What is Europe?
What is Europe?

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What is Europe?

Debates on the development of Europe (continued)

Activity 5

Alongside the evident diversity in contemporary Europe itself there are clearly different views expressed on how Europe is developing and the kind of Europe we can expect to see emerging in coming years. The pieces by Dominique Moïsi, ‘Dreaming of Europe’ (Reading G), and Tony Judt, ‘Goodbye to all that?’ (Reading H), reflect such contrasting views of European development. Evidence from a recent Eurobarometer survey (Reading I) throws further light on some of the topics they discuss.

Now click here [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] to read the three pieces. Try to identify the main points they make. What are the three ‘fundamental challenges’ that Moïsi identifies, how does he see relations between the major states developing – and what sense do you make of his judgement? What are the more sceptical conclusions reached by Judt, and what precisely do you think Europe might or might not be saying goodbye to?

What do more recent survey results contribute to an understanding of the issues they raise? You can use the Eurobarometer material to develop your skills in understanding and analysing statistical, graphic and tabular data to test the generalisations and suggestions made by Moïsi and Judt in the light of recent EU developments. See if you can find evidence, for example:

  • to support the contention of Moïsi that a spectacular change in British attitudes to Europe was taking place during Tony Blair's tenure as prime minister;

  • to see if the UK population has developed any marked appreciation of British membership of the EU or enthusiasm for the proposed Constitution in comparative terms;

  • to evaluate the developing nature of the Franco-German relationship in terms of defence and security preferences and their support for common EU initiatives.

The fundamental challenges identified by Moïsi (1999) for the Europe of the 1990's are those of sovereignty, space and identity. Traditional notions of sovereignty have remained ambiguous in the wake of the Kosovo war, in that the sense of European ‘space’ is still problematic with the traditional questions about Russia and Turkey now raised in contemporary terms, while the idea of a common European identity seems to make some progress despite undoubted obstacles. Whether the ‘dream of Europe’ presents a convincing vision is, and will remain, debatable. To my mind, it seems to involve some questionable assumptions. Clearly some important changes have occurred, but it becomes increasingly difficult to share the view that a ‘spectacular change in attitudes and policy toward Europe has taken place in Tony Blair's Great Britain’ in the way suggested by Moïsi. Evidence presented in the article itself in terms of opinion surveys shows that the development of a European identity in Britain has been very limited. Furthermore, from the evidence gathered in 2004, the changes in British perceptions of the EU appear to be quite minimal. If 37 per cent of Britons thought that EU membership was a good thing in 1998, the percentage had risen by just one point to 38 in 2004 (European Commission, 2004). The British also perceived few benefits from EU membership, were mistrustful of its core institutions and showed scant enthusiasm for its proposed Constitution, coming just about last on all these scales.

Judt (1996) directs attention to the particular importance of the consequences of the end of communist rule in eastern Europe and the critical evolution in Franco-German relations that has taken place. He sees 1989 as bringing to an end a unique period in France's diplomatic history and facing Germany with rather too many problems in terms of European enlargement. Problems of economic growth, unemployment, immigration and a weakening welfare state all raise – in Judt's view – major problems for concerted European development and the growth of any broader European identity. ‘Europe’, he suggests, remains too large and too nebulous a concept to forge much of a convincing human community, and the traditional prominence of the European nation state in fact shows little sign of diminishing. It is time, in this view, to say goodbye to the strong idea of ‘Europe’ as a unified entity, which was able to take root and develop between 1945 and 1989 due to the conjunction of a particular set of conditions.

But here, too, recent developments might suggest a rather different perspective. If Moïsi may be over-optimistic about British sentiments for Europe, Judt may see too many problems inherent in the changing Franco-German relationship. With the launch of the euro in 1999, it can certainly be argued that relations between France and Germany have strengthened and a growing consensus seems to be emerging between their leaders about the future of the developing European framework. The common position taken by the two countries on the Iraq war has also strengthened their alliance within the EU. Public sentiments have also undergone a radical shift, and in a rather different direction from that seen in the UK. In 1992, just after the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty, only 45 per cent of a French sample declared themselves in favour of rapid European integration; in 2000 as many as 70 per cent opted for an equivalent policy, and 59 per cent were enthusiastic or favourable to further EU development compared with 41 per cent opposed to it or sceptical (Liberation, 26 June 2000). Support for a common defence and security policy has been quite high, at 78 per cent, within the EU as a whole, but it is particularly high in Germany (87 per cent in 2004) and 81 per cent in France, in contrast to 60 per cent in the UK (European Commission, 2004).

