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European Identity Politics


Abstract and Figures

Social and political sciences use the term ‘identity’ in describing a wide range of phenomena, whether these be personal explanations of self-understanding, descriptions of common interests or the shared experiences of a larger group. It has been used in the recent analyses of countries or larger communities, but also in the historical studies of very different societies in developing or industrialized countries. To make the concept more operational and open to empirical research, we dichotomize it into an inclusive versus an exclusive type. This enables us to carve out the different policy conclusions associated with each type. We then apply the concepts for analysing the emergence of European identity over the past decades, as well as its limits and recent headwinds. We present survey data on national and supranational identity and country differences concerning trust in national and European institutions. As a counterstrategy to populism and the exclusive type of identity, political observers, from scientists to members of the media, are split into suggesting either a "cordon sanitaire” to discourage voting for such ideas versus an embracement strategy by including their representatives into government, thereby controlling them or revealing their incompetence. This paper, in contrast, ventures a proactive strategy of four steps to localize the root causes of the success of populism, offering an inclusive vision for the long run, policy instruments for economic improvements and a new narrative. These concepts are linked to the strategy of the European Commission of a Green Deal and a Social Europe "striving for more”, which acts as a program to strengthen the inclusive European identity and pre-empt the renationalization requested by the exclusive type. It is much too early to analyse the COVID-19 crisis under the proposed dichotomization and the new narrative. However, the differences in the initial reactions of countries to the emerging pandemic, bashing foreign sources for its creation and misusing the crisis for a restoration of autocratic leadership on the one hand and looking for solidarity on the national as well as international level on the other, may later be attributed to the concepts of exclusion versus inclusion.
Research in Applied Economics
ISSN 1948-5433
2020, Vol. 12, No. 2
European Identity Politics
Karl Aiginger1,* & Heinz Handler2
1Vienna University of Economics and Business, Vienna, Austria; Policy Crossover Center:
Vienna-Europe, Vienna, Austria
2Vienna University of Technology, Vienna, Austria; Policy Crossover Center: Vienna-Europe,
Vienna, Austria
*Corresponding author: Vienna University of Economics and Business, Vienna, Austria. Policy
Crossover Center: Vienna-Europe, Vienna, Austria. E-mail:
Received: April 14, 2020 Accepted: May 3, 2020 Published: June 1, 2020
doi: 10.5296/rae.v12i2.16841 URL:
Social and political sciences use the term ‘identity’ in describing a wide range of phenomena, whether
these be personal explanations of self-understanding, descriptions of common interests or the shared
experiences of a larger group. It has been used in the recent analyses of countries or larger communities,
but also in the historical studies of very different societies in developing or industrialized countries. To
make the concept more operational and open to empirical research, we dichotomize it into an inclusive
versus an exclusive type. This enables us to carve out the different policy conclusions associated with
each type. We then apply the concepts for analysing the emergence of European identity over the past
decades, as well as its limits and recent headwinds. We present survey data on national and supranational
identity and country differences concerning trust in national and European institutions. As a counter-
strategy to populism and the exclusive type of identity, political observers, from scientists to members
of the media, are split into suggesting either a "cordon sanitaire” to discourage voting for such ideas
versus an embracement strategy by including their representatives into government, thereby controlling
them or revealing their incompetence. This paper, in contrast, ventures a proactive strategy of four steps
to localize the root causes of the success of populism, offering an inclusive vision for the long run,
policy instruments for economic improvements and a new narrative. These concepts are linked to the
strategy of the European Commission of a Green Deal and a Social Europe "striving for more”, which
acts as a program to strengthen the inclusive European identity and pre-empt the renationalization
requested by the exclusive type. It is much too early to analyse the COVID-19 crisis under the proposed
dichotomization and the new narrative. However, the differences in the initial reactions of countries to
the emerging pandemic, bashing foreign sources for its creation and misusing the crisis for a restoration
of autocratic leadership on the one hand and looking for solidarity on the national as well as international
level on the other, may later be attributed to the concepts of exclusion versus inclusion.
Keywords: identity politics, European integration, migration, renationalization, populism, European
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Green Deal, cultural homogeneity, partnership policy
1. Scope and Outline
Research on collective identity encompasses many disciplines in social, economic, and political
science. It has not been used broadly in the context of economic issues, although group
identities come into play when the economic problems of specific regions or production sectors
such as agriculture or rust belts are discussed. This article carves out the dichotomy of
"inclusive” and "exclusive” collective identity that has on various occasions been used in the
literature with reference to populism(note 1), here with the goal of facilitating empirical
applications. We apply these concepts to investigate the identification of citizens with the
European Union over the past seven decades, making use of data on the self-assessment of
European citizens as nationals or Europeans as well as data on the support of the European
Union. Inclusive strategies have been adopted at both the community and national levels to
fend off right-wing populist parties from government or to embrace their ideas by a partial shift
of mainstream parties to the right. We develop an inclusive strategy in four steps calling for a
proactive policy guided by measurable performance criteria (like the UN Sustainable
Development goals) and integrating citizens as well as shaping globalization and partnerships.
A preliminary glimpse is undertaken to assess the different implications of the dichotomous
concepts for politics during and after the COVID-19 crisis.
In Section 2 we provide an overview of the different categories of identity in the socioeconomic
literature, from individual to national and global aspects, also considering the range of
problems concerned. Section 3 investigates the identification of citizens with the European
Union (EU), traces its historical development, and values the various aspects of an emerging
European identity. Section 4 discusses the causes responsible for a decline in identification with
Europe after the Financial Crisis and for the return to nationalism and xenophobia emerging
from "forgotten regions" and amplified by right-wing populism. We recall the roots of populism,
supported by elements of the "exclusive" concept of identity, stressing the past glory of a
society and its loss of homogeneity.
In the wake of the Financial Crisis, a sluggish recovery led to income losses in many European
countries and regions, along with higher unemployment and within-country inequality.
