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Standing for Europe: Citizens' perceptions of European symbols as evidence of a “banal Europeanism”?



This article analyses the perception of the symbols of the European Union (EU) by citizens. Relying on a survey of a representative sample of the population in eight countries (France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Romania, Spain and the United Kingdom) carried out in December 2020, it investigates to which extent these symbols are considered as good representations of the EU and differences related to political, cultural, social and economic belongings. Empirically, our findings show a large acknowledgement of these symbols in congruence with general attitudes towards the EU. Theoretically, it offers some evidence of the existence of a “banal Europeanism” taking ‐ to a certain extent ‐ European symbolism as granted in contrast with its politicisation in elite discursive struggles.
Standing for Europe: Citizens' perceptions of
European symbols as evidence of a banal
François Foret
| Noemi Trino
Centre d'étude de la vie politique/Institute
for European Studies, Université Libre de
Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium
Centre d'étude de la vie politique, Université
Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium
François Foret, Centre d'étude de la vie
politique/Institute for European Studies,
Université Libre de Bruxelles, CP
172 39 avenue B. Roosevelt, Brussels, BE
1050, Belgium.
This article analyses the perception of the symbols of the
European Union (EU) by citizens. Relying on a survey of a
representative sample of the population in eight countries
(France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Romania, Spain
and the United Kingdom) carried out in December 2020, it
investigates to which extent these symbols are considered
as good representations of the EU and differences related
to political, cultural, social and economic belongings. Empiri-
cally, our findings show a large acknowledgement of these
symbols in congruence with general attitudes towards the
EU. Theoretically, it offers some evidence of the existence
of a banal Europeanismtaking - to a certain extent -
European symbolism as granted in contrast with its
politicisation in elite discursive struggles.
citizenship, European Union/European identity/Europe,
nationalism, symbolism
The creation of political symbols for the European Union (EU) has been a long and controversial process. A key step
was the Adonnino report mandated by the European Council in June 1985 that paved the way for the adoption of
the flag, the anthem and Europe Day. However, during the constitutional process led by the Convention on the
Future of the European Union (20012007), the symbols were included in the draft treaty only at a late stage due to
the resistance of some Conventioneers, considering that such attributes would make the EU look too much like a
Received: 21 September 2021 Revised: 14 March 2022 Accepted: 29 March 2022
DOI: 10.1111/nana.12848
© 2022 Association for the Study of Ethnicity and Nationalism and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Nations and Nationalism. 2022;118.
super-statein-the-making and would constitute illegitimate competitors for national emblems. Bolder ideas, like
turning Europe Day held on 9 May every year into a bank holiday for all Europeans, were discarded. Still, after the
noin French and Dutch referenda that was interpreted as a rejection of a Europe threatening national identities,
the European Council in June 2007 decided to delete from the treaty anything sounding like a reference to a state-
like EU, from the word constitutionto the European symbols. (De Poncins, 2003, pp. 7273, 8283). Since then,
these symbols have been in use and were granted official recognition by some institutional actors. The European
Parliament (EP) integrated them in its internal regulation; and 16 member states attached to the Lisbon treaty a non-
binding declaration that the flag with a circle of twelve golden stars on a blue background, the anthem based on the
Ode to Joyfrom the Ninth Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven, the motto United in diversity, the euro as the
currency of the European Union and Europe Day on 9 May will for them continue as symbols to express the sense
of community of the people in the European Union and their allegiance to it.
These controversies show two things. First, symbols are usually considered secondary elements related to the
mere appearance of politics. They may nevertheless become bones of contention regarding the very nature of the
polity they stand for. Second, citizens' perceptions of these symbols are the object of constant anticipations based
on little hard empirical evidence by decision-makers. The instrumental uses of these symbols at the political level and
the occasional conflicts over them may overshadow more positive, appeased or indifferent popular attitudes in
everyday life. The purpose of this article is to contribute to filling the gap by relating the understudied perceptions
that Europeans have of these symbols to their broader political attitudes and representations. Therefore, our
research question is twofold: First, to which extent are the attitudes of Europeans towards EU symbols shaped, first,
by their general attitudes towards the EU and, second, by their political, social, economic and cultural belongings?
Second, does this reflect the existence of a banal Europeanism?
The notion of banal Europeanism(Cram, 2009) refers to the banal nationalismcoined by Billig (Billig, 1995)
to emphasise that identification frequently lies in non-passionate, ordinary and profane means. Far from the elite dis-
cursive struggles, feelings of belonging and loyalty may develop in low-intensity forms anchored in routine. This
involves even more the way to relate to the EU, which remains subordinated and secondary to the national attach-
ment. This banalisation of Europe(Soysal, 2002) also implies that various identities may coexist, combine and over-
lap differently according to the context, the uses and the actors and take various meanings and supports without
necessarily conflicting or even competing. Going further, the top-down politicisation of the EU and its emblems
could go hand in hand with its relative pacification in grassroots politics (or with a de-politicised everyday life that is
the reality of many citizens). This does not exclude either a synergistic relationship(Cram, 2009) between identities
attached to the EU and to national states, the former being a background that may support, reinforce, enlarge or cor-
rect the latter. Looking at the broader picture, the existence of a banal Europeanismwould mean that the
routinisation of EU symbols overcome (without suppressing) differences of perception related to political, social, eco-
nomic and cultural belongings.
