A ‘Greater Europe’ – Constructions of a Collective Identity in the Council of Europe

  • Abstract:

    European identity as a social construction, as a ‘contested concept’, has been surveyed in academic research primarily in reference to the European Union (e.g. Guisan 2012; Öner 2011; Thiel 2011, Talani 2012). Thereby, most studies, particularly in the humanities and social sciences, focus on current perceptions of different ‘Europes’, its different identities as well as its politicized uses. The notion of a collective common, however, is older than the European Union itself. After World War II the Council of Europe was built as the first European organization in order to secure long-term peace in Europe. From the outset, the deputies underlined their common interests as European citizens while searching for characteristics of their ‘Europeanness’ at the same time. This paper essentially addresses Europe’s process of self-discovery in the Council of Europe during its first years of consultation, from its founding in 1949 until the establishment of the European Economic Community. By means of a historical discourse analysis the different discourses (de-)constructing a collective identity have been analyzed. The Consultative (later Parliamentary) Assembly’s minutes of the meetings provide a solid basis for this post-structuralist investigation. Key findings referring to the definition of the self and the other are the following: The perception of a ‘greater Europe’ in contrast to an imagined ‘little Europe’ has been dominant since the beginning which is clearly apparent in the cultural and geographic discourse. Further, the communist Soviet Union as the great ‘other’ in the political, economic as well as geostrategic discourse facilitated the self-identification in defining the common ‘threatening stranger’. In addition, this paper reveals that the politicized use of a collective European identity is not only visible in the context of the Cold War but also in parliamentary debates concerning the establishment of European organizations outside the Council of Europe such as the European Free Trade Association and the European Economic Community.