Declaration on European Identity

At the Copenhagen summit of December 1973, the member states of the European Community adopted a ‘Declaration on European Identity’. The declaration was divided into three sections. The first dealt with ‘the unity of the nine Member States of the Community’ and concluded with the reaffirmation of their intention to transform ‘the whole complex of their relations into a European Union before the end of the present decade’. This section reviewed progress towards the establishment of a common market, common institutions and European Political Cooperation (EPC), then in its infancy, all founded upon ‘the cherished values of their legal, political and moral order … [and] the rich variety of their national cultures’. The Nine emphasised that ‘the construction of a united Europe … is open to other European nations who share the same ideals and objectives’. The second sec­tion dealt with ‘the European identity in relation to the world’. It set out basic guidelines for ‘a common policy in relation to third countries’, and in its review of the Community’s external relations stressed that ‘European unification is not directed against anyone, nor is it inspired by a desire for power’. A brief, third, concluding section underlined ‘the dynamic nature of the construction of a united Europe’ and reiterated the commitment to building a European union.

Coming so soon after the first enlargement of the Community – which had caused Denmark and the United Kingdom to leave the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and Norway to hold a referendum, which rejected Community membership – the declaration was an important affirmation of the Community’s internal solidarity and openness to the outside world. Both in language and in content, it foreshadowed some of the themes and policies that were to preoccupy the Community throughout the 1970s and 1980s, such as ‘speaking with one voice’ in foreign affairs, development policy and détente. However, subsequent events showed the timetable for European union to be over-optimistic and confidence in the Nine’s solidarity exaggerated: within a year of the declaration, the Community’s coherence had been seriously dented by the Arab oil crisis and the new Labour government’s demand for a renegotiation of Britain’s terms of membership.

The phrase ‘European identity’ reappeared in the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, with the new Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) ‘reinforcing the European identity’ (now the 11th recital of the preamble to the Treaty on European Union (TEU)). Equally, to ‘assert its identity on the international scene’ was said to be one of the objectives of the European Union under Article 2 TEU. However, following the Maastricht ratification crisis, the emphasis in EU commitments shifted towards the identity of the member states comprising the Union. The 1997 Amsterdam Treaty amended Article 6 TEU, by enjoining the Union to ‘respect the national identities of its Member States’. The Lisbon Treaty has subsequently broadened this reference to read: ‘The Union shall respect the equality of Member States before the Treaties as well as their national identities, inherent in the fundamental structures, political and constitutional, inclusive of regional and local self-government’ (Article 4(2) TEU).

September 2012

Copyright: Anthony Teasdale, 2012

Citation: The Penguin Companion to European Union (2012), additional website entry


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