We investigate these questions through a survey (Appendix S1) that offers original data on the perceptions of
citizens, a subject that is not regularly documented by official opinion polls (such as the Eurobarometer). Like any
mass survey of this type, it requires interviewees to answer closed-ended questions at a specific moment and there-
fore does not claim to map the multidimensional dynamics of symbols that can only be grasped through in-depth
interviews and observation, technics that we used in other research on the same topic. A representative sample of
the population (total no. 8000) was interviewed in eight countries, including the largest (France, Germany, Italy,
Poland, Romania, Spain and the United Kingdom) and most controversial (Hungary) ones in December 2020. Cost-
wise it was not possible to carry out the survey at the scale of the EU. Nevertheless, our sample claims both quanti-
tative and qualitative representativeness. Quantitatively, the surveyed countries account for 86% of the pre-Brexit
EU at 28's population (and still 73% of the post-Brexit EU without the United Kingdom). The comparison of the
answers from our sample to questions taken from the Eurobarometer to data provided by the said Eurobarometer at
the scale of the whole EU shows its reliability. Qualitatively, the choice of countries includes founding and more
recent member states; reflects possible differences between Northern/Southern or Western/Eastern Europe; and
societies with different economic, historical, cultural and religious backgrounds. The inclusion of the
United Kingdom, which had formally left the EU on 1 February 2020 but was still under the rules of the Single Mar-
ket and the Customs Union at the time of the fieldwork in December 2020, is justified as some of the most heated
controversies over European symbols took place there. In the same way, the presence of Hungary is explained as its
prime minister Viktor Orbán is a protagonist of the debate on the ethnocultural dimension of European identity.
Looking at the broader picture, our country cases illustrate the variety of the European state tradition(Dyson,
2009) that has shaped different institution- and nation-building processes and subsequent ways to relate to collec-
tive identity and symbols. They are also representative of the singular combination that each member state operates
between national and European belongings (Bulmer & Lequesne, 2020) and of the resilient national framing of politi-
cal attitudes and treatment of EU affairs in media and political discourses (Medrano, 2003).
This article is organised as follows. A first part frames European symbolism in the general theoretical debate
about the legitimation of the EU in comparison with national polities. A second part maps the collective perceptions
and hierarchy of European symbols. A third part investigates the individual perceptions of EU symbolisms and frames
these perceptions in different models according to the combination of key variables (feelings of national and
European belonging, usual socio-economic and political indicators shaping the attitudes towards the EU).
Our main findings are twofold. First, against the institutional fears that the EU should not look too much like a
state, nation-style European symbols enjoy stronger support among European citizens than those strictly related to
European institutions. Second, at the individual level, usual socio-economic and political factors shaping the relation
of the citizens to the EU are reliable predictors of their appreciation of European symbols. Empirically, this suggests
that European symbols reflect faithfully the polity they stand for and, as such, can be used as a proxy to objectify
political attitudes and identification towards the EU. Theoretically, our conclusion highlights that national and
European symbolisms are not necessarily antagonists and that the top-down politicisation of the EU is not exclusive
of its bottom-up banalisation. Overall, the mimetism between European and national symbols; the congruence
between attitudes towards the EU and EU symbols; and the limited variations of these attitudes according to politi-
cal, social, economic and cultural belongings frame these EU symbols as routinised and relatively taken for granted.
This global picture suggests evidence of a kind of banal Europeanism.
The creation of political symbols for the EU has emerged as a necessity for its legitimation but must cope with spe-
cific constraints due to its multicultural and polycentric model and the fact that the allegiance it requests from citi-
zens is always second to and framed by primary belongings.
2.1 |Symbols in the legitimation of political orders
Political symbolism encompasses all organised systems of signs, overloaded with meanings, and functioning as reac-
tivation of cultural codes of behaviour (Braud, 1996). Symbolism is, in its nature, polysemous, thus allowing for diverse
and changing interpretations. It facilitates unity even where an agreement does not prevail or, in Kertzer's words, soli-
darity with consensus(Kertzer, 1992). Drawing on Clifford Geertz's classic work, political symbols can be said to be
constitutive of a community, differentiating those who identify with it from those who do not; of a space delineated
as their sphere of use; of a temporality revolving around the myth of origins and the history linked to the symbols; and
of a centre, the power that controls the legitimate narrative about the symbols (Geertz, 1973,1986).
As a functionalist project aiming to transcend political passions by creating bonds of interests controlled by tech-
nocratic and rational-legal structures, European integration may appear as a sterile ground for political symbolism.
However, the necessity emerged quickly for the European Union (EU) to search for the consent and the loyalties of cit-
izens. Two models of narratives have shaped the legitimation of European communities since their origins. The first
narrative frames the EU as a sui generis political system that is justified mostly by its outputs, the public goods (security,
prosperity) offered to the citizens. It relies on utilitarian arguments and draws on market-driven communication in
terms of means and resources. The second narrative duplicates the nation-state model to shape the EU as an imaginary
community in the making and to mobilise ethnocultural claims. The two narratives have constantly alternated and
overlapped in the legitimisation of the EU according to the period, the context and the issue at stake. Both narratives
have shaped European symbolism in different ways but have met the same constraints and limits (Foret, 2008).
