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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 December, 2003, 16:38 GMT
The euro and Europe's blurring borders
By Stephen Mulvey
BBC News Online

On 1 January 2002 the experience of travelling in Europe changed completely.

The introduction of euro notes and coins, following the withdrawal of EU internal border controls, removed one of the key sensations of crossing from one country to another.

If you set off from Hamburg, Calais, Malaga, or Brindisi you can now drive for days without necessarily ever finding out how many countries you have passed through.

You pay in euros - and you can leave your passport buried in your luggage.

Click to see what European identity means to people in Berlin, Brussels, Warsaw and London

Europe's unity, or at least the EU's, is now almost as obvious as its diversity.

How does this affect the way people think about Europe?

Opinion polls conducted for the EU in 2002 found about 60% of people in euroland agreeing that by using euros "we feel a bit more European than before".

Other polls show that when people are asked what the EU means to them personally, the euro is one of the most common answers.

"If your money talks Europe that has immense symbolic value," says Professor Thomas Risse of the Free University in Berlin.

"You cannot have European identity in the abstract, you need something concrete that people can see in their lives."

The existing markers of Europe as a civic or political entity (rather than a historical/cultural one) are the flag, and the currency.

Click to see levels of European identity found across Europe

He emphasises that European identity exists alongside, and does not replace, national identity.

Concentric circles

This new European space has fuzzy edges.

Imagine a journey from Oss (in the Netherlands) to the Norwegian capital Oslo. You would leave euroland on entering Denmark, and would leave the EU on entering Norway, but at neither border would you have to show your passport.

This is because Norway is part of Schengenland - named after the Luxembourg town where an agreement to drop border controls was reached in 1985 - as is Iceland. Both are also part of the EU single market along with Liechtenstein.

It is a Europe of "concentric circles", where levels of integration vary both inside and outside the EU.

The tendency towards "variable geometry" (as it is also known in euro-jargon) is expected to increase when the EU has 25-plus members, and go-ahead groups choose "a la carte" (ditto) to integrate quickly in certain areas, leaving others to catch up or not as they wish.

More fuzziness

There is also another kind of fuzzy border inside the EU.

Imagine driving from Barcelona to Perpignan.

You cross the frontier between France and Spain, but the flag most frequently seen on either side is the red and yellow stripes of Catalonia.

Some Catalans say the euro has given them a stronger sense of cross-border community.

A long-awaited fast train link would raise the possibility of commuting between Perpignan and Barcelona.

"After this [transport] barrier is removed, there will be more and more social and economic integration between North and South Catalonia," the director of the Catalan Government's Investment Promotion Agency, Carlos Valero, told the BBC earlier this year.

He talked confidently of an emerging "Europe of the regions" rather than of nation states.

Big regions

The euro and the Schengen pact have had less impact on sub-national regions that do not cross international borders.

But as states have transferred powers upwards to Brussels over the last 10 years, some have also, coincidentally, been transferring powers downwards to their regions.

In the UK, Scotland has acquired a parliament and Wales a legislative assembly. Italy's regions have also gained new powers, while Spanish regions have been making more use of powers they were granted years ago - and in some cases pressing hard for even greater autonomy.

Even monolithic France has begun tentative moves towards decentralisation, though its plans for devolution in Corsica this year came unstuck.

The European Commissioner for regional policy, Michel Barnier, prefers to talk of a Europe 'with' the regions than a Europe 'of' the regions.

"The state is still the body we are talking to, even though the regional role is growing," says his spokesman Pierre-Jerome Henin, adding that the five billion euros of EU aide given to inter-regional development projects in 2000-2006 is set to increase in the next funding period.

About 170 regions now have offices in Brussels. Some of the larger ones - Scotland and the German laender, for example - are often represented, along with their national governments, in the Council of Ministers when the subject under discussion is of particular concern to them.

There will be an increasing demand from the more powerful regions for their voices to be heard
Regional representative in Brussels
Though they lost a fight for greater recognition in the new EU constitution, the larger regions see big opportunities potentially flowing from EU enlargement next year.

Germany's three largest laender are already bigger than most existing EU states - but a whole host of European regions are bigger than most of the 10 new states joining the EU next year.

"In my opinion there will be an increasing demand from the more powerful regions for their voices to be heard," says one regional representative in Brussels.

"What you have among the more powerful regions now is an attempt to see how they can have a more specific and concrete role in a more crowded Europe."

Read a selection of your comments below.