Populism and calls for ending the European unification process came up, many of them
bemoaning a loss of national identity. The return of polarizing identity concepts was accelerated
by the migration wave of 2015. We rate existing survey data on the rise, climax and decline of
the increasing self-assessment of citizens as Europeans as well as cross-country differences.
We further report on trust in national and European institutions, and on the evidence that only
a minority of voters wish to exit from the EU – all of which are indirect indicators on the limits
of identity-defying populism.
Section 5 searches for strategies on how the impact of exclusive identities could be pre-empted.
We envisage a four-stage strategy which reaches beyond the concepts of fending off vs.
embracing populists, including a discussion of the plans of the new European Commission for
a Green Deal and a Social Europe and suggestions for changes in governance. We also provide
a preliminary assessment of the COVID-19 crisis with respect to the exclusive vs. inclusive
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2. Identity Concepts in the Socioeconomic Literature
2.1 Individual versus Collective Identity
In the social sciences, "identity" is a complex term that requires further elaboration in order to
be meaningfully employed in a scientific discourse. It may encompass (i) various personal and
institutional coverages, such as individual, communal, regional, national or supranational
identities; and (ii) issue-related domains, such as cultural, social or economic identities. This
holds in general but must also be considered when elaborating "European identity", which
establishes a bridge from a person’s identity to some form of group identity and eventually to
an identity with a rather vague multinational construct reflected in humanitarian laws, the need
to limit conflicts and the exploitation of the planet. To make things even more complicated, it
is generally agreed that an individual holds multiple identities, some of which may be
compatible with each other, and some of which may be exclusive (Table 1).
Table 1. Concepts of Identity
Individual identity
Self-understanding of a person
Collective identity
Shared definition of a larger group that
derives from members’ common interests,
experiences and solidarity
Personal identity
Self-definition in
terms of
attributes ("I")
Social identity
Self-definition in terms of
social category
memberships ("We"):
family, enterprise, class…
Cultural identity
Shared definition by
common history and
Political identity
Shared definition by
administrative and
territorial factors
Source: Own presentation based on Van Stekelenburg (2013).
An individual’s identity is the result of self-definition based on individual attributes and
membership in a self-contained group. One may further differentiate between an individual’s
personal identity (identity apart from others) and an individual’s social identities (identifying
with others), both of which are to some extent interrelated. In his literature review on identity
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in economics, Berg (2019) delineates that social identities may also result in institutions such
as political parties or nation-building, which sets behavioural prescriptions to group members,
including sanctions in case of misbehaviour.
In their seminal work on "Identity Economics”, Akerlof and Kranton (2000) linked personal
identity to economic decision-making through extending the neoclassical utility function by a
non-pecuniary term to better represent the behaviour of individuals. In the related approach of
"narrative economics”, Shiller (2017) deals with the impact of changing social norms on
macroeconomic fluctuations. Examples are the gold standard, the Great Depression of the
1930s, and the Great Recession of 2007-2009, but also the general observation of technology-
driven unemployment and economic models such as the Keynesian multiplier or the Laffer
curve. US President Donald Trump is viewed as a "master of narratives” who in this capacity
also contributes to the formation of social identities.
Collective identity may be defined (see White, 2012) as the continuous self-understanding of
a social group, which includes both objective factors that exist without the consent or
knowledge of group members (such as ethnic kinship, common language, common customs)
and subjective elements (e.g., individual consent to the European integration project). Group
membership is often underlined by self-imposed rules or rules promoted and overseen by
higher-level political institutions.
2.2 Inclusive versus Exclusive Identity
It is a feature of this paper to stress the dichotomy between the inclusive and the exclusive type
of multiple collective identities. This enables us to assess the roots, but also the policy
conclusions, of the discourse in today´s political situation with particular emphasis on the
European integration process.
In the inclusive version of identity, which Herb and Kaplan (1999) call "nested identities",
various layers of identity may be in place simultaneously, including regional and local identities.
Individuals treat other individuals as possible partners, and common problems as jointly
solvable. This version of identity has been the goal of visionary leaders striving to design a
more humanitarian society, such as Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, or Robert Schuman.
Since World War II, a positive European identity has evolved from efforts to obviate any further
war between Germany and France and to advance the European integration process. Similar
motivation supported the unification of Italy, allowed German counties ("Fürstentümer", small
kingdoms) to form a common state, and made Austria a prosperous country no longer deploring
the demise of the monarchy or longing for integration into a greater Germany ("Deutsches
Reich").(note 2)
The exclusive version of identity could pertain to a nation or supra-national entity, but not to
both at the same time. It is characterized by selfishness on the individual level, along with a
quest for national or cultural identity that separates individuals and communities from outsiders,
minorities and foreigners, suggesting that one’s own people(note 3) are exceptional or superior.
This concept justifies different rules for insiders and outsiders in defiance of accepted
international law.(note 4)
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This type of identity separates people, fights other religions, makes use of the own language
being overly important ("French exceptionality"). It isolates outsiders or minorities. Border
controls prevent immigration, even if a country or region depopulates, notably when
immigrants come from distant countries with a different religion or culture. Exclusive identity
can justify military operations, even extended wars. "Identitarians" polarize societies and
support clandestine or open nationalism and terrorism (Handler, 2018; Schlembach, 2016,
Wilson and van der Dussen, 1993). The term "national identity" has been used as a means of
getting votes, even by moderate right-wing parties. In the European Parliament (EP), the new
faction "Identity and Democracy" is comprised of French, Italian, Swedish, Finnish and
Austrian right-wing parties, most of them part of national or regional governments.
It is becoming ever more evident that problems like climate change cannot be solved by isolated
national policies. Yet right-wing populistic parties negate or downplay the consequences of
climate change and, after winning power, tend to enforce policies that aggravate economic and
social problems.
