of the numerous wars and intra-European conflicts, the European identity has to be built on reconciliation in order to be acceptable and viable, under the principle coined as “the miracle of enemies becoming neighbours” which contributed to found the European Union (p. 76).

The opening chapters are rooted in the interdisciplinary framework of citizenship studies and aim at analysing the construction of a collective identity which would include many nations beyond present countries and borders. The creation of shared symbols is essential in order to legitimate a genuine collective European identity, for example the celebrations for the 90th Anniversary of the 1918 Armistice in European schools (p. 57) or the choice of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (in its instrumental version, without the lyrics sung in German) as an anthem for European Union. This third chapter argues that museums are (or must become) important vectors of collective memory that bring a sense of belonging, especially to younger generations, and the need to reinterpret past events into a logical continuity (p. 55).

In chapter 5, Guisan considers the situation of Turkey, a long-time aspirant for accession, and possible integration to the European Union. Turkey is often conceived as “the other” since most of this country’s territory is located in Asia and not the European continent (p. 83). However, her argument for inclusion is based on a comparison between the European Common Market on one side and the Canada-Québec case on the other. The Canadian leg of the argument is not convincing because Guisan overestimates multiculturalism as a virtue. Guisan’s analysis of Canada ignores the majority-minority dynamics which are fundamental (although neglected by the many observers she relies on) to understanding Canadian politics (p. 86). Furthermore, the “two solitudes” model evocated here regarding Canada (p. 85) is obsolete, mainly because the official bilinguism in Canada is mainly effective among the Francophone minority (in Québec and all other provinces) but not much within the Anglophone community of Canada which (for most English-speaking citizens) lacks of knowledge of the French language. The problematic analysis of the Canadian case raises doubts over the accuracy of the Turkish.

Lastly, chapter 7 centres on the European Union’s borders to promote what Hannah Arendt coined as an “enlarged mentality” and uses Jaspers’ idea (and ideal) of a world citizenship (p. 127). However, the book ends at the moment when questions appear, for example regarding the collective identity. How will European citizens recognise themselves in the “enlarged mentality” which is framing the new European identity? In an era of increasing globalisation, the re-emergence of regional, local identities (for example in Bretagne, Catalonia, and Belgium) are examples of groups who do not seem to identify with “enlarged mentalities” and European identity. These conflicting cases are not discussed. That voters from France and the Netherlands rejected the European Constitutional Treaty in 2005 is not discussed by Guisan, even though these events confirm the difficulty of the task of creating a European model in which all Europeans recognise themselves. Philosophers and scholars who promote the ideals of “understanding hearts” following Hannah Arendt (p. 148) might conclude these sceptical populations are just mere exceptions; maybe they were collectively wrong or misguided, but they are writing political history nevertheless (p. 147). Considering these excluded topics and unanswered questions would probably require another book.

Fluent in many languages, Guisan combines countless references from various countries and languages, giving an impressive range of perspectives about the European identity in the making. I found Guisan’s discussion of Ian Manners’s “ideological narrative of global Europe” as a complex task particularly compelling in “the attempts to come to terms with an age of extreme ideological differences” between capitalism and communism (and I would add the post-communist era as well) (p. 66). The detailed endnotes are a treat to read and make this book instructive until the last pages, even for academics that are familiar with the topics. In sum, A Political Theory of Identity in European Integration: Memory and Policies is about the construction of the European identity, with its challenges and questionings. Obviously not for newcomers in the field of European Studies, this instructive book would be firstly for scholars already familiar with the fields of European Politics, Memory Studies, Citizenship Studies, and International Relations.