Precisely how Europe is best defined at the beginning of the twentieth-first century, and what prospects it has for further development, must therefore remain the subject of considerable debate. Traditional uncertainties about the geographical extent of Europe, the core values it may be understood to embody, and doubts about the commitment of many of the individuals, groups and nations that live there to any shared identity, remain. As the various European Communities founded in the 1950s developed and expanded to form a broader European Union in the 1990s, they have increasingly echoed these traditional uncertainties about what and where Europe is. This course will provide you with extensive material to explore these issues further and help you develop and clarify your own opinions.

We can nevertheless at least begin with certain observations about post-1945 Europe and the major developments that have occurred. Clear residues of the new project for Europe evolved in the middle of the twentieth century have remained, and certain achievements have held firm. There is still little dissension from the original post-1945 project for a Europe no longer led into war by Franco-German enmity or more general national rivalries.

Activity 6

It is now time to study ‘Europe in the Twenty-First Century’. The contributors are:

  • Robert Bideleux, Reader in Politics, University of Swansea

  • Mark Pittaway, Lecturer in European Studies, Open University

  • Hugh Starkey, Staff Tutor for Languages, Open University.

The programme is designed to explore three different areas:

  • questions of European identity;

  • ideas of what Europe currently is and what it might become; and

  • the relationship of different ideas of Europe to the evolving EU.

Spend some time considering (or reconsidering) these issues yourself, and jot down some answers to the questions they raise. Then listen to the discussion by clicking on the links below.