2.3 National versus Supranational Identity
National identity is formulated in ethnic or racial terms, featuring intense intergroup relations,
a common language and/or a common religion. A nation is usually understood to be the society
of the ancestral native majority, excluding the diverging ethnic background of immigrants, even
those of the second generation (Agirdag, Phalet and Van Houtte, 2016). According to
Guibernau (2004), national identity may arise from a feeling of closeness of citizens
(psychological dimension), common values, beliefs and customs (cultural dimension), a
binding to ancestors (historical dimension), geographical boundaries (territorial dimension),
and/or a relation with a modern nation-state (political dimension). However, history teaches us
that nation-building may also be the result, over time, of usurpation and forceful integration.
The ethnic collective of a "nation" must be distinguished from the civic category of a "state".
Herb and Kaplan (1999) perceive the state as a regional entity possessing the territorial power
and institutions to establish a rule of law and guarantee the security of its citizens. In contrast,
a nation is formed by a shared history and destiny. However, the two concepts are not
independent of each other. Nations that strive to preserve their unique identity have also
attempted to achieve sovereignty by establishing an independent nation-state. Identification
problems arise when historic nations are not congruent with political states. It seems easier to
manage a state that includes more than one nation (e.g. the United Kingdom) compared to a
situation in which a nation has been distributed over several states (e.g. the Kurdish nation).
Letendre-Hanns (2019) values the nation-state as the bedrock of nationalism, and thus as the
prime adversary to European identity. In contrast, the nation as an association of people with
common values would be perfectly compatible with a transnational European identity. National
identity is the bridge between such socioeconomic concepts on the one hand and the political
concepts of right-wing populism and renationalisation on the other. The latter endanger
European unification and call for a return to past homogeneity, not only in today’s European
countries, but also in other non-European countries and the United States. An extreme form of
right-wing populism, the Identitarian Movement, even approves of the Christchurch massacre
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(Wildon, 2019).
Identification with a supranational project is needed to achieve progress in solving
transnational problems. Thus, growing identification with Europe has been the basis of the
European integration project, and this can also be extended to securing human rights or fighting
climate change.
A frequent critique of the notion of national identity (covering the commonality of a people)
reckons that it may contrast that of democracy (connoting equal rights for all citizens).
Fukuyama (2018) utters his voice "against identity politics" (representing group-specific
attitudes), because it detracts from civic discourse and provides the coercive "lens through
which most social issues are now seen". In particular, it would negate the economic and social
changes that have occurred in the wake of globalization and the fragmentation of democratic
societies "into segments based on ever-narrower identities". To Fukuyama, this helps explain
the recent rise in populist nationalism and the strain on liberal democracies, also in the
European Union.
In the next section we discuss Europe’s striving for identification to support the integration
process, and in the subsequent section the limits imposed by pluralism and attempts at
renationalisation, before we report on survey evidence and a strategy to further increase welfare
in Europe.
3. Emerging Identification with "Europe" as Research Field on the Inclusive Type
3.1 The Quest for a Common Europe
The disastrous consequences of the Second World War and the memory of conflicts between
European countries has led to the conclusion that Europe will recover only if the nation states
succeeded to work together and look for the fruits of common use of resources and trade. This
was the founding idea of the European Coal and Steel Community, which then developed into
a trade union and a common market.
A collective "European identity" evolved, which transgresses state boundaries and overlays
national and regional identities. It should neither suppress national feelings nor produce a new
nation-state, although it can be roughly equated with the EU as a territorial entity. European
identity rather builds on values perceived as "common" (due to historical experience) and on
the necessity to act transnationally in specific fields (security, global politics, environmental
issues). The common values are those invoked by the "Declaration on European Identity",
enacted in December 1973 by the heads of state and government in Copenhagen (European
Communities, 1973). The Declaration names representative democracy, the rule of law and
social justice as the foundations of economic progress. Together with respect for human rights,
these goals are envisaged as indispensable determinants of building a European society which
measures up to the needs of the individual.
One should be aware, though, that European identity is a concept that differs from national
identity in one crucial aspect: it is not defined in ethnic or cultural terms, but in political terms
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that is, "by the sharing of democratic cosmopolitan values" (Agirdag et al., 2016). Thus,
European identity is the antithesis to the ideas of radical right-wing populists who are engrained
in nationalism and who propagate the dissolution of the EU. Müller (2016) points out that there
is (still) no European people that can systematically set the political direction. Above all, the
EU has no permanently fixed borders and no common language, and it incorporates a confusing
number of sub-entities (Eurozone, Schengen area) which partly overstep the territory of EU
member states. This has also given rise to issues of the territorial definition of "Europe" and
the range of countries encompassing the EU’s enlargement and neighbourhood policies. It is
therefore also not straightforward to identify the "others" from an EU point of view.
A further layer of relationship reaches out to the European neighbourhood, which aims at
avoiding new dividing lines between the enlarged EU and its neighbours. It strives instead to
strengthen the prosperity, stability and security of all countries involved, and is also based on
the values of democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights (Aiginger and Handler, 2018).
The idea of a common Europe as a group of neighbouring countries with related history and
similar attitudes of their populations has its roots in the Hellenistic-Roman and Jewish-
Christian mainstreams with notable inputs also from Islamic, Slavic and Germanic traditions.
In recent centuries, these strands were transformed into a roughly common culture by
movements such as the Renaissance period, the Enlightenment and the French Revolution as
well as the industrialization and the following Socialist revolutions. These developments were
gravely interrupted by the two World Wars of the 20th century and the renewal of the power
structure of nations in Europe and the world at large.(note 5) As a result, European values are
now considered to include the respect for human rights, the rule of law, and liberal democracy.