2.2 |The EU as a symbolic producer constrained by the collective representations of
The literature has increasingly questioned the capacity of the EU to build a European feeling of belonging by res-
haping the socialising patterns of citizens (van Houwelingen et al., 2019). Successive waves of works analysing the
effects of interactions between European institutions and citizens suggest that the outcomes are still limited in terms
of identity-building (Deutsch, 1957; Fligstein, 2008; Kuhn, 2015; Medrano, 2020). The limits of the great narratives
sponsored by EU institutions have been largely documented (Checkel & Katzenstein, 2009; Risse, 2011). While the
consensus prevails that no congruence between culture and politics is possible at the European level (McNamara,
2015) but that identity politics is now impossible to ignore (Börzel & Risse, 2018), views are more diverging regarding
the range and outcomes of symbolic resources. Saurugger and Thatcher emphasise that the EU political identity is
most designed through its different policies, is different from one policy to another and does not imply convergence
of positions on European integration itself (Saurugger & Thatcher, 2019, p. 68).
European identity has also a different relevance and meaning at institutional, collective and individual levels. It
may have little salience in the self-definition of a person but much more in social interactions, especially when con-
fronted with people displaying different cultural features (Gaxie et al., 2011, p. 282). Likewise, the dominant attitude
towards the EU is neither identification nor rejection, but indifference (Van Ingelgom, 2014). Europeconstitutes a
blurred object that does not create an imaginary powerful enough to directly impact the political and social attitudes
of citizens (Duchesne, 2010, p. 14). Still, in some situations where Europeans experience the practical effects of
European integration, the EU, its policies and its symbols are likely to gain more concreteness.
European symbols are submitted to these structural constraints, shaping the ways citizens relate to the EU. They
are floating signifiers allowing everyone to project into it their own visions of the world and political ends. Mean-
while, when confronted with cultural differences, they become stronger markers of belonging. The European flag
operates at its best to highlight the practical advantages of a Europe without borders when it is associated with pic-
tures of passport controls in airports (Cram et al., 2011). But this openness of meaning comes with the price of
uncertainty regarding the effects that are produced. The twelve stars banner stimulates the identification of
Europeans with a cultural community although it was conceived as a primarily legal and civic sign of belonging
(Bruter, 2005). EU citizens have a positive perception of EU symbols and tend to associate them to anti-national
values in essence (e. g. peace, harmony, co-operation). However, they identify little to these symbols (Bruter, 2004).
2.3 |Justification of the symbols included in the survey
The EU has progressively enlarged its symbolic repertoire. In our survey, we test the main official symbols that the
polity has created or appropriated. It includes those duplicated from national states: a flag, an anthem, a day, a motto,
a currency; the seats of European institutions as centres of power; and incumbents of key positions as human
embodiments of power.
The European flag is the most ancient symbol, taken by the EU in 1986 from the Council of Europe which
adopted it in 1955 and is still its legal owner. It has gained public awareness and appreciation without creating as
much emotional attachment as the national colours (Hedetoft, 1998; Lager, 1995). The few waves of the
Eurobarometer that asked questions about the flag showed that most Europeans say they have seen this emblem
before and know what it means. A narrower but still large majority declares that it is a good symbol for Europe and
that it stands for something good. And an even smaller majority (with significant national variations) states that the
flag should be seen on all public buildings in their country next to the national flag and that the citizens identify with
it (European Commission, 2007). This positive rating does not exclude some long-standing controversies. The flag
has been criticised as a colonial legacy and a cultural fallacy (Shore, 2001,2013). Its interpretation is conflictual.
Some advocate its religious meaning, associating the number 12 with the number of apostles and the blue with the
colour of the Virgin Mary. This religious reading has no official basis as, for the EU and the Council of Europe, the flag
only represents solidarity and harmony among the peoples of Europeand the blue the Western sky
but re-
emerges regularly as a factor of attraction or rejection of the European banner. The European flag is still a bone of
contention, not only in countries ruled by Euroskeptic forces like Hungary, but also in founding member states. In
2017 still, in France, the leftist politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon protested its presence in the National assembly as a
violation of laïcité.On the other side of the political spectrum, the leader of the National Rally Marine Le Pen
refused the presence of the European banner in the background of her TV show during the presidential campaign.
Nevertheless, these conflicts of meaning are incomparable with the passions raging around national flags such as the
American Stars and Stripesframed as the icon of a civil religion (Guenter, 1987), the object of a pledge of alle-
giance (Ellis, 2005) and of physical and legal battles over its desecration (Goldstein, 1996).
Another state-like symbol is the anthem. As for the flag, the EU decided in 1985 to follow the example of the
Council of Europe that had adopted Beethoven's Ode to Joyin 1972. The purpose was to symbolise both Europe
in the wider sense and the continuity between all continental unification projects. From scratch, the European
anthem was left without words, a tangible obstacle to its ritualisation as people cannot unite in singing. The choice
of a piece of music, already anchored in popular culture and used by a variety of actors ranging from public institu-
tions to private companies, had ambivalent effects. The bet was to take advantage of its fame to popularise Europe,
but it came with the risk to suffer from the association of the music with some dark pages of European history, as
the Nazis have been keen users of it (Buch, 1999). Still, in the same nation-state style, Europe Day on the 9th of May
mirrors national days. However, it is considered a relative failure in terms of mass outreach and ritualisation. It is best
compared to the German Unity Day on 3 October, another recent creation that has struggled to emerge as a political
and social event due to its short history and its perception as a non-consensual artefact (Elgenius, 2005).
