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Byline: Muhammad Shoaib Pervez


This article discusses the normative structure of the European Union (EU) in line with the constructivist framework. This approach drifts from realism and studies international relations under a socially constructed context (norms, culture). It is divided into three sections. The first section elucidates the contours of a common European identity, which has come into being under the auspices of the EU. The penultimate section explains the normative structure of the EU by focusing on the membership negotiations it has had with Turkey, and how these talks between Ankara and Brussels, ultimately, broke down under the pressures exerted by this structure. The last section explores the norms promoted by the EU, and the role elitist rhetoric has played in the process of Europeanization.

Keywords: EU, Normative structure, inclusion, exclusion, Turkey membership.

The European identity

What forms the common core of a European identity is the character of the painful learning process it has gone through, as much as its results. It is the lasting memory of nationalist excess and moral abyss that lends to our present commitments the quality of a peculiar achievement [The European Union].1

It is remarkable that the member states in the European Union have ceded some of their sovereignty to a supra national organization without formulating a cohesive transnational identity. For instance, the Germans and French differ in their respective conceptions of a European identity. The former seeks to dissolve aggressive nationalisms into the solvent of greater inter-state cooperation, ultimately leading to more integration, whereas, for the latter, it is the externalization of the ideals of enlightenment and republicanism.2

The problem with the concept of identity is that it is always understood within the spatial confines of a sovereign nation state. It is often contested whenever identity is conceptualized outside the boundaries of a nation state in a transnational setting. The European Union is a novel experiment unparalleled in the history of nation states. The EU accommodates all national languages during its summit meetings and the directives have to be in major spoken languages of Europe. The European identity does not affect local dailies or the national political activities addressing local, national or European issues.

From a sociological point of view, people carry multiple identities and these should not necessarily be in conflict, rather there are accommodative 'eccentric' circles of identities.3 Europeanization can be considered as an identity discourse that is in conformity with Anderson's concept of 'imagined communities'.4 There has seldom been such a thing as 'collective identity' anywhere in the European continent. It makes analytical task of studying the European identity problematic, as there is no coherent sense of Europeanization among the people of Europe. Alternatively, we can add a layer of the European identity along with national identities but there is no way we can delineate national identity at the expense of the European identity.

The identity becomes a process and not a project in itself. In spite of social and cultural differences among the Europeans, the life in a 'fortress Europe' still goes on without any construction of the "Other". There is no fixed identity of Europe rather there is 'essence of Europeanization'5, which precedes the actual configuration of European polity. A French philosopher Edgar Morin explains, 'The 'European genius' lies not only in plurality and change, but rather in the dialogue of pluralities which produce an endless process of change'.6 The daily practices of states in the European Union become 'continuous negotiation of difference'.7 The individual states in a supranational community behaves as an 'analogue just as an individual in a sovereign nation state'.8 This respectful posture towards diversity fosters a sense of being in a community.

The difference in cultural diversity is 'dialogical', and it is a cultural value of the European community forming 'expression of [European] unity'.9 The EU has recognized the cultural diversity of its constituting units and has accepted the reality of their multiple identities. The European Union has a 'socializing effect' on the agents involved in the project who have internalized the EU norms.10 The EU directive of naming different European cities as cultural capitals of Europe is one such effort to educate the Europeans about the diversity of their cultural heritage. In other words, it is the requirement of the system to avoid any attempt at a monolithic European identity.

The normative structure of the European Union

The Lisbon Treaty (2009) lays out the characteristics of a European identity. The institutions of the EU acquires sustenance from the values as expressed in the preamble. It states:

Drawing inspiration from the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe, from which have developed the universal values of the inviolable and inalienable rights of the human person, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law.11

If we historically examine the cultural heritage of Europe, we find a fault line running through the whole of Europe. Judeo-Christian identity, schism between Judeo-Christian tradition, struggle with papacy and absolutism, crusades, period of enlightenment and civil rights movements are the various manifestations of this grand 'inheritance'. Norman Davies, a historian, in his work explains,

"Europe" is a relatively modern idea. It gradually replaced the earlier concept of 'Christendom' in a complex intellectual process lasting from the fourteenth to the eighteenth century. The decisive period, however, was reached in the decades on either side of 1700 after generations of religious conflict. In that early phase of the Enlightenment it became an embarrassment for the divided community of nations to be reminded of their common Christian identity; and 'Europe' filled the need for a designation with more neutral connotations.12

He further indicated that the 'public reference to the Republica Christiana, the 'Christian Commonwealth', was made for the last time in the Treaty of Utrecht 1713.13

Voltaire, the great French philosopher writes in 1751,

A kind of great republic divided into several states, some monarchial, the others mixed... They all have the same religious foundations, even if divided into several confessions. They all have the same principle of public law and politics, unknown in other parts of the world.14

The European roots have conferred upon Europe the insignia of 'a cultural community', and though historically there are differences in political institutions, authority and power centers across Europe, yet, the 'cultural criterion' remained the same where Christianity has played a pivotal role.