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Transcript: Audio 1

Paul Lewis
Hello. My name is Paul Lewis and I’m a member of the Governing Europe course team and author of Unit 1. This tape is designed to discuss further some of the issues involved in that unit and further your understanding of a number of key questions such as questions of European identity, issues of what Europe is and what it might become at the beginning of the twenty-first century and the relationship of the different ideas of Europe to the evolving European Union. I have with me to discuss these issues Robert Bideleux Reader in Politics at the University of Swansea, Hugh Starkey who is Staff Tutor for Languages at The Open University and Mark Pittaway who is Lecturer in European Studies at the OU.
I’d like to start by asking Robert to comment or give an answer to the question initially posed by Hugh Seton-Watson, in the readings for the book we’ve just read What is Europe? Where is Europe? How do we answer that question fifteen years on from when Hugh-Seton Watson first raised it? Robert?
Robert Bideleux
In contrast to Seton-Watson who emphasises the cultural unity of Europe, I would emphasise that Europe is an idea, a concept, a state-system with an associated legal order. It lacks any kind of clear-cut criterion by which you can identify Europe as a single cultural area. Also I would stress that Europe is not a clear-cut geographical area. It lacks precise boundaries, it has always been debatable where Europe ends and where Asia starts. I would put greater emphasis on the European state system, the market associated with it, the legal order, a sort of thin set of values which is the nearest you get to a kind of cultural criterion of Europe, which Europeans share. The values placed on human rights, on democracy, on the rule of law and so on rather than cultural conceptions to do with language or ethnicity or religion. These divide Europeans rather more than they unite them. The hallmark of great civilisations is pluralism and this also carries the implication that conceptions of civilisation such as that put forward by Samuel Huntington in his Clash of Civilizations, are wholly misleading in the sense that he tries to define civilisations by a single cultural criterion rather than a plurality of cultural values and content. I’m much more inclined towards William MacNeal’s view of civilisation as areas of intense interaction, communication and trade, which is a fairly open-ended definition. Membership is defined by participation, by ability to participate. If you can subscribe to the rules of the club and the values of the club, you’re in! If you are unable to subscribe to those rules and values or you don’t want to, then you exclude yourself. I see no difficulty in admitting Morocco or Turkey at some future date Russia despite its size to an expanded European Union provided they are prepared to uphold what it stands for.
Paul Lewis
So very much a dynamic, diverse Europe emphasised there. Mark?
Mark Pittaway
We have enormous difficulty in defining Europe as a geographical area; of that I think there is no doubt. It is very difficult to define its eastern border running from the eastern Mediterranean I think, right up to the Arctic is a very fluid one.
That having been said I would defend a notion that there are certain common European experiences. There are certain common European historical experiences. Patterns of society, and cultural forms. Once again they are very problematic. A lot has to do with the way settlement patterns have developed. A lot has to do with the way dynastic states have developed and then, after 1918, the way nation states have developed in the eastern part of Europe right the way through from contemporary Eastern Europe to the countries of the former Soviet Union and to Turkey. I think it is very very important to make the point that many of us tend to automatically equate Europe with the countries of the European Community. I come to this as somebody who has spent a long time in Hungary, which has been affected by a very very different historical experience. I found in that country during my travels across the eastern part of the continent an enormous sense of cultural unity. Settlement patterns were very very similar. People’s expectations about the notion of the rule of law and the role of the state were essentially quite similar and therefore I think I’d be more inclined than Robert to think in terms of the cultural unity of Europe.
Robert Bideleux
Yes. As a linguist I have to draw attention to the fact that Europe, if it is anything, is a multilingual community and this makes a considerable contrast with say the United States of America, which is essentially a monolingual community and therefore has certain facility that is given it through its unity of language. A language is an expression of the culture and by definition Europe is multicultural, always has been through its multilingualism and should not therefore have particular difficulty in integrating new cultural forms that come in because they are merely other cultural forms that add to the multicultural nature of Europe. So I would see Europe in terms of a project and essentially something that is becoming and the basis of this Europe is a common set of principles and values which enable such a diverse set of communities to live together. And these fundamental principles and values have been written down, they are encoded in the post-war settlement particularly, we have got the European Convention on Human Rights to which virtually all of the member states of the Council of Europe, which is the forty-three countries currently subscribing to the Europe Convention on Human Rights so it is a very broad definition of Europe and the European Convention of Human Rights insists on those. I quote ‘those fundamental freedoms which are the foundation of justice and peace in the world’. So Europe is a project that is based on a desire for peace, a desire for justice, based on fundamental freedoms and the European Convention also says how this is going to come about. It is based on an effective political democracy on the one hand and on the other by a common understanding and observance of the human rights upon which these things depend. And so Europe is a concept. It depends on its members understanding democracy and understanding human rights which is why some member states within the broader Europe are having more difficulty in coming to terms with being Europe than perhaps more established democracies. But it is amazing to see what’s happened for instance to Spain and Portugal which until the mid ‘70s were in fact fascist, far-right dictatorships, how they have democratised and become very easily assimilated within this culture of human rights.