The motto United in diversityis a resource mobilised by European institutions and other actors in their commu-
nication since its adoption in 2000. It is a discursive formula adaptable to all kinds of interpretations and uses, a good
example of those symbolic words that have managed to transcend linguistic diversity and disseminated largely in
political, economic and social discourses, to legitimise or de-legitimise the European Union (Sternberg, 2013).
The euro is another latecomer turned into a prominent European symbol, with the important nuance that it is
not the currency of all member states. Still, it stands for a representation of the EU as a whole for the rest of the
world and of the Eurozone as core Europeregarding member states that do not belong to it. The euro is also one
of the main EU policy successes and a rare example of a European symbol replacing national ones. In this substitu-
tion, the European currency has sometimes suffered from the comparison with its national precedents. In Germany,
for example, it has not gained the iconic status once enjoyed by the Deutsche Mark as the expression of a restored
national pride after WW2 and a guarantee of stability. The euro has also faced opposition. It was framed as an
emblem of a neo-liberal EU imposing austerity. It served as a scapegoat when the “€,standing for a federal and
bureaucratic Europe threatening national sovereignty, motivated the British Eurosceptic party UKIP to choose the
£logo of the pound to proclaim its patriotic loyalty (Calligaro, 2013). Finally, the iconography of the euro was
criticised for its anonymisation of cultural references to avoid jealousies between member states and was granted
the nickname Money for Marsto emphasise that it came from nowhere and had no roots (Hymans, 2006). The
euro is still discussed as the paradigmatic expression of the emancipation of the economy from politics (Aglietta &
Orléan, 1998).
Finally, the EU has been objectified in places and persons that become symbolic. Places hosting the seat of
European institutions are addressed as centres of power. Strasbourgor Brusselsare evoked as arenas where the
future of the continent is negotiated. European buildings like the Berlaymontof the Commission make sense to
insiders who interact with the European bureaucracy but do not enjoy the magic of the Elyséeor Westminster.
Moreover, the reference to Brusselsis far from being always positive, as in the common lament about the techno-
crats from Brussels.Political roles are the last objectivations of the EU studied in this article. The oldest embodiment
of Europe is arguably the president of the Commission, a position with a relatively weak institutionalisation and suc-
cessive incumbents enjoying very unequal public profiles and leaderships (Bürgin, 2018; Cini, 2008; Drake, 2002;
Joana & Smith, 2002). The multiplication of European figureheads and the routinisation of their more and more fre-
quent meetings (aka summitisation) contributed little to the notoriety of European institutions and may have
increased the confusion in terms of accountability and identification (Foret, 2013; Hubé et al., 2015).
To map the collective perception of EU symbols, we proceed in two steps. First, we present to which extent and in
which ranking these symbols are considered as good representations for the EU. Second, we discuss the differences
created by nationality and feelings of national and/or European belonging.
3.1 |Hierarchy of EU symbols and its determinants
The hierarchy of EU symbols sketched by citizens' perceptions is framed mostly by their similitude with national sym-
bols that creates a kind of familiarity and by their cultural evocation of Europe rather than their institutional refer-
ence to the EU. Time matters as the longer they exist, the more they may become routinised but it does not work as
a strict predictor as some symbols gain a quick prominence over more ancient ones. National belongings create
nuances rather than gaps in the attitudes of citizens towards EU emblems. The answers by countries show that there
is no univocal determination according to the historical status of each member state as goodor badEuropean or
to the Euroskepticism of incumbent national leaders (Table 1).
3.1.1 | Hail to the flag, boo at the institutions
When asked whether each symbol is a good one for the EU, a majority of citizens express their support but with rela-
tively low intensity. Besides, a hierarchy emerges between three groups of symbols: the flag and the euro; the
anthem, the motto and Europe Day; the presidents and the seats of EU institutions.
The most popular symbol is the twelve stars banner with 63% of citizens considering it a very good or good sym-
bol for the EU. Some explanations may be that the European flag is the functional equivalent of the national one; is
one of the most ancient European symbols and, as such, has had the time to become anchored in collective represen-
tations; and has gained prominence at the frontispiece of public buildings and in the background of political leaders,
which gives it authority and mirrors familiar national flags. The euro comes second with 55.4% of good/very good
answers. The European currency has a shorter history than the flag but has an everyday concreteness in the life of
citizens. The anthem Ode to Joy ranks third with 47% of good/very goodanswers. Like the flag, it enjoys a similar-
ity with national anthems and was well known before its adoption by the EU. The motto united in diversityfollows
closely with 46.9%. It is a discursive formula adaptable to all kinds of uses and largely mobilised by European
institutions and other actors in their communication since its adoption (2000). Europe Day emerges with 41.5% of
good/very goodanswers as the laggard of the second group to which it belongs as another duplication of national
symbolism. The lower citizen's appreciation of the 9th of May can be related to the fact that national days appear
themselves as rituals in decline.