On the eve of German defeat in 1945, the famous poet T.S. Eliot said, 'I am talking about the common traditions of Christianity which has made Europe what it is and about the common cultural elements which this common Christianity has brought with'.15

Nonetheless, the author does not advocate a unified European identity. On the contrary, it is suggested that the historical trajectory shared by the European peoples sets forth the rules of inclusion and exclusion within the EU. A tacit understanding among the states on the 'contestation' of their European identity forms the criterion of becoming members of the European Union.

The case of Turkey

Turkey lacks the cultural core of a European identity that has been envisaged in the preamble of Lisbon Treaty. Turkish society stands distinct from European 'Judeo-Christian' and 'Greco-Roman' religious, political and cultural heritage.16 In 2005, when the EU accession talks began with Turkey, the BBC conducted public opinion polls in various EU countries. The results opposed Turkish membership on the grounds of its large population, poverty and 'doubts about cultural compatibility with Europe'.17

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was in opposition in 2005, said, "the EU politically, economically and socially and would endanger the European integration process".18 However, she proposed a 'privileged partnership' with Turkey during her visit to Ankara after becoming Chancellor.

Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, member of the European Parliament (MEP) while criticizing Turkey's progress report 2009 presented in the European Council said,

For Liberals and Democrats, freedoms of expression and of the media are central to the quality of democracy in any given country. They are core European, indeed universal, values. It is disconcerting therefore, that the Commission finds Turkey at fault on these fundamental liberties.19

Turkey refused to recognize Cyprus, which is a member state of the EU. In this case, the EU demanded Turkish and Cypriot leaders to open negotiations to peacefully resolve the issue.20 The momentum of accession negotiations fizzled out after Cyprus acquired the EU Presidency in 2012. Moreover, the migrant crisis and unrest in the Middle East radically altered priorities in Brussels and Ankara.

Turkish experts opined that the national leaders of the European states would never accept Turkey in the bloc due to significant normative differences. As Unal Cevikoz, former Turkish ambassador rightly said, "the path to Brussels passes through Berlin, Paris and all the other capitals of EU member states".21

Similarly, the debate over headscarf, especially in France, explains the two contrasting normative worldviews. Hijab is seen as a symbol of modesty in the Muslim world, while, it is a figure of oppression in the West.

Prescriptive power of EU norms

There is no doubt that the EU has been successful in prescribing institutional norms. By creating a shared feeling of mutual respect in order to settle all differences short of war, the process has altered states' nationalist preferences.

The West European countries are free market liberal democracies working under the watchful eye of an effective mass media. There is enough spatial room for the diffusion of norms by 'argumentative persuasion' for which there is no 'coercion' involved in the process.22 The stakes for refusing Brussels' EU directives may be high but the mode of 'compliance' is through persuasion only. The directives are thoroughly debated on national and supranational levels. In fact, the prospect of the EU membership to an aspiring state is based on incentives like access to markets without barriers. It changed the state preferences from the rational calculus of maximizing one's own power in an era of anarchy towards a normative calculus of 'what a state ought to do?'

Every individual state in Europe carries different versions of 'norms compliance' of EU.23 German reluctance to engage in any armed action abroad for the sake of peacekeeping has its own sociological explanation.24 The Spanish adherence to the EU norms means a departure from the policy of 'de-Europeanization' began during the reign of Philip II and continued to 'last quarter of twentieth century'.25 The variation depends upon the persuasive tactics employed in elites' rhetoric while using local norms embedded in national cultural settings.

The linguistic turn in social constructivism explains the Western Europe security community because of 'desecuritisation'.26 Weaver refers it to the discursive practices of ruling elites in Europe to progressively downplay the mutual security concerns while highlighting the need of transnational economic linkages and thus creating we-ness among themselves. The common security is discursively constructed through lessons learnt from war experiences, fragmentations and power blocks. Here the causal mechanism is from the identity of security community providing stability to individual states and not the state's identity becoming congruent to community need.

The institutionalization of Common Foreign and Security Policy developed 'routinization' of discursively constructing 'Europe's civilizing identity'27 through a sense of 'ontological security'28. In other words the previously skeptical and war weary elites of anarchy get a forum to think 'big' and involve themselves in daily practices which gives them an internationalist (European) self-identity. Mitzen calls that 'habits more than capabilities anchor identity'29. The provision of an institution itself provided an organizational mechanism to discuss and deliberate security issues and this forms a permanent pattern of 'routinization' in European states relations.

Critical social constructivists have examined the role of language or discursive factors in the integration discourse of European Union30. The language rationalized by the elites or founding fathers at 'critical junctures' of European integration have special meaning attached to it.31 It is not only the words of speech but 'performatory acts' done by the elites in order to speak for or against the Union as per the requirement of their own national interests. 32

Each state has charted its own course while treading on the road to European integration. For Italy and Germany, any 'closer union' means the suppression of xenophobia, whereas, for the French it is an instrument to project their ideals. The French elites supported the Europeanization as it provided them with a springboard to launch their values of republicanism, fraternity and equality as well as to promote Franco-German cooperation under a supranational dispensation. It can be asserted that every state carries its own vision of what it is meant to be 'European'.33 The sociological aspect of the EU needs to be highlighted as it merits the same attention that the economic dimension commands.