When the Treaties of Rome were signed in 1957, the idea of Europe was to develop, step-by-
step, an ever-closer union among European nations and, finally, represent a powerful global
player. Important steps in this direction were the formation of the Single Market (1993), the
Schengen area (1997) and the Eurozone (1999), and negotiations about a European
Constitution. Although the latter was rejected by referenda in France and the Netherlands, the
substance was implanted in the Lisbon Treaty (2007), "founded on the values of respect for
human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights,
including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the
member states in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity
and equality between women and men prevail."(note 6)
By establishing symbols of territorial identity (flag, anthem, euro banknotes, EU passports),
the EU has attempted to emerge as a supranational entity, although without a clear vision of the
eventual territorial boundaries of "Europe". When exploring European identity, one should
keep in mind that from the outset the European project was designed by elites of many kinds,
selected politicians, internationally oriented bureaucrats and academics, and the media. It was
definitely not a grass-roots movement of European peoples.
3.2 Enforcing European Identity after the Financial Crisis
In a review of various research projects, the European Commission (2012) delineated the
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following main theoretical concepts that drive the analysis of identification with Europe:
European identity, combining individual and collective components that form a mosaic of
situation-specific identities (not particularly nested identities). Although not many people
may have a primary identity as "European", such an identity can become salient in specific
Europeanisation based on national fields of activity which are supplanted by institutions or
fields at the European level.
Transnationalism, referring to the cross-border living of persons who maintain a social
existence both in the country of residence and the country of origin.
Cosmopolitanism, which means actively striving for contact with other cultures, an attitude
resembling the perceived European values of tolerance and equality.
The arguments in favour of a European identity may not only justify a supranational identity
but also prop up sub-national identities, mirroring the potential conflict between an ethnic-
based "national identity" and a superimposed "state identity" when the territorial boundaries
diverge. If a nation occupies just part of the state area, tendencies towards secession could
emerge. If a nation inhabits an area reaching beyond the state boundaries, tendencies towards
seizing additional land could arise. Salient examples for the first case are movements for
independence in Catalonia, Scotland and Flanders, and for the second case the Russian
annexation of parts of the Ukraine. The international community of states dismisses any legal
justification for the second case, while secessions could be argued on the accepted "right to
self-determination", as formulated in Article I of the UN-Charter ("respect for the principle of
equal rights and self-determination of peoples").
Focused on the goal to form an economic union with centralized competencies in trade policy,
the EU has developed only elementary aspects of a common foreign policy, lacking in
particular a military power to adequately back it. Alas, the EU has developed a "civilian
identity" that relies on non-violence power in conflicts, distinguishing the EU from other large
world powers. The EU has also attempted, as part of its policy in external relations including
its enlargement policy, to export these universalistic values to other countries and regions.
4. "Ever Deeper Integration" Challenged by Exclusive Populism
4.1 New Challenges and Backlashes
The Financial Crisis has accelerated what has been described as a midlife crisis (Aiginger, 2010;
Tooze, 2018). It led to rising opposition against the European quest for an ever-deeper
integration in spite of the unquestionable achievements of the process as demonstrated by lower
income differences across countries, the successful integration of former socialist countries into
the common market and even a common currency for the majority of EU member countries.
We will judge right-wing populism as one of the consequences but want to start with
identitarianism as the extreme facet of the populistic spectrum. This seems necessary given the
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discussion of the socio-economic concepts of the inclusive features of identity but should not
dominate the analyses of upcoming strategies. Our review can be brief, as many studies on the
topic are already available (see e.g. Aiginger and Handler, 2018).
Identitarianism is a post-WWII far-right political ideology asserting the right of peoples of
European descent to live in a specific region or country and preventing immigration, whether
it involves refugees or people looking for work or better living conditions. Radical groups
openly espouse ideas of xenophobia and racism. Softer forms of identitarianism result from the
opposition to the student movement of 1968 ("let thousand flowers blossom"), and all forms
oppose globalization and multiculturalism. The integration of immigrants of non-European
background is claimed to be a threat to European culture and society. The European Union is
dismissed as corrupt and authoritarian, although EU bodies are welcome when they ward off
attacks from superpowers like China and the US.
Right-wing populism includes, but is not dominated by, Identitarians. Populism made
significant inroads following the Financial Crisis and the immigration wave of 2015. Populism
emerged in many European countries, with a strong presence in Hungary and Poland, but also
in France, Sweden and Finland. The Nordic countries are far from the borders where disruptive
and illegal migrants flocked into Europe. And they were also not hit hardest by the Financial
Crisis or the following sluggish economic recovery.
We prefer the characterization of right-wing populism as an oversimplified interpretation of a
society´s problems, conducted by visionary leaders as well as by polarizing parties, where the
latter differentiate between a virtuous "us" and a vicious "self-serving elite". Its root causes
include economic factors (low growth, high unemployment, inequality), cultural causes
(changing values, new lifestyles), the accelerating speed of change (in employment sectors due
to globalization or technological change), and an inadequate political response (leading to
forgotten regions). Immigration is an accelerator of populism and the forming of new right-
wing parties (Aiginger, 2019).
International economic and social disruptions have widened income disparities within
advanced countries. The economic and social turmoil within the EU has created globalization
losers, even in affluent member states (the Netherlands, Austria), because they feel particularly
disadvantaged there (Müller, 2016). This has spurred euro-scepticism and nationalism, and in
its wake a mounting crusade by right-wing populists against liberal democratic institutions. In
local and national election disputes, right-wing populists used the ensuing insecurity to not
only rant against the ruling "elites", but even to question representative democracy itself. The
European project is thus challenged by populist forces that propagate a return to an inward-
oriented nationalist view and brings to the fore many right-wing movements including the
extremist grouping of the Identitarians and their anti-European goals (Handler, 2018, 2019).
Since 2015, the massive influx of people with outlandish legal understanding and customs has
led to a fear of alienation among the ancestral EU population. At the same time, there is a
subliminal concern (stirred also by asymmetric media coverage) that immigration contributes
to an increase in crime which, however, is not corroborated by empirical studies.(note 7)
Among the major obstacles to a smooth handling of the migration wave are the flaws of the
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EU’s "Dublin system", which is not designed to cope with a mass influx of refugees.
