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Picture Atlas > Identities 


"The European Union has grown up as a political project but has not found a place in the hearts and minds of the people." On 1 February 2006 on the occasion of the presentation of the White Paper on European Communication policy, Margot Wallstroem, Vice-President of the EU-Commission characterized thus the question of the development of a "European identity". (Source: www.europa-digital.de)

In fact during the process of the emergence of the European Union, the question of national as well as European affiliation was placed in an altogether new context: From now on, citizens of the individual member states will be also be citizens of the European Union. This process turns national identity into a new field of tension: A European population now faces trans-national, political and economic structures in the European unification and expansion process which bring it face to face with the question: What does it really mean to be an EU-citizen?

Nations or alternatively supranational or regional units are based on "imagined communities" (Benedict Anderson, 1991 [1983], Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London/New York). In order to anchor such a feeling of belonging, i.e., a common EU-identity, in the population of the EU-member states, elements of nation-state identity have been used. Such elements are for example allusions to the common cultural inheritance or the common history, common myths, rituals, symbols or events.

In our visually oriented media-age, identity is expressed more and more strongly through images conveyed by the media, symbolic events and rituals. Such visualization proceeds with the use of each national symbol and each EU-European symbol. In this context the EU-flag deserves mention: As a clear symbol of EU identity it points to EU-specific content. The EU-flag is thus a kind of "super-icon" and serves as a visual marker to give themes and players the EU-European dimension. The common European identity is carried not only by obvious symbols such as the EU-flag or the European anthem: The group photo of European politicians on the occasion of meetings at the EU-level, the so-called family photo has grown to be just as much an expression of an all-European EU-identity. This motif however reflects the EU as an amalgamation of nation states and thus emphasizes each national identity at the EU-level.

Alongside the problem area of the visual transposition of an EU-identity in the absence of one world of images and symbols accepted by all member states at once, the weighting of national and EU-European identity, depending on the context, brings up a further problem: It seems reasonable to conclude that the EU-identity with its relatively short history of development is not anchored in society to the same extent as is the national identity: Consequently the two identities are not presented in a balanced way in visual presentations and media reporting. Putting this in another way, the media presentation of themes in the EU-context does not try to produce a "we-feeling" among EU-citizens: It tends only to juxtapose EU-topics with relevant national interests. This combination of nation-state interests and "the EU" is clearly seen in the juxtaposition of the EU-flag and each national flag.

The manner of dealing with EU-identity and each national identity is also readily seen in the designs of the logos of each EU-presidency: As a quasi optical ambassador for each presidency, the logo is supposed to point simultaneously to the chairing member state and to the community of the EU-member states. The logos can thus stand as a special form of the intertwining of nation state and EU level, and they give a picture of multiple identities. In them it is easy to see that national symbolism and European symbolism are combined in various ways.

© Demokratiezentrum Wien

About the Project

The Picture Atlas is an outcome of the project ICONCLASH. Collective Icons and Democratic Governance in Europe

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