The member states of European Union though have an implicit understanding of their common 'heritage' yet it is primarily the rational material interest, which forms the engine of the European Union. However, the extent and scope of integration have been the focus of inquiry in contemporary Europe. Mass immigration into Europe, rising populism and deceleration of the economic engine have fostered anti-EU sentiments across the continent. The member states do not appear enthusiastic for more supra-nationalism. A sizeable opposition has been questioning the lofty ideals of multiculturalism and liberalism.

On normative grounds, the conceptualization of the European community adequately explains the integration of the diverse region to explore a common European identity. Similarly, the mutually agreed terms of inclusion and exclusion in the Union reflects the approach of coherence of national interest. This normative structure is the core of an elusive European identity. The inter-subjectively agreed cultural identity of Europe explains its constitutive and regulative norms. Due to the disparity among political cultures, the essential question is this: How should the governmental elites communicate the proceedings in Brussels to their citizenries?34


1 Jurgen Habermas, "Why Europe Needs a Constitution?", New Left Review 11(2001): 21.

2 M. G. Cowles, J. Caporaso et al, Transforming Europe: Europeanization and Domestic Change (London: Cornell University Press, 2001).

3 Thomas Risse, "Social Constructivism and European Integration" in A. Wiener and T. Diez, European Integration Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 144-160.

4 B. Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1983).

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid, 330.

7 Z. Bauman, Europe: An Unfinished Adventure (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2004).

8 J. H. H. Weiler, "To be a European citizen-Eros and civilization", Journal of European Public Policy 4, No.4 (1997): 495-519.

9 M. Sassatelli, "Imagined Europe: The Shaping of a European Cultural Identity through EU Cultural Policy", European Journal of Social Theory 5, No. 4 (2002): 435-451.

10 T. Risse and A. Wiener, "Something Rotten and the Social Construction of Social Constructivism: A Comment on Comments", Journal of European Public Policy 6, No.5 (1999): 775-782.

11 Preamble - Treaty of Lisbon 2007, available from

12 Norman Davies, Europe: A History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 7.

13 Visit at

14 Quoted in Norman Davies, Europe: A History.

15 Ibid, 9.

16 I. N. Grigoriadis, Trials of Europeanization: Turkish Political Culture and the European Union (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 38.

17 "Analysis: EU Views on Turkish Bid", 30 September 2005, available at

18 "Merkel heads to Turkey for first time as Chancellor", available at

19 "Enlargement Strategy: Turkey must Ensure Freedom of Expression - Lambsdorff ", 8 April 2009, available from

20 Visit at

21 Unal Cevikoz, "EU-Turkey Relations: The Beginning of the End?", 19 September 2017, at

22 Checkel, "Why Comply? Social Learning and European Identity Change", International Organization 55, No.3 (2001): 553-588.

23 Y. J. Choi and J. A. Caporaso, "Comparative Regional Integration" in W. Carlsnaes, Hand Book of International Relations (London: Sage Publications, 2002), 480-499.

24 P. J. Katzenstein, "Coping with Terrorism: Norms and Internal Security in Germany and Japan", in J. Goldstein and R. O. Keohane, Ideas and Foreign Policy (New York: Cornell University Press, 1993), 265-295.

25 Laffan, "The Politics of Identity and Political Order in Europe".

26 O. Waever, "Insecurity, Security and Asecurity in the West European Non-War Community", in E. Adler and M. Barnet, Security Communities (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press: 1998), 69-118.

27 J. Mitzen, "Anchoring Europe's Civilizing Identity: Habits, Capabilities and Ontological Security", Journal of European Public Policy 13 No.2 (2006): 270-285.

28 M. Giddens, Modernity and Self - Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1991).

29 Mitzen, "Anchoring Europe's Civilizing Identity", 283.

30 T. Diez, "Speaking 'Europe': The Politics of Integration Discourse", Journal of European Public Policy 6, No.4 (1999): 598-613.

31 M. Marcussen, T. Risse et al., "Constructing Europe? The Evolution of French, British and German Nation State Identities", Journal of European Public Policy 6, No.4 (1999): 614-633.

32 Diez, "Speaking Europe".

33 M. Marcussen, T. Risse et al., "Constructing Europe? The Evolution".

34 E. Athanassopoulou, "Same Words, Different Language: Political Cultures and European Integration", in E. Athnassopoulou United in Diversity? European Integration and Political Cultures (London: I.B. Tauris, 2008), 3-14.
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Publication:Pakistan Journal of European Studies
Geographic Code:4E0WE
Date:Jun 30, 2018

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