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European Identity in Question(s)

42 Comparative Research Projects Question what it is to be European

When Europe is the subject of social science research programmes, the inevitable comparative perspective brings into sharp relief a set of phenomena linked to European integration and its two-decade-long (and continuing) transformation of economic, political, social, and cultural life. In order to support and further such research1, the CNRS put into place between 1998 and 2000 a research programme on “The European Identity in Questions”,2 headed by Bruno Cautrès, Director of the Center for Computerising Sociopolitical Data (CIDSP)3.

One of the objectives of this programme is to shed scientific light on the question of the identity transformation – and possibly even identity crisis – underway in Europe today. European identity remains a murky concept. Multiple visions of European reality can be observed simultaneously but they do not tend to form a layered, unified whole. The historical facts of Europe do not line up with the physical or geographical data, and it becomes practically impossible to respond to the question “what is it to be European?”, a question which, nevertheless, will not go away.
The acceleration of European integration is causing citizens and leaders alike to call into question the future of organisations founded on the equation of State with nation and territory. This questioning is taking place concurrently with a rising sense of vulnerability in the face of globalisation (what place for Europe in world?) and the emergence of efforts to recenter life on a sub-national, territorial basis or on re-invented identities whose relationship to a territory is difficult to grasp exactly.
Raising therefore the question of European identity proves to be a good way to bring these various approaches into contact with one another, for fruitful cross-fertilisation. Historical research on Europe, the transformation of European societies, the economic challenges facing Europe, new forms of political and legal regulation of emerging in certain countries, these are some of the sources of new knowledge about European identity, especially when examined in concert.
The Identity programme has also been a means to bring more coherent structure to the ensemble of European comparative research undertaken in France. CNRS policy in this area has been to reinforce the capacities of its social science research units so that they can maintain their position or close the gap between themselves and their European counterparts and partners, not to mention American research in this field. Incentives therefore have been put in place to encourage comparative research and cooperative research with centers in other countries.

The Identity programme structured its activity along three major research lines:
Europe and Globalisation
Europe's place in the process known as globalisation lies at the center of most debates and disputes concerning European integration and the EU as an economic space but also a society and a political form. To what extent does the EU constitute an autonomous economic, legal, social and political space?
Europe and territorial attachment
How to think about local/territorial attachment in Europe? This problem is at the center of the Identity question in Europe and contains within it issues of historical, geographical, economic, political, legal, and cultural importance.
A European socio-political public space?
The question of European identity is also the question of European public space. Does this notion have a meaning? To what extent is there convergence among European countries in their approaches to political and social problems? Is this process of convergence leading toward the development of a European public sphere of debate?

The 42 research programmes supported by the Identity programme covered many disciplines: political science, sociology, law, history, economics, geography, anthropology and others. They contributed to an analysis of the fundamental aspects of the integration process including such questions as the expansion of the European Union (framed in terms of otherness), the transformation of the action of the State, the transformation of systems of social protection, the notion of European values, the monetary identify of Europe since the adoption of the euro, the development of European labor movement or political identities (political parties), or the question of the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, and the recomposition of local and regional reality.


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