End transcript: Audio 1
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Paul Lewis
One aspect I would quite like to bring is that I quite agree that the emphasis on diversity and the principle of acceptance of diversity is terribly important but one might go a bit further and say actually Europe is so diverse it is actually very difficult to get unity. Or it has been very difficult, and one way the Europeans and Europe has done this is to identify an ‘other’ that Europeans are not historically – that was the Saracens or the Turks, the Muslims in a general sense, and during the years of the Cold War it was Russia.
Even now for many people Europe is distinct from America and essentially the Europeans often need an out-group, another whom they identify themselves in opposition to. I mean the British are rather good at this, I mean the British and the English are clearly not French! They are not German and they are not Turkish and a few of the more enthusiastic football supporters will go along with that! So I mean this is one way of getting European unity. Otherwise this diversity might be formally accepted but instinctively and in terms of personal or national identity is actually difficult to comes to grips with. I mean there’s all these more passionate emotions you know raging in people’s breasts and it is difficult to summon up that kind of identity in terms of rather abstract principles I think. How do you cope with the ‘other’ and in particular someone like Russia and Turkey who were the historic European ‘others’. You know, how do we get over this problem?
Robert Bideleux
In part through recognition that these ‘others’ have actually contributed in massive ways to European civilisation. In terms of the Renaissance for example the Moorish kingdoms in Spain and other parts of the Mediterranean region were crucial and the rediscovery of Aristotle and Greek science, the transmission of mathematics were in fact the development of mathematics and astronomy and so on and played a crucial role in the Renaissance. To those who wish to emphasis Russia’s otherness, I would emphasise against that it’s hard to think of European culture without thinking of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky and Shostakovich and Russian ballet is the greatest sort of ballet by anyone’s judgement in Europe. So Russia has made huge contributions to European culture and Turkey has contributed an awful lot too – not least gastronomically. So that even these ‘others’ that Europeans at times have defined themselves against are in many ways more part of us than them but in ways that Europeans much of the time don’t wish to recognise.
Mark Pittaway
I think you have raised two very interesting separate issues when you discuss ‘otherness’. One is about countries or societies which are only ambiguously part of Europe. We have no problem for example identifying Belgium as part of Europe but we have problems identifying Russia, some have problems identifying Romania others have problems identifying Turkey. I think the way to cope with this is to actually not attempt to define an eastern border and to recognise that contemporary Europe has been created out of an enormous flow of different peoples throughout its history. If we go back 2000 years one can see for example that the Slavs and the Magyars who populate most of eastern Europe came from Asia.
We can see much more recent migration and conversion. We had Islam in southern Spain several hundred years ago. We had an Ottoman presence in south-eastern Europe until the very beginning of this century. And we also in the post-war period have a lot of inward migration into western European states like Belgium, like the Netherlands, like France and Great Britain form colonial powers and therefore I think we ought not to exclude those elements of Europeaness that Europe has existed in a dialogue with the broader world. The second issue I’d like to address is the one about internal ‘others’. One of the very distinctive things
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The second issue I’d like to address is the one about internal ‘others’. One of the very distinctive things about Europe over the past 200 years is the way nation states across the continent have been formed or there have been attempts to form nation states and that has essentially meant that within one territory a dominant ethnic group, defined by language and culture, has attempted to create a homogenous national state. We have seen this in Germany and Italy in the nineteenth century and this is very much behind a lot of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia which we see today and it is something that we should not neglect that this process of nation building has very distinctive European dimensions and, as a product of European culture.
Robert Bideleux
I would also emphasise that all great civilisations have been multicultural rather than based on a single cultural identifier or marker and the plurality of their culture, their diversity, the fact that they contain substantial minority groups who don’t subscribe to the dominant or majority culture as always being the strength of great civilisations. Civilisations which lack this diversity tend to stagnate. Likewise I would emphasise against those who see Christianity or Christendom as the core of Europe that the Muslims of Albania or Bosnia-Herzegovina or other parts of the Balkans, even Turkey, are as entitled to see themselves as Europeans as are the British or the French or the Germans. Being Muslim doesn’t make you a non-European, and that doesn’t just apply to Bosnians or Albanians, Kosovans; it also applies to the large numbers of Muslim immigrants from outside Europe, from Asia or from parts of Africa.
Hugh Starkey
I would want to remind ourselves of the colonial past of much of Europe and particularly these islands, and the fact that clearly the colonies were perceived as ‘other’, and the European then defined as superior. We then have the German and Nazi Hitler project [sic] of trying to unite Europe under an ideology that was expressly racist and had a hierarchy of human beings. The post-war settlement is then all about creating a consensual and democratic Europe, in which case the ‘other’ becomes the enemy of democracy, and the main enemy of democracy is racism, because racism is the ideology that does not accept that all human beings are equal which is the fundamental underlying tenet of human rights. So I would see this new project of interior ‘other’ which is the forces that actually oppose a democratic project for Europe and particularly racism.
