Democracy and Europe

Democracy, Diversity and European Identity in the European Union 

The Chair builds on existing teaching and research programmes of the Centre for European Studies, School of International Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi, India.

One of the pillars on which the European Union – India relations rests is the shared commitment to democracy and diversity. The European Union has democracy as a foundational system of values which it seeks to strengthen and promote. Democracy is a recurrent theme in both EU’s internal as well as external manifestations.In the EU integration project  European citizenship was one of the mechanisms through which the EU set out to build and enhance democratic spaces and to create a ‘demos’ for itself. The EU sought to use European citizenship for creating European identity, an identity which at the early stage of the project was acknowledged as a necessity for the integration process to deepen and work successfully. At the same time this integration of established nation-states, whose own ‘demos’ were steeped in their culture, tradition, and language, meant diversity was a fundamental tenet. This is reflected in the EU motto, ‘United in Diversity’. Today both these foundational values of democracy and diversity are challenging the EU member states and the integration project in multiple ways. Eurobarometer surveys show the formation of European identity is painstakingly slow and often under the cloud but they also indicate that while most EU citizens continue to primarily identify with their nation-states, many do think there should be more European-level decision-making on a range of areas.

As an international actor the European Union is known for its soft power projections based on a continued commitment to democracy, rule of law, human rights and minority rights. Norms and values thus range high on the EU agenda. At the end of the Cold War with the big bang enlargement on the cards the EU had laid down clear rules for induction of new members underscoring this set of core values. However, one of the challenges that member states are facing today is to uphold these democratic principles in the light of the competing claims that diversity generates. European democracies are increasingly engaged in working out responses to the heterogeneous public sphere that immigration has created. Questions of accommodating identity demands of cultural, ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities are acquiring an urgency as never before. Accommodation is being attempted through various strategies of assimilation, integration, multiculturalism or interculturalism. Such demands have also seen severe right  wing backlash across European states. Added to this, the territorial borders of some member states are being challenged by sub-national claims. The development of a supra-national EU identity gets more complicated as a consequence of these events.

It is therefore important to understand the complex interplay of democracy, diversity and identity that is playing out in Europe and the way in which it affects the EU integration dynamics. How do we assess developments like Brexit, varied response of EU member states to the refugee crisis 2015, debates on headscarves, Roma rights, increasingly prominent reach and visibility of right-wing parties? How have recurring terror attacks in member states complicated diversity acceptance and accommodation? Do these challenges leave the Union as a weak actor? Is more power to the EU rather than less a solution to multiple challenges – social, economic, political that EU states face? A closer look at how democracy, diversity and European identity is at work thus becomes imperative to grasp these interconnected realities. The Jean Monnet Chair on ‘Democracy, Diversity and European Identity in the European Union’ focuses on the following themes to understand these complexities.

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