Presidents of EU institutions (of the Commission 36.8%; of the Parliament 36.4% and of the European Council
35.6%) score almost evenly, a sign that the recent multiplication of embodiments of the EU, that may occasionally
compete for recognition, had done little to reinforce their prominence (Foret, 2013). Finally, cities hosting the seats
of the European institution come last, with a minor advantage for Brussels (38.7% of good/very goodanswers)
over Strasbourg (35.5%). This may illustrate the ambivalent perception of these places as centres of power. The
bashing of Brusselsas a technocratic and bureaucratic Moloch does not turn it into a positive symbol and barely
demarcates it from Strasbourg that may enjoy more historical positive meaning as a stronghold of French-German
reconciliation but is more contested in practical terms regarding the cost and inconvenience of the two seats of
the EP.
These first descriptive data suggest three things. First, symbols bearing similarities with national ones take the
lead; analogously, the European Parliament receives the most positive appreciation among all EU institutions in suc-
cessive Eurobarometer surveys, due to its commensurability with national parliaments compared to the strangeness
of the Commission or the Councils. Second, symbols more strictly related to European institutions (leaders and seats)
are less positively connoted than those standing for the idea of Europe at large also with a cultural meaning, includ-
ing when they are shared with the Council of Europe (as it is the case for the flag and the anthem). Third, the senior-
ity of a symbol does not seem to always make a major difference, as most recent symbols (like the euro) perform
well and more ancient ones do not significantly outperform newer ones (like the presidents of the commission and
parliaments compared to the one of the European Council).
TABLE 1 According to you, what is a good symbol of the European Union? Percentage of respondents Very
goodor Good?(45)
Total UK Germany France Hungary Italy Poland Romania Spain
The Twelve stars
63.0% 45.0% 68.0% 66.2% 61.3% 56.2% 72.7% 69.7% 65.2%
Euro Banknotes and
55.4% 37.1% 60.3% 64.6% 52.3% 41.5% 54.2% 68.9% 64.0%
The anthem Ode
to Joy
47.0% 25.3% 39.9% 41.8% 51.8% 48.5% 62.7% 59.1% 47.0%
The motto United
in diversity
46.9% 35.6% 43.8% 44.5% 42.8% 44.8% 55.1% 56.4% 52.2%
Europe Day on the
9th of May
41.5% 23.4% 31.4% 32.0% 43.6% 42.5% 58.3% 59.5% 40.9%
Brussels 38.7% 24.3% 33.3% 40.5% 36.8% 24.5% 52.9% 57.0% 40.4%
The president of
the European
36.8% 27.5% 31.8% 37.7% 34.6% 28.1% 44.9% 50.5% 39.1%
The president of
the European
36.4% 26.9% 30.8% 37.0% 34.8% 28.2% 44.2% 49.5% 39.9%
The president of
the European
35.6% 26.1% 29.8% 35.1% 33.8% 25.5% 43.9% 50.7% 40.1%
Strasbourg 35.5% 22.1% 26.5% 39.4% 37.1% 21.8% 47.0% 52.4% 37.5%
3.1.2 | National boundaries draw nuances rather than gaps
The breakdown of answers per country (see Figures 110) reveals some interesting nuances more than drastic differ-
ences. Overall, new member statesRomania, but also Poland and Hungary despite their feuds with European
institutionsfigure as the most enthusiastic supporters of EU symbols. This is especially true for the euro in the case of
Romania, to relate to the willingness of the country to join the common currency. This is also the case in Poland which
gives a quasi-plebiscite (72.7%, the highest score of all answers for the whole sample) to the twelve stars banner. This
may illustrate the difference between the short term of politics (exemplified by Euroskeptic incumbent leaders) and the
long term of popular attitudes towards European integration (Göncz & Lengyel, 2021). Meanwhile, some middle term
inflexions are visible. Italians are no more the poster boys and girls of good Europeans as they used to be; they express
a limited taste for European symbols, especially for leaders of EU institutions that were perceived in recent years as
more critical than helpful towards Italy confronted with economic and migratory challenges (Matthijs & Merler, 2020).
Without surprise, the Brits in a transit period after Brexit are the least positiveor perhaps the least interested.
Germans confirm their appreciation of the euro but show little propensity to enhance the role of president of the
Commission as held by a fellow countryman, or the European anthem as a creation of a German composer. The same
absence of national preferenceis also visible in the lack of specific support of the French people for Strasbourg.
This may suggest that European symbolism works with a margin of autonomy towards national imaginaries. Indeed,
beyond the divergences stated above, answers by EU8 citizens are relatively homogenous to sketch a hierarchy of
signs. The flag is the most appreciated symbol in all countries, and Strasbourg competes with leaders of EU institu-
tions as the least supported in all countries.
3.2 |Feeling European and feelings for European symbols
The following section investigates the link between the self-definition of people as more or less European and/or
national and their appreciation of EU symbols. To do so in our survey, we mobilise a usual Eurobarometer question
to measure the hierarchy made by interviewees between their national and European loyalties. Next, we observe the
relationship of this hierarchy of loyalties to the appreciation of European symbols. Finally, we draw on this link
between the self-definition of citizens as more or less European/national and their perceptions of EU symbols to
explore the underlying narratives framing these symbols.