How difficult it is to deepen the transnational and liberal European identity is demonstrated
often by fruitless attempts to invoke solidarity between member states. Instead of collaborative
solutions at the EU level, agreements between member states are of an increasingly
intergovernmental type, forming parallel structures to the core project of the EU. In certain key
areas, solutions have not even achieved such a stage, like the European Social Union and its
main concern of community-wide unemployment insurance. The absence of solidarity with
established European values is demonstrated in the examples of the Polish attempts to gain
control of the Constitutional Tribunal, the Hungarian attacks on universities and NGOs that
receive foreign funding, and most recently in the context of the COVID-19 crisis.
Based on eighteenth-century Enlightenment, which demands universal citizenship and
provides an intellectual basis for European integration, EU citizenship was introduced by the
1992 Maastricht Treaty as an addition to the national citizenship of a member state.(note 8)
Apart from certain basic rights (free movement, settlement and employment within the EU,
voting rights in the country of residence and regarding the European Parliament), EU
citizenship per se has not achieved the same broad acceptance as traditional national citizenship.
Kaina and Karolewski (2013) provide an overview of the discussion on the role that EU
citizenship can contribute to identity formation in the Union. The main argument is that
citizenship socializes individuals to abide by norms that generate cooperation among
individuals. However, citizenship may also be used as a device against identity-building, as
often exerted in the case of unwanted immigrants of foreign cultures.
4.2 Trends in Other Regions
The creeping retreat of transnational identities is not limited to Europe. The same applies
globally to the recent advance of nationalism at the expense of multilateralism. Pisani-Ferry
(2018) points at US-President Donald Trump, who is swinging the national club with
protectionist measures and threatening to exit from the Climate Pact and to phase-out the World
Trade Organization (WTO) and most recently the World Health Organization (WHO). But
China, too, has not lived up to the expectations generated when it joined the WTO in 2001.
China's economy is still shaped by traditional state capitalism, whose instruments contribute to
distorting competition in world trade. Post-communist Russia under President Vladimir Putin
has developed into an autocracy with limited fundamental democratic rights, the prime
ambitions being economic development and the restoration of national identity. With the
election of Jair Bolsonaro as President of Brazil, another large country has joined the club of
populist nationalism.
On the road to power, populistic parties often start regionally and in coalitions. If their concepts
do not directly succeed, they try to dominate policies even without a majority among voters.
After eventually attaining power, as odious examples reveal, they do not hesitate to change the
voting system, abolishing the division of power and the rule of law, closing borders and
fabricating an external enemy to stabilize their regime.
In a situation of low growth, persistent unemployment and inequality between persons or
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regions, scepticism with respect to the idea of "ever deeper integration" mounts. It is supported
by the populist movement which has clinched power in many regions, although the 2019
elections to the European Parliament have revealed the limits: New parties in the middle of the
political spectrum have gained ground and the new President of the European Commission has
earmarked this body as a "Geopolitical Commission".
Before we go into more detail on this change, we present survey data on the existence of
4.3 Trust in EU Institutions and Lack of Support for Exits
The Eurobarometer surveys, collected since 1974, provide evidence on the evolution of
European identity (see, e.g., Nissen, 2004; Pichler, 2005). In the early years of the survey (1982,
1985, 1988), there was hardly any relationship between the indicators of national and European
identity. Later, particularly since 1994, a statistically significant negative relationship appeared
in most countries, indicating a competition between national and European identification. This
is also the year in which elections to the EP took place and Stage 2 of the Maastricht Treaty
came into force. Both events might have increased the awareness of the EU as a competitor to
one’s national identification. The same observation holds for 1999, another year of elections to
the EP. The negative relationship continued through 2003, including the period of the euro
introduction and the discussion in the European Convention concerning a Constitution for
Europe (Duchesne and Frognier, 2008).
The refugee and migration crisis has boosted people’s awareness of national identity, eventually
superseding European identity, to some surprise it was stronger the less people had direct
contact to migrants. However, in the meantime the highly negative attitudes and more
significantly the moderately negative towards immigration from non-EU countries have
dwindled. The EU-internal discussion on how to deal with the refugee problem has evolved
from simply repairing the Dublin process to exclusive strategies such as isolation, detention
camps and repatriation.
Citizens' approval of the EU experienced a low in 2016 but has since steadily increased.
According to the Eurobarometer survey of Autumn 2019 (European Commission, 2019), 20%
of Europeans still had a negative image of the EU, but with 42% double as many had a positive
image, the rest was indifferent. The survey adds that, on average of the (then) 28 EU countries,
70% of respondents felt as "citizens of the EU" (Figure 1), up from just 59% in Autumn 2014.
(while the maximum had been 73% in Spring 2019).
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Figure 1. Standard Eurobarometer Survey, Autumn 2019: You Feel You are a Citizen of the
Source: European Commission (2019).
Additional information on the trust of people in the EU and its institutions is revealed by the
Eurobarometer survey of Spring 2019. Since the outbreak of the euro crisis, there has been a
solid majority of respondents who have tended not to trust the EU, although in recent years the
gap to those trusting the EU has almost been closed (Figure 2). Not surprisingly, the lowest
scores of trust were recorded in the UK and in Greece, the highest in Latvia and Denmark. It
is also interesting to see that the tendency to trust dominates among younger and well-educated
people, while retired persons and those belonging to the working class are rather sceptical about
the EU.
Figure 2. Standard Eurobarometer Survey, Spring 2019: Please Tell Me if You Tend to Trust
or not to Trust the EU
Source: European Commission (2019).
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Positioning the EU among other public institutions and the media, trust in the EU is higher than
that of national government (Figure 3)(note 9). Within the European institutions, the European
Parliament is trusted most, closely followed by the European Commission (Figure 4).
Furthermore, in all member countries more people "absolutely disagreed” with exit than
"absolutely agreed”; it is interesting that this was also still the case in the UK (Eurobarometer
Spring 2019).