End transcript: Audio 3
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Paul Lewis
I’d like to ask you now, you’ve mentioned the term the ‘European Projects’ and effectively use that term to refer to the project of European unity unification launched by Jean Monnet in the 1940s. Where are we in terms of this project at the beginning of the twenty-first century? Robert.
Robert Bideleux
Well we’ve succeeded really against all the odds and all expectations in a way in creating a supranational European legal order, which is the most promising achievement, a much undervalued achievement, very much taken for granted. There is too much focus on what’s happened in the economic field which I don’t think is anything to shout about, we’re no more integrated economically now than we were in the late nineteenth century. But what is truly remarkable has been the creation of a supranational legal order putting relations between states, as well as within states, within a single overarching framework of law. And I think this achievement has deep roots historically as well as in recent sort of post-1945 experience, in that it has been the main way in which Europe, or Europeans, have tried to cope with their diversity, in contrast to other continents which have usually had a dominant power, usually an imperial power, and other states in so far as they exist as states or tributaries or subsidiary it’s still this dominant power. Europe has always been made up of plurality of small-and medium-sized states there’ve, been a few attempts to establish a single imperial hegemony but these have never succeeded, so that Europe had to try and devise ways of coming to terms with living with and making possible a peaceful co-existence of very diverse states as well as peoples. And Europeans have set about doing this by creating a state system and a legal order going back to the beginnings of the whole concept of international law, and […] and the accomplishments of the European Communities and latterly the European Union should be seen as a continuation of that, taking it a stage further to actually put all relations between European states within a single overarching legal framework, which doesn’t just apply to the current members of the European Union but now applied to virtually all the states of Europe in that nearly all the states of Europe are either aspiring to membership or have some kind of treaty of association with the European Union and these treaties tie or commit these aspirant states to adopting most of the acquis communautaire, the accumulated body of European Union law in their own domestic legal frameworks in order to prepare them for eventual membership. So that this has now become a unifying force and a very powerful one.
Mark Pittaway
I worry very much about the status of the current European Union project and I think as Hugh said earlier, there are different European projects. The current European Union project is in principle an attractive attempt to create a democratic supranational Europe, and that I think offers Europeans a much more attractive future than the alternative projects of fascism and certainly communism which have ravaged the continent during the past sixty or so years. What concerns me about the current European Union project is that to succeed it has to create a democracy which protects the rights of the citizen and, in other words it has to be explicitly supranational, and it has to command the loyalty of a range of diverse peoples. And I think we have seen over the past ten years or so that Europe has increasingly divided individual nations against themselves, and I’m not talking about Britain solely though Britain is a very interesting case of this but of France and of Denmark, and so forth.
I think the fundamental problem with the European project is the strategy with which it has been realised that you have economic integration first through creating a common market. You then move to superimpose on to that common market social regulation, and eventually you build political regulation. Europe I think has been seen overly technocratic, and it’s understood overtly in terms of economic cost and benefit and the reasons why sections of opinion in member countries support continuing membership is precisely for that reason. And I think if political union is to command greater loyalty, it is incumbent upon political leaders who support the European project to go out and sell the idea of a country called Europe that can command the loyalty of those people within the European Union, if that project is to succeed.
Hugh Starkey
Yes well I think actually the social project of Europe is extremely important and that’s, I think the price of the economic union of Europe is that because we’re a democracy we’ve got referendums as to whether nation states, member states, go forward to the next stage of integration and so on. So you have to be able to sell the project to the people, and the way you do it is to say okay, economic union may involve huge changes associated with globalisation and flexibility of workforce and so on, and so we will protect you as citizens we will protect your cultural identities. We say we will believe in a multicultural Europe, and we will protect your employment status or we will provide you with help for finding a new job if you lose your job as a result of the economic changes. And so, the price of the economic union is the social project and that’s why that’s so important, I think you have to be able to persuade people that the social project is what potentially will persuade people that the economic policy and the political policy is in fact worthwhile
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Paul Lewis
I can go part of the way along with that argument but doesn’t the social project then come up against problems of economic cost.
Hugh Starkey
Well yes, but given that it is a democratic system the leaders have to take the people along with them, and maybe they would want to go faster, but there has to be an education programme and there has to be the social and cultural programmes that will convince people that they want to voluntarily go along with this project and the social cost is part of the price that has to be paid for the economic project.
Mark Pittaway
Well I think you have to have a little more than persuading people that this is in their interests. I think giving loyalty to a state or to a political system is very much about a gut feeling of loyalty. It is about sharing a feeling of a of a kind of common culture a common set of principles and having a sense of patriotism about this thing called ‘Europe’. And at the moment I think that the subdivisions particularly the national subdivisions command so much more loyalty that it is going to take a prolonged programme of education to actually combat that.