First, congratulations to the BBC for covering such issues because it helps everybody see how people think all over Europe- and this is what we lack: information on fellow Europeans. This is the only way of getting to feel 'European': by participating in such debates and reflecting on views coming from miles away. Even if we disagree, we do create a 'forum' with regards to issues that are of common concern. Problems in today's world cannot be solved without cooperation; The EU is a chance for Europe, with all its assets and faults.
Zoe, Greece

I'm an Anglo-Austrian. I come from Anglo-Austria. No wait, that's not a real place. So what am I? I have English as a mother tongue, and yet sometimes only a German expression will do. I have an English sense of humour, laced with a Viennese sense of the absurd. I have all kinds of guilt complexes, thanks to my Catholic and Jewish antecedents. I don't fit entirely into England, and I don't fit entirely into Austria. What am I? I'm a European, and please don't belittle my identity. Throughout his life, Austrian writer Stefan Zweig dreamed of a cultural union throughout Europe; in the throes of the Second World War, exiled in Brazil, in his despair that a Europe in conflict could ever unite, he killed himself. Let's honour Zweig and celebrate Europe.
Jonathan Schütz, UK

Europeans that don't feel European haven't travelled enough outside Europe
Julian, Japan
Ever since I was a child I hoped for a common European currency and a big, powerful, federal Europe. As a Belgian, language and nationality have never been associated in my mind. Ethnically, culturally and historically, Europe is one entity as opposed to other regions of the world such as China, India or the Arab world. I speak 6 European languages and Japanese. All I can say is that Romance and Germanic languages as well as European cultures are very similar compared to non-European ones. I suppose that those Europeans that don't feel European haven't travelled enough outside Europe or learn other languages. To me, Western European unity at least is very clear.
Julian, Japan (but European)

I am British, though I grew up in Singapore and now live in the US. Having lived here for five years now I increasingly see myself as a proud European, with a social conscience, world view and cultural identity that is oceans away from my American friends and neighbours. I used to think the UK was a defacto US state, but the more time I spend in the US, the more I realise that the Channel is a tiny stream compared to the yawning gulf of the Atlantic. Intra-European strife is past its sell by date and the strident British jingoism displayed by some of the people here is misplaced and anachronistic. The sooner we join the Euro and embrace our European culture, world view and future the better in my book.
Gregor McElvogue, British-European living in the USA

Europe has been a complete failure and costs the UK billions every year in subsidies to French farmers, Spanish fishermen and German industry. The euro and the "one size fits all" interest rate have led to inflation in Ireland and recession in Germany, and now the Germans and the French have broken the so-called stability pact they themselves set up. Joining the euro would mean surrendering control over our economy to unelected bureaucrats in Brussels, the land of failed politicians like Chris Patten, Leon Brittan and Neil Kinnock. Britons didn't want these clowns running their country, so they were packed off on the gravy train. Even Gordon Brown, pro-Europe in opposition, has been converted to a Euro-sceptic after seeing what a mess the Euro has become. European integration means socialism by the back door whilst losing our national identity. We should get the hell out of Europe and let the French and the Germans bully everyone else too timid to stand up to them.
Scott Glasgow, Bahrain

I am Spanish, work for an English company, on a project in Italy run by our Dutch office
Jordi Soler, Spain
I am Spanish, work for an English company, on a project in Italy run by our Dutch office. Only the fact that Europe is opening means that I can do this without mayor problems. Still, every time I travel back to UK, I have to show a passport or any other form of identification on arrival. Why? I am not entering the USA!
Jordi Soler, Spain

For me, being a European is about freedom. I'm grateful that I've been able to travel and work in other parts of Europe, besides the UK. However, I don't see it as being a cure for nationalism, as people's xenophobia will simply find another group to blame, most likely the US. The Americans see Europe as an business opportunity as well as a potential military rival.
Iain Diamond, (Scotland) Spain

As an Irishman living in Japan I find the European identity to be a convenient one. When Japanese see a Western looking foreigner they invariably presume that it's an American. When they presume this of me I used to say I was from Ireland first. But most Japanese people aren't very familiar with my country so I would explain that it was next to Britain. But then many presumed I was British so now I'm European first! I was surprised to see so many people writing in identifying themselves as British. I thought it would be more usual to think of yourself as Scottish, English etc. Go on, if you haven't already, make the leap to being European!
Tony Tobin, Japan

I wish no ill to the citizens of any country in Europe but I am British first and last. I am not and have no wish to be "European" in any way, shape or form. The European Union is one of the greatest con tricks in history - corrupt, undemocratic and unaccountable serving only the vested interests of career politicians, over-paid Eurocrats and multi-nationals. British withdrawal would be a massive boost to our freedom, energy and global opportunity. I only hope groups of honest politicians will emerge to act in our best interests while we still have a country. But with Blair et al. as "the enemy within", I fear greatly for our future as an independent nation.
Steve Roxborough, Great Britain

While many EU countries are in constant disagreement over several minor and major issues, using the Euro makes me feel that we can actually accomplish something together. Using it makes me feel like Europe has come together and agreed that using one currency is a logical step which can benefit all parties involved. It's certainly made personal and business life a lot easier and I don't feel I've lost anything when the Finnish Mark went away. Seeing cooperation on a scale as large as this, work as well as it does now, is a small miracle in today's world.
Kyuu Eturautti, Finland