Individuals in our sample were first asked whether they see themselves as national and European; European and
national; European only; National only. In congruence with what is shown by the Eurobarometer in the longue
FIGURE 1 According to you, what is a good symbol of the European Union? Euro banknotes and coins (from
1bad to 5 very good), per country [Colour figure can be viewed at]
FIGURE 4 According to you, what is a good symbol of the European Union? Strasbourg (from 1 bad to 5 very
good), per country [Colour figure can be viewed at]
FIGURE 3 According to you, what is a good symbol of the European Union? Brussels (from 1 bad to 5 very good),
per country [Colour figure can be viewed at]
FIGURE 2 According to you, what is a good symbol of the European Union? The twelve stars flag (from 1 bad to
5very good) per country [Colour figure can be viewed at]
FIGURE 6 According to you, what is a good symbol of the European Union? European Commission President
(from 1 bad to 5 very good), per country [Colour figure can be viewed at]
FIGURE 5 According to you, what is a good symbol of the European Union? European Council President (from
1bad to 5 very good), per country [Colour figure can be viewed at]
FIGURE 7 According to you, what is a good symbol of the European Union? European Parliament President
(from 1 bad to 5 very good), per country [Colour figure can be viewed at]
FIGURE 10 According to you, what is a good symbol of the European Union? Europe Day on the 9th of May
(from 1 bad to 5 very good), per country [Colour figure can be viewed at]
FIGURE 8 According to you, what is a good symbol of the European Union? The motto United in diversity
(from 1 bad to 5 very good), per country [Colour figure can be viewed at]
FIGURE 9 According to you, what is a good symbol of the European Union? The anthem Ode to Joy(from
1bad to 5 very good), per country [Colour figure can be viewed at]
durée,three quarters of respondents declare a double loyalty (to feel both national and European or, much less,
European and national), a fifth national only and a tiny group European only (Table 2).
The four groups thus delineated are compared regarding their perceptions of EU symbols. The following table
proposes a descriptive cross-tabulation of the perception of national and European belonging and the support for
different EU symbols (Table 3).
The two groups feeling European and National(9.2%) and National and European(65.1%) show limited differ-
ences. The citizens stating European identity first are simply a bit more appreciative of European symbols (except on
the flag). The 22.6% that define themselves as national onlylogically reject European symbols, with the relative
exceptions of the twelve-stars banner and of the euro that get more positive views. The tiny minority (3.2%) of EU8 cit-
izens stating that they feel European onlyconstitutes a bit of a surprise at first sight as they declare less positive feel-
ings towards EU symbols. An explanation may be that they are dissatisfied with the EU as a poor expression of their
demanding Europeanness. This option could be corroborated by their low ratings of the most institutional symbols like
the president and the seats of EU bodies. Another explanation is that they reject any state-like symbolism to promote
another kind of political community inspired by post-nationalist and cosmopolitarian conceptions (Ferry, 2000). This
option is backed by recent studies highlighting the positive correlation between universalism, a positive view of immi-
gration and feeling European with support for the EU as a non-exclusive community (Dennison et al., 2021). The limited
number of respondents and the absence of complementary data do not allow going further in this interpretation.
Overall, among those who state both national and European loyalties, whatever the hierarchy is between the
two, there is no major discrepancy in the perception of EU symbols. These findings suggest that both the level and
the form of identification with Europe matter. Subsequently, it may invite to be cautious when the time comes to
frame EU symbols as mostly functional representations creating instrumental responses in contrast with national
ones that would be more symbolic representations calling for affective responses (Cram et al., 2011). For sure, the
latter is much more intensely invested in affective terms. Still, stimuli created by EU symbols are not only interest-
based as they relate to the nature of the polity that stands behind it. This interpretation does not contradict but
refines the claims of banal Europeanism.Identification with the EU and its symbols are indeed best understood as
a process that is banal, contingent and contextual, but is not disconnected from the global perception of the nature
of the European political community.
To go a step further, it is necessary to study other factors than those directly related to political belongings and
To test for the relevance of usual individual predictors of support for the EU to see how they influence the percep-
tion of symbols, we first aimed at reducing the number of variables. Following the descriptive hierarchy sketched by
collective perceptions, we hypothesise the existence of three groups of symbols, as representative of underlying
TABLE 2 Do you see yourself as ? (National) and European; European and (national); European only; (national)
only, per country
Total UK Germany France Hungary Italy Poland Romania Spain
(National) and
65.1% 32.1% 67.0% 67.9% 64.6% 61.7% 74.6% 74.1% 78.5%
(National) only 22.6% 58.5% 17.0% 25.8% 19.0% 26.9% 8.2% 16.8% 8.4%
European and
9.2% 5.3% 11.7% 4.9% 14.1% 9.2% 14.3% 6.9% 7.1%
European only 3.2% 4.1% 4.3% 1.4% 2.3% 2.2% 2.9% 2.2% 6.0%
TABLE 3 Cross-tabulation of positive perception of EU symbols (percentage of respondents goodvery good) and national and/or EU belonging, per country (EU8)
Flag Euro Motto Ode 9 May Brussels Strasbourg Pres EC Pres EU Council Pres EP
National and European 69.4% 60.4% 52.2% 52.6% 46.8% 43.9% 40.0% 41.1% 39.5% 40.9%
European and National 67.6% 62.2% 57.4% 59.8% 51.0% 44.9% 43.7% 46.2% 44.0% 44%
European only 63.0% 55.1% 49.2% 40.7% 37.0% 35.6% 31.9% 32.4% 35.3% 33.6%
National only 42.7% 38.1% 27.0% 26.6% 22.7% 21.7% 19.5% 21.2% 21.1% 20.7%
latent dimensions: the Euro and the flag, receiving the highest appreciation and labelled as standing for a nation-
style framedue to their similitude to national emblems; the anthem, the motto, and Europe day getting intermediate
support and identified as symbolic framebecause of a duplication of usual national symbolism but in a subdued
version (e.g., anthem without words and with less frequent and solemn use than its national counterparts; Europe
Day that is not a bank holiday); and a last group including the two seats (Brussels and Strasbourg) and the three
leaders (EC, Council and EP presidents) that are the less appreciated and that refer the most to the specific institu-
tional realities of the EU, so-called institutional frame.We then perform PCA and run a fixed three-factor solution
to verify the consistency of the three groups of symbols (Table 4).
