If we try to recapitulate what we have done in this course two main areas need to be considered: is there likely to be a European identity in the near future? and how important are national sentiments going to be?
While it could be said that by the end of the twentieth century the EU had become a reasonably integrated economic space politically, and especially at the cultural level, progress was limited. But even at the economic level, areas like labour mobility were still very low in the best of cases and commodity exchange was mainly developing along a number of clusters of countries (Germanic, Latin, Anglo-Scandinavian). A major difference among EU countries is the persistence of linguistic diversity. Many observers have stated that, at the practical level, English has become the lingua franca of the EU, even if at the political and administrative level there are as many languages as member states. But languages have not only an instrumental but also an emotional dimension and people's sense of national identity is often tied up with their mother tongue. Furthermore, language has vast implications for work, education, high and low culture and many other aspects of social life.
There is another obstacle to the development of a sense of European identity. It is the fact that intercultural communication is still largely conducted in terms of stereotypes and prejudices. If competence in at least two foreign languages is the precondition for the creation of a fluid linguistic environment, being aware that there are serious cultural barriers to productive communication and understanding is the first step toward recognising that culture and language cannot be separated. If the EU takes its own slogan ‘unity in diversity’ seriously, it must acknowledge that without the mutual understanding and acceptance of this diversity the project of European unification will not travel very far. On the other hand, it has also been argued that the European project lacks an emotional dimension; it is too cold and bureaucratic. Without sentiments and without signs of identity it is impossible to generate a popular response in favour of the EU.
In relation to this issue we can close the argument by saying that there is not likely to be in the near future an entity that we can call ‘Europe’, at least not in the strong sense of the term. The political problems and approaches people take, their social concerns and their cultural habits and consumption patterns are still very much nation- and state-based, if not regionally coloured. Europe is bound to remain what Ralph Dahrendorf has called ‘a figment of statistics’. However, if Europe cannot be a ‘real’ community perhaps it can become a ‘virtual’ one (Delanty, 1998). As we are entering the knowledge society, it is not unthinkable that Europe could be built on the growing interaction between the EU and its citizens through the electronic media.
As to the second question – how determinant or important are national sentiments, national identity and national assertion (national movements) likely to be in Europe in the next ten years? – many social scientists, following Hobsbawm's (1990) conclusions in Nations and Nationalism Since 1780, are claiming that the end of nationalism is in sight. Whatever may happen elsewhere, Hobsbawm's conviction is that in the Western world the days of nationalism are numbered due to the processes of cultural homogenisation that are taking place all over. However, it is possible to argue that this is just a mirage that has repeated itself in history at least since Marx and Mill predicted the decline of national identity in favour of cosmopolitan, universalist ideologies. The strength of nationalism is not undermined by the existence of a growing transnational elite who exhibit multiple levels of identity according to situational parameters.
National identities are here to stay. Any forward-looking perspective has to come to terms with the persistence of some very basic categories such as kinship, language, culture, religion and historical memory. The importance of any of the categories may vary from place to place; what matters is the specific combination that occurs in each nation, and which makes it different from others. It is probable that a kind of ‘European identity’ will be on the increase along with, but not against or as a substitute for, national identities.