A recent study by the Bertelsmann Foundation (De Vries and Hoffmann, 2018) connects
attitudes towards European integration with the general perception of globalization. The
authors find that a considerable number of respondents (44%) feel threatened by globalization.
However, almost half of this group (45%) view European integration as part of the solution for
combatting their fears. Those who are not anxious about globalization are also overwhelmingly
(64%) in favour of more European integration. The difference between those viewing
globalization positively and those feeling threatened is apparent when it comes to the question
of the intensity of intra-EU cooperation. In all cases surveyed, positive globalists are much
more in favour of accepting migrants from other EU countries, refugees in line with EU quotas,
creating an EU army and financially assisting EU countries in trouble.
Another result from empirical investigations is that identification with Europe does not just
mirror the economic benefits resulting from the integration process. If in interviews on
European identity the questions distinguish between a civic dimension (citizens with shared
democratic practices) and a cultural dimension (citizens with shared values), respondents feel
more ‘civically’ than ‘culturally’ European. It is also evident that identification with Europe is
achieved by communication at the national level and the gradual "Europeanization" of national
institutions rather than contact with European institutions per se (Bruter, 2011).
Figure 3. Standard Eurobarometer Survey, Spring 2019: Please Tell Me if You Tend to Trust
or not to Trust the Institutions Mentioned
Source: European Commission (2019).
0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90% 100%
The Army
The Police
Regional or local public authorities
Justice / The (NATIONALITY) legal system
Public administration in (OUR COUNTRY)
The United Nations
The European Union
The Media
The (NATIONALITY) Government
The (NATIONALITY) Parliament
Political parties
Tend to trust Tend not to trust Don't know
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Figure 4. Standard Eurobarometer Survey, Spring 2019: Do You Tend to Trust or not to Trust
the Institutions Mentioned?
Source: European Commission (2019).
To summarize, the empirical evidence is encouraging for the European model. European
identity has been increasing, and more than half of the citizens now feel like "citizens of
Europe" in each member state, ranging from 50-55% in Greece, the UK and Italy to eleven
member countries with 80% or more (the unweighted average over all 28 member states is
74%). Surprisingly, the share of citizens feeling as Europeans is above average in Poland and
in Hungary, where governments tend to demand renationalization of EU policies and disregard
principles of the division of power between legislative and jurisdiction. The general and
increasing feeling as Europeans does not preclude that the main identification remains national,
but it is way apart from denying a European component of citizens’ collective identity. Citizens
realize that some important issues can best be solved at the European level. This pertains,
among other things, to the ability of Europe to lead in the climate policy and shape
globalisations by a more active policy. Trust in European institutions is larger than in national
one, and in no country a majority favours an exit from the EU.
5. Overcoming the Challenges and Empowering Europe
5.1 A Strategy against Right-wing Populism beyond Cordon Sanitaire vs Embracement
The unquestionable success of the European Union and its social and economic fundamentals
for the well-being of societies and individuals, demonstrates the limits of all forms of exclusive
identity formation or insular nationalism as propagated by right-wing populists. However, to
reduce the existing support for populists and put an end to their power grabbing is no easy task.
A four-stage procedure is needed (Aiginger, 2019).
The first step is to correct the one-sided framing on which today’s populism is based. It is the
0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90% 100%
The Council of the EU
The European Council
The European Central Bank
The European Commission
The European Parliament
Tend to trust Tend not to trust Don't know
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pessimistic interpretation that life has turned negative, that the economic and social system has
collapsed, and that moral and social relations have become worse compared with some "golden
era" long past. In fact, in most countries and regions the living conditions were not disastrous
before the populists started their attacks on liberal society. Incomes were twice as high as for
the previous generation, there was a greater variety of educational choices, training facilities
and work locations. Leisure time for those in work was longer than during the "golden age". A
clear vindication of the pessimistic story is rising life expectancy it has increased by three
years in each decade, and older people are now able to work and travel up to an age that had
previously been unimaginable. But, of course, not everything is positive for everyone, and the
potential for further improvement is enormous. Inequality can further be decreased, and
employment made fairer with fewer burnouts.(note 10) Reframing, without whitewashing,
must be the starting point of a new policy to combat populism.
The second step is to develop a vision outlining where the country or region wants to be in the
medium-term, for example by 2030. This includes issues like which jobs can be created, which
specialisations by industry are feasible and advantageous, and which abilities and education
levels for the young can be attained. The vision should be ambitious but within reach, shared
by citizens and developed jointly with experts and political parties.
The third step is to define game-changing instruments and find partners in the process of
change.(note 11) Depending on the characteristics of a region, this might mean changing tax
systems and making environmental exploitation costly, while supporting a circular economy
and innovation. Education should be changed from learning by heart to lifelong learning and
retraining. The strategy should be discussed and fine-tuned in a dialogue with citizens, NGOs,
reform-minded trade unions and representatives of new firms, while the skills of migrants
should be deployed, and their children integrated.
Finally, a new strategy requires a narrative that emotionalizes and unites Europe. Europe's old
peace narrative no longer moves its citizens, although each and every day we see that peace is
not guaranteed – neither in neighbouring countries to the East and South nor in the Western
Balkans. Terrorists may strike anywhere, they may even be trained in camps within EU borders.
Since Europe´s share in the world population is declining, the story must be based on quality,
innovation and partnership. A probable new narrative for Europe could be to take the lead in
making globalisation responsible, fighting climate change and offering a larger variety of
products, services and life opportunities than any other region in the world.
5.2 Reforms are Needed in Europe
The European Union needs a middle road between centralization and decentralization, or rather
a combination of both. This could be achieved by defining fields in which more centrality is
needed due to large spill-overs between countries, making national measures costly relative to
national gains. Another solution would be to distinguish between important issues and minor
ones. A third (and maybe best) approach could set compulsory goals at the EU level, with
decentral implementation at the level of member states and further evaluation of the effects by
an EU institution or an independent body. The latter mechanism is to some degree used by the
fiscal compacts and the European semester. Incidentally, such a mechanism was the base for
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successfully committing 190 countries to adopt the Paris Climate Agreement: the goals were
jointly defined (and recommended by scientists), each country is obliged to devise a strategy,
which is then monitored by a predefined international process (see Aiginger 2017, 2018).