The results of our PCA confirmed the descriptive organisation and allowed us to treat the three symbolic frames
as dependent index-based variables.
4.1 |Predictors of support for EU symbols
Based on these results we explored potential sources of support for European symbols. For this purpose, we con-
structed three linear regression models that investigated the impact of individual determinants. The models test the
role of the usual socio-political and attitudinal indicators
: age; gender; employment status as a proxy for the socio-
economic situation; the influence of cultural and political attitudes such as religious attendance as a proxy for religi-
osity; and trust for national and European institutions.
According to the findings of the linear regression models (see Table 5), our three dependent variables are indeed
otherwise affected by different individual-level variables. Regarding age, the older you are, the more you are support-
ive of European symbols. This finding at first sight may challenge the common wisdom stating that young Europeans
are typically more positive about the European Union. However, age is a complex indicator. The Eurobarometer data
shows that the 1524 and the 55+trust more the EU than average, while intermediate generations trust it less
(European Commission, 2021, p. 118). We know from the literature that generations matter more than life-cycle
effects. The attitude of people depends less on their biological age but more on the fact that they have come of
age after their country joined the EU and that they have grown up in the era of globalisation. And young Europeans
are more positive about Europe only if they are more positive about immigration and globalisation in general
TABLE 4 Principal component analysis of typology of symbols
Items Institutional frame Symbolic frame Nation-style frame
Brussels 0.727
Strasbourg 0.765
EC President 0.890
EU Council President 0.890
EP President 0.869
Euro coin and banknotes 0.819
Flag 0.787
Motto 0.743
Anthem 0.857
Europe Day 0.762
KMO 0.908
Explained variance in % 61.20 10.61 8.54
Note: Rotated component matrix (varimax rotation with Kayser normalisation). Fixed three-factors solution.
(Rekker, 2018). A hypothesis may be that, as a proxy for the EU, European symbols may shape it in a too identitarian
and restrictive sense to be endorsed by the part of the younger generation that is on the side of globalisation.
Regarding gender, women are more appreciative of European symbols than men, with reference to institutional
and symbolic frames; nation-style symbolism, on the other side, has a higher appreciation from the male respondents
Still, it is difficult to relate this observation to the general attitude of men and women towards the EU as the usual data
like the indicator of trust in the European Union provided by the Eurobarometer do not indicate a significant difference
(European Commission, 2021). The gender gaphas always been modest, and related to secondary elements such as
values, ideology, economic vulnerability and national tradition (Nelsen & Guth, 2016). Regarding socioeconomic status,
it is also well known that those having difficulties paying bills most of the time or occasionally have much less trust in
the EU than those who do not have such difficulties. In our models, however, the determinant related to socioeco-
nomic status does not prove itself to be significant in terms of support for symbols, except for the nation-style frame-
work, which has slightly higher support for the economic elites. Interestingly, the same applies to the educational level.
Shifting now to cultural and political attitudes, we find again the usual ideational factors framing the relationship to the
EU that shape the perception of European symbols. Regarding religiosity, our survey showed that religious attendance
is strongly associated with a positive appreciation of EU symbols more associated with peace (Europe Day, the
anthem), to a lesser extent of institutional symbols (seats and leaders), but not at all (on the contrary) of state-like sym-
bols (the flag, the euro). This is congruent with what the existing scholarship shows, namely that the influence of reli-
gion on support to the EU is more and more modest and conditional according to denominational belonging and/or
the status of majority/minority religious groups in national society (Nelsen & Guth, 2016). The last parameter is political
trust. While trust in national institutions does not provide significant indications, trust in the EU is, as expected, partic-
ularly relevant. The more respondents trust European institutions, the more they approve of European symbols in all
three frameworks. This confirms that EU symbols work as a reliable proxy of the polity they stand for. Regarding the
factors shaping trust, the literature highlights the importance of socioeconomic status on three points. First, people
with higher social and economic positions are more likely to support EU institutions, and therefore its symbolism. Sec-
ond, those individuals who consider belonging to the working or lower-middle class have lower levels of trust in poli-
tics than those defining themselves as middle to upper class (European Commission, 2021). All these elements
converge to suggest that EU symbols, like the EU itself, are more likely to be endorsed by the upper than by the lower
classes. These elements confirm the necessity to acknowledge the intertwinement of utilitarian and identity factors to
shape the way to relate to the European polity and to its representation (De Vries, 2020).