Hugh Starkey
To put it very simply that democracy needs a demos you know, where is the people that support this democracy. Amongst the most popular cultural activities there are of course sporting activities, and we notice in things like European football championships and so on, quite I would say radical changes. I mean, in this country with none of our teams going forward to the final stages people were nonetheless watching the competition and being interested in the competition, in their millions, because they felt part of that competition. It’s the same with go for athletics championships and so on, that this is part of the cultural project for building Europe’s sport.
Paul Lewis
Robert Bideleux
I would beg to differ from both Mark and Hugh in a sense that by downplaying the democratic character of the European project and the entities being created, what has been created is much more like the nineteenth century Liberal conception of a constitutional state, that of the rule of law, limited government. Nineteenth century liberal elites were actually rather fearful of democracy and of the masses, and looked on with apprehension as the franchise was extended to more and more people in the late-nineteenth early-twentieth centuries, and some Liberals took the view that all the horrors of fascism, extreme nationalism, communism, were in large measure related to the development of mass politics and mass democracy. And in a sense, whether consciously or not, what the legal order that the European Union has created, is to take us back to the mid nineteenth century, when politics was to be conducted within the legal framework which is very constraining, which is not particularly democratic, involves elements of indirect representation and consent, but essentially it is based on negotiation of frameworks within which we can all co-exist peacefully and profitably. But it’s negotiation by elites not based on mobilisation of strong loyalty or attachment to the new entity that’s being created, and indeed I would go further. As a Liberal I’m actually rather fearful of the attempt to build a Europe analogous to the nation state, to try and create a European country or a European nation, because that would run the risk of reproducing all the horrific consequences of the European nation state system and European national identities which have contributed in such a major way to the two world wars that nearly destroyed Europe in the twentieth century.
Paul Lewis
Mark Pittaway
I just feel that if that is what is created I wonder whether we would end up creating a kind of twenty-first century version of the Hapsburg monarchy, something which in its time is a very well-functioning concept between different nation’s regions, and ethnic groups, characterised by tension. But when inevitable pressures arise for people to take control over their own government and form a demos which can actually act as a constraining factor, a constraint on the state, I just wonder whether the whole thing will be blown apart by the winds of change and social forces beneath.
Robert Bideleux
I would simply point to the longevity of the Hapsburg monarchy and its ability to adapt to changing conditions. It’s lasted much longer than any democratic state has lasted, even the United States, which has a very long continuous history as a democracy.
Paul Lewis
So perhaps Winston Churchill was right when he wanted to restore the Austrian – Hungarian empire at the end of the Second World War, as an alternative project for Europe. Well I’d like to thank you very much for that stimulating talk and I think what it’s left us is a quite distinct sort of views to ponder. Like Rabbi Lionel Blue perhaps I’d like to leave you with a thought for the day really, the particular thought that struck me the quotation from Arthur Schnitzler, a well known Central European writer, who said that the things that are often talked about most actually in effect don’t exist at all, so you know one might then ponder well why do we talk about Europe so much if perhaps it doesn’t exist anyway. I’d like to thank you very much Robert Bideleux, Mark Pittaway and Hugh Starkey, thank you.
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I introduce the discussion by asking contributors to give their own answer to the question posed by Seton-Watson and discussed at the beginning of this course: What is Europe? Where is Europe? You may like to use this opportunity to confirm and consolidate your understanding of the material you have studied in this course so far by constructing your own answer to these fundamental questions. Now compare your answer with those of the contributors on the audio files. How do their answers differ? How do they compare with your views on the nature of twenty-first century Europe? The contributors go on to raise questions about the conditions for European unity and current prospects for the ‘European project’ as originally conceived in the years immediately following 1945.

At least part of any project for Europe at the beginning of the twenty-first century will be to manage the conflicts and diversity of modern Europe in ways that are equally successful in avoiding general warfare. Although significantly differentiated, much of the new Europe is also involved in a broad project of integration for which the main points of reference are to be found in the process of EU enlargement, as well as the changing framework and processes of evolution within the EU itself. A whole range of perspectives and opinions have been brought to bear on these processes. This leaves the new Europe of the early twenty-first century defined as much by what differentiates it, as by any principle of integration. But it does at least suggest some perspective of coordinated development that maintains the principle of peaceful evolution on which the growing community of Europe has been based since 1945.


  • Earlier forms of European identity were characterised by sets of values and projects which involved their promotion beyond the European homeland.

  • The focus of developments in contemporary Europe is more inner-directed and places greater emphasis on relations between its constituent parts.

  • The new Europe of the early twenty-first century is less sure of any shared identity and requires greater acceptance of a more differentiated region committed to the avoidance of military and other forms of violent conflict.


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