Due to Europe’s historical share in environmental emissions and to the opting out of the US in
climate questions and humanitarian law, the EU has the chance and obligation to take the lead
in fighting climate change. China is starting to grapple with both areas, but is still far from
attaining full leadership, given its arduous relationships with Hongkong, Taiwan, the Uighurs
and the sweeping technical surveillance of its own citizens.
To counter the destructive activities of national populists, one must engage with their arguments,
first and foremost by disseminating facts to counter the anxieties generated by the real or
perceived flooding of Europe by migrants of foreign cultures. This must be complemented by
establishing an effective external border control and ensuring the fair treatment of recognized
refugees. A reformed EU migration strategy must be based on internationally agreed
humanitarian law, but also thwarting the shortfall of young people in the East and the South
(predicted to rise to 50% of the 20 to 30 years old) and countering the shortage of skilled
workers in metropolitan areas in the West. The migration strategy has to include cooperation
with the countries of origin, primarily with respect to infrastructure investments as well as
education and training. The European Commission is committed to presenting a draft proposal
for a New Pact on Migration and Asylum, including the relaunch of the Dublin reform before
mid-2020 (Von der Leyen, 2019) – a timeline that is endangered by the even more pressing
measures to tackle the COVID-19 crisis.
The role of the European Parliament should be strengthened, giving them the right of own
initiatives. More generally, political parties in the EU practically exist only at the national level,
while at the Union level there are just loose interest groups based on national parties. Many
European concerns (e.g. elections to the EP) are discussed predominantly from a national
perspective. Risse (2010) therefore urges the Europeanization of national public spheres "in
which European issues are contested and debated" and which helps create a "European polity"
even in the absence of a homogeneous European "demos".
5.3 Change maybe around the Corner
Support for populist parties seems to have peaked, especially where they are in power, such as
in Hungary, Poland and Turkey. Opposition leaders have scored majorities in elections in
Budapest and Istanbul. The inroads of the populist parties in the European elections of 2019
were smaller than expected, reform parties and the Greens are now represented in the European
Commission, Italy´s forceful speaker of right-wing populism lost his job, and Austria´s right-
wing party had to leave the government after scandals. Fighting climate change has caught up
with migration as top issues deciding elections.(note 12)
The new president of the European Commission has announced a European Green Deal and a
Social Europe as the new narrative, and she has already started a dialogue with European
citizens. She has built a geopolitical Commission which is likely to adopt an active role in
international conflicts and invest in partnerships with non-European countries. All this is linked
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to the inclusive concept of a European identity which provides for an open discussion among
reform parties concerning shortcomings in the economy and society. The ensuing dynamics
could promote a leading role for Europe in the globalizing world, stepping into the vacuum
resulting from the retreat of the US from multilateralism and the unfolded deficiencies of the
Chinese model.
In the European Parliament, such a strategy is opposed only by the right-wing faction calling
themselves "Identity and Democracy". Several members of this faction are in conflict with
democratic principles at home and all are advocating a polarizing concept of identity built on
the perceived homogeneity and superiority of their nation, culture and religion.
5.4 Reactions to COVID-19
It is much too early to speculate about the consequences of the COVID-19 health crisis and the
deep recession it has caused. What can be said empirically is that countries reacted differently
according to the policy doctrine of the respective government. When the first casualties became
known, governments in Hungary, Poland, the UK, the US and Brazil either downgraded the
importance of the problem or blamed outside forces for their occurrence, partly also restricting
democracy and calling for emergency power for the government. Mainstream parties and pro-
European groupings tried to mitigate the problem through internal rules, expecting solidarity
and timely assistance from the EU. The initial reaction from the Community level appeared
disappointing, largely due to the lack of competency in health matters, but also the result of
diverging national interests in Council meetings. Only step-by-step have rules been developed
which promise to forfeit protectionism and end up in mutual assistance. Pro-Europeans hope
that further reforms in governance will improve the position of all member countries to be
better prepared for handling any future crisis. The experiences from the rules developed after
the global financial crisis to strengthen the Euro and the banking system are at hand and should
be example for learning from a crisis handling also the health crisis that way instead of
accusing foreign forces is a diametrical contrast to the prescriptions of right-wing populists and
the concept of exclusive identity.
6. Summary: Why the Dichotomization Makes Sense
More distinctly than usual in the socio-economic literature, we dichotomize between an
inclusive and an exclusive type of collective identity. This encourages to analyse the progress
and the backlashes of an evolving European identity as a research field of the welfare-
increasing effects of the inclusive type, but also the reforms which are needed, given the inroads
of exclusive populism on the one hand and the vision of a Europe "striving for more” by the
new European Commission on the other.
The European integration project is a role model for the impact as well as the further
development of an inclusive collective identity. Exclusive attitudes would glorify national and
regional confinements and limit rising welfare resulting from common solutions. Individuals
as well as societies are loaded with identities, comprising individual components, like personal
and social identity, as well as collective ones, like cultural or political identity. An inclusive
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identity encompasses openness to new solutions and international cooperation. The increasing
self-assessment of citizens as "national plus European" is an example of such an inclusive,
welfare-improving identity that became a driver of the successful European integration model
– partly in response to the memory of wars within Europe. Today, more than half of the citizens
in each member state and three quarters on average across all EU countries declare themselves
as also European. Over time, this has allowed to reduce trade barriers, provide free movement
for private and professional purposes, and create a common currency for the majority of
member states. All of this has boosted welfare and limited protectionist activities with their
negative externalities on other countries.
But European integration has not been smooth. The recovery after the Financial Crisis proved
sluggish, with incomes decreasing in the South. The catching up of Central and Eastern
European Countries continued, but not at an equal speed and not for all regions and citizens.