TABLE 5 Linear regression analyses of three frames of symbols (beta coefficients)
Model 1 Model 2 Model 3
Institutional frame Symbolic frame Nation-style frame
Gender (0 =men) 0.051*** (4.531) 0.044*** (3.876) 0.006 (0.522)
Age (3 levels) 0.032** (2.797) 0.027*(2.276) 0.027*(2.236)
Trust in EU 0.372*** (31.009) 0.328*** (26.948) 0.263*** (21.043)
Trust in national parliament 0.031 (1.508) 0.014 (0.0690) 0.002 (0.092)
Trust in national government 0.020 (0.977) 0.057** (2.806) 0.021 (0.995)
Religiosity (attendance) (02) 0.052*** (4.624) 0.096*** (8.439) 0.072*** (6.130)
Political interest 0.004 (0.306) 0.047*** (4.011) 0.037*(3.028)
Socio-economic status (03) 0003 (0.230) 0.010 (0.866) 0.039*(3.167)
Educational level 0.21 (1.817) 0.021 (1.764) 0.054*** (4.300)
National/EU Belonging (scale) 0.004 (0.296) 0.056*** (4.701) 0.048*** (3.887)
Notes: Data are weighted by design weight; tvalues in parentheses; tests for multicollinearity did not yield any noteworthy
*p< 0.05. **p< 0.01. ***p< 0.000.
Our findings suggest some evidence of the existence of a banal Europeanismin three capacities according to three
meanings given to banal.First, banal means familiar: the more European symbols look like state symbols, the more
they are acknowledged by Europeans. Second, as banal means usual: attitudes towards EU symbols reflect faithfully
attitudes towards the EU. Third, as banal means taken for granted: beyond relatively limited differences according to
political, social, economic and cultural belongings, EU symbols are widely accepted. This last meaning is in tune with
the definition of banal Europeanismgiven by the literature (Cram, 2009) in reference to banal nationalismas a
non-passionate, ordinary and profane identification. EU signifiers are largely routinised and anchored in the political
worldview of our interviewees. Overall, this grassroots normalisation of European symbols contrasts with their occa-
sional politicisation through top-down controversies and elite discursive struggles.
These findings have both policy and scientific implications. Regarding the policy dimension, policy-makers should
not overestimate the reluctance of citizens to accept European symbolism. Their propensity to shy away from a
state-like symbolism for the EU may be counterproductive as this repertoire (e.g., the flag or the euro) appears more
familiar and subsequently more efficient than a more cultural or institutional one (e.g., multiple EU leaders and seats).
As far as the scientific dimension is concerned, our findings pave the way for future research on EU symbols;
their uses and counter-uses; and finally, on symbols as instruments to study global attitudes towards the EU. In the
first case, the understanding of the European symbols should be investigated further by other surveys covering a
broader scope than the eight countries of our sample and integrating other kinds of questions to measure their level
of cognitive, normative and affective appropriation by citizens. The Eurobarometer is a prominent candidate to fulfil
this function. Qualitative research through in-depth interviews is also indispensable in order to tackle the multi-
dimensional meanings of emblems. In the second case, the increasing uses of these symbols as communicative
resources in collective action (including for example burning a European flag to protest against austerity or waving it
as a claim for democracy and modernity in a candidate country) or in the artistic production about European integra-
tion offer fertile ground to analyse the operationalisation of the European reference. In the third case, the relevance
of the iconographic representations of the flag or the euro in interviews, focus groups or experiments is confirmed
to refine the understanding of the multiple logics at work to frame the attitudes of citizens towards the EU.
Noemi Trino
Gender: 0 = male, 1 = female; Age in years in categories: 1 = 1834, 2 = 3554, 3 = 55-and more; Level of education in
categories: 1 = primary or secondary education, 2 Higher education (college, university, ); Political interest: 1 = Not at all
interested 2 = Not very interested 3 = Somewhat interested 4 = very interested; Trust in institutions (EU, parliament, gov-
ernment) 1 = No Trust/5 = High trust); Religious attendance, recoded: 0 = no attendance, 1 = some attendance, 2 = regular
attendance; Socio-economic status, recoded: 0 = unemployed, house person 1 = manual work 2 = white collars/retired
3 = managers, others = missing; National/European belonging, recoded -1 = National only, 0 = National and EU, 1 = EU
and national, 2 = EU belonging.
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Full-text available
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This book is the most comprehensive study of the European member states available. It covers the principal member states in separate chapters, as well as bringing together the smaller member states in comparative groupings, and also includes a chapter on the new member states. The country chapters look at the wider political issues associated with integration and not just policy machinery. In order to help readers understand the interaction of the member states, there are sections that cover analytical and empirical themes such as EU member relations and the European economy. (Publishers' abstract)
In recent years, there has been greater scholarly enquiry into explaining variation in support for European Union membership. We theorise that one cause of such variation is likely to be non-political psychological predispositions, such as one’s personal values. We test this proposition by applying Schwartz’s theory of basic human values to predict voting intentions in hypothetical referendums on EU membership. We theorise that these values determine both voting intentions and more proximate explanatory variables of support for EU membership: attitudes to immigration and identifying as European. Using data on 13 countries from the European Social Survey (N=24,703 citizens) and multigroup structural equation modeling, we demonstrate that this psychological framework effectively predicts voting intentions, notably in terms of the consistent cross-country evidence for indirect effects of values on support for membership via European identity and attitudes to immigration. We then discuss the implications of our findings, including differences in effects between countries.