In general, spatial differences in unemployment and inequality have not shrunk as quickly as
expected, and some regions feel "forgotten", often as the result of the emigration of young
Right-wing populist parties have stepped in, fostered by economic problems, but also for
cultural reasons. Extreme political strands warn of an "exchange of the population", vastly
overblowing the share of Muslims among immigrants and ignoring the need for immigration
in an ageing Europe. Some of these extreme groups are organized as "Identitarians", and all
have xenophobic tendencies and call for extreme nationalist policies. When right-wing
populists attain power, economic problems tend to worsen, rules are changed. The division of
power is reduced, if not eliminated, and foreign enemies are invented, whether in the person of
George Soros or as European institutions. In the European Parliament, populist parties – now
organized in the fraction "Identity and Democracy" – vote against fighting climate change, but
also demand the renationalisation of many policy areas. Learning from other cultures is
impeded, even if it is evident that cultural diversity improves choices, and health and
These tendencies can be summarized under the exclusive type of identity, which supports
protectionism and renationalisation, penalizes minorities within a country and prevents
learning from other cultures. This type does not tend to increase well-being, or the choices of
individuals or countries.
We conclude with an optimistic assessment that change is around the corner. The inroads of
populist parties in the 2019 EP elections were lower than expected, and reform parties in the
middle of the political spectrum (including Green parties) made larger gains and are
represented in the new European Commission. Surprisingly, proclaiming European citizenship
(at least together with national citizenship) dominates in all EU member countries and has not
declined if anything, it has increased over the past five years. In none of the 27 member
countries is there a majority for an exit from the EU. Trust in European institutions is larger
than in national government. The New European Commission and its president call on Europe
to strive harder to take the lead in fighting climate change and shaping a responsible
globalization path with partnerships in the East and the South. Towards this end, Ursula von
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der Leyen has chosen the "European Green Deal" as a new narrative and proposes developing
a Social Europe. Under this strategy, an inclusive European identity will further be strengthened,
while the feelings of superiority versus minorities and foreign cultures is likely to decline.
Even the COVID-19 crisis may finally demonstrate the importance of inclusive concepts. The
first reactions were national, and populists used the pandemics to bash foreigners and migrants
as culprits. But gradually countries have started to assist each other and look for best practice.
This was supported by the European Commission, which has little competence in the health
sector but is now developing rules for coping with the crisis and mobilizing financial resources
for poorer or more indebted countries with inefficient health systems. And there is hope that
after this crisis the resilience of Europe with regard to further crises will have increased, thereby
imitating the improved stability of the banking system after the reforms induced by the
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Note 1. See e.g. Jesse and Williams (2005), Rumelili (2007), Curtis (2014), Spitka (2016).
Note 2. Such a movement is to some degree absent in Belgium (though mitigated by Brussels
becoming the European capital) or Ireland, which was for a long time separated by a religious
divide, but in which all parties are now heavily opposed to a new border between the North
and the South.
Note 3. The "heartland" it occupies, to use the notion of Taggart (2012).
Note 4. A somewhat related dichotomy is applied by Priester (2012) when she distinguishes
between left-wing ("inclusive") and right-wing ("exclusive") populism. More generally,
Luhmann (2005) takes a systems-theoretical view of the inclusion/exclusion relationship and
concludes that individuals are never completely excluded or included (see also Mascareño and
Carvajal, 2015).
Note 5. For an overview, see e.g. Wilson and van der Dussen (1993).
Note 6. Article 2 of the Consolidated Version of the Treaty on European Union (Official Journal
of the European Union, 26 October 2012, C 326/15, https://eur-
Note 7. Maghularia and Uebelmesser (2019) provide evidence for Germany for the period
2003–2016. Based on panel-data and correcting for unknown heterogeneity, spatial correlation
and endogeneity, the authors conclude that immigrants do not increase the crime rate. For
additional evidence, see the literature quoted in this study.
Note 8. Article 20(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) states
that "Every person holding the nationality of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union".
However, the acquisition of citizenship is regulated exclusively by the law of the Member State
conferring it (for details, see Frendo, 1919).
Note 9. The trust for regional and local institutions is somewhat higher than for the EU-
institutions, demonstrating the importance of the subsidiary principle.
Note 10. It is evident that all these improvements will never happen through protectionism, and
that past jobs and family structures will not return. Furthermore, it needs to be stressed that
heterogeneity is not negative and animosity towards outsiders or foreigners does not solve
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Note 11. Aiginger (2017, 2018).
Note 12. Economists seem to have partly descended from their ivory tower to include societal
problems in their agenda, with GDP substituted by Sustainable Development goals and a
movement towards interdisciplinary discussions. New interdisciplinary think tanks are on the
rise. Young people are more than ever interested in the future of the planet and infecting their
parents and teachers with their concerns.
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The paper analyses the empirical relationship between immigrants and crime using panel data for 391 German administrative districts between 2003 and 2016. Employing different standard panel estimation methods, we show that there is no positive association between the immigrant rate and the crime rate. We assess the robustness of this result by considering the heterogeneity of immigrant groups with respect to gender, age, country of origin and – if applicable – refugee status, and study naturalized immigrants. We also take into account possible spillover effects of immigrants on criminal activities by Germans, omitted variables and spatial correlation. Furthermore, taking advantage of the panel-structure of the data set we employ an instrumental variable approach that deals with the possibly endogenous allocation of immigrants and allows for causal interpretation of the estimates. There is no evidence that immigrants increase crime.
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For extended periods, the European integration project was an unquestioned success story, delivering advances such as the tariff union, the internal market, the single currency, and an ever-increasing number of Member States. European integration now seems to have come to a stalemate, or is even on a retreat, as demonstrated by the British exit vote and the lack of solidarity to jointly handle the immigration problem, fueled by untamed nationalism and populism. The following overview investigates the threat migration and national populism means for the evolving European identity and proposes policies to avert further damage to the European integration project.
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