I get homesick when I see a French movie, or British series, a Swedish table or a Italian advert
Jochem Riesthuis, Chicago, USA (Dutch)
Away from the Netherlands, I find myself feeling more and more European. For all the wonderful people and the great vitality of Chicago, I get homesick when I see a French movie, or British series, a Swedish table or a Italian advert. I miss Paris and Berlin as much as Amsterdam or Utrecht.
Jochem Riesthuis, Chicago, USA (Dutch)

I live and work in Germany. If it wasn't for the freedom of movement then I don't know if I would have had the opportunities that I have. Because I'm no longer part of the British culture (buying your won house at any cost, going down to the pub at the weekend and throwing down as much alcohol as possible down your neck) My British identity is slowly being eroded. When get asked about my accent (what accent is that), I don't say "This is a British accent" after all there is no such thing as a "British accent". I say I have a Scottish accent. So by living in Germany my British identity is disappearing, my Scottish identity is getting stronger and I have a greater sense of being European because of living in Germany.
Kenny, Germany (Scottish, European, British)

I don't believe in the European identity at all. For me it's just pure propaganda created by the politicians. I usually say that I'm Swedish everywhere when identity is concerned. I'm glad that we rejected the Euro during the referendum this autumn. Everything concerning EU is a pure political product forced on by politicians and bureaucrats.
Jan Andersson, Sweden

When I am in Australia, I am European. When I am in France, I am German. When I am in Bavaria, I am from the Rhine. When I am in Cologne, I am from my home town some kilometres south. Depending on the viewpoint all these regional labels get absurd. In my work I experienced that my French or Swedish colleagues are more similar to me than my neighbours next door. This and the feeling that a war between our countries would be the impossible to think makes me European.
Gerd, Germany

Tthe European identity is at best an illusion, and at worst a tool of coercion
Philip Moore, UK
To me, the European identity is at best an illusion, and at worst a tool of coercion. I don't have any more in common with a Greek or an Italian than I do with a Peruvian or an Australian - we're all people, and proclamation of the "European identity" is little more than using that fact for political ends.
Philip Moore, UK

I am born British, but am half Irish. May partner is Dutch. I feel British, and Irish but I also feel European, because we are part of Europe. Our values - social justice - looking after each other, blended with economic interdependence and a strong feeling of entrepreneurialism are much more akin to the values of our neighbours within Europe. Europe and our relationships within Europe are not a threat but a strong Britain in Europe would reap rewards for us as a country and as individuals.
Katrina Bull, UK

I'm always going to think of myself as British I'm afraid. I like the pound and I like the fact that people that i help to elect run my country.
Mathew Gard, UK

I live in Germany. I like England very much and I hope that the UK will join the euro, because France, the UK and Germany, etc. belong together. I can not image a Europe without Great Britain and the Euro will only be a real European currency if Great Britain joins it.
Daniel C., Germany

I am European of British origin, considering myself European first. I travel often to both Germany and Spain and the introduction of the Euro has definitely simplified things. When I was younger, an Uncle told me how England opened up for him when he bought a motorcyle as he was no longer confined to the town where he was born. It's the same for me but on a European scale. I cross 'national' borders with the same facility as he used to cross county borders. It is this which will build Europe.
Barrie Hunt, France

Cyprus will join the EU in May 2004 and will adopt the EURO by 2007. It is a big step for this small island and there are mixed feelings but it will be a good strategic move for Cyprus. The island will become one again after 30 years of division. Greek & Turkish Cypriots will be able to travel and work in any country in Europe. A single currency is convenient for everyone travelling in Europe.
Dina James, Cyprus

Feeling European means I supported England in the last rugby world cup! ...and I was very glad that you (we?) won.
Simon, France

Being European is a liberation from the vicious patriotism of the past
Harry Panagopulos, Netherlands
Being European is a liberation from the vicious patriotism of the past. It is an identity that is loose and free, flexible enough to include anyone who chooses to participate and too vague to exclude anyone. It provides me, a British-born ethnically Greek resident of the Netherlands with an acceptable citizenship without forcing me to eliminate a single aspect of what I hold dear. As for the politics of Brussels, all politicians are equally duplicitous crooks. Anyone who favourably compares their home-grown variety with any other is allowing himself to be deluded by fairytales.
Harry Panagopulos, Netherlands

I regard myself as a European from Ireland, i.e. whilst my Irishness has inevitably imparted certain traits to my outlook and general personality, my defining characteristics derive from being European. However, another important factor that continues to unite Europeans - rightly or wrongly - is a sense that we are not Americans. This of course is something that populations feel but few European leaders dare to express. But it is real, and the unifying effect is tangible at times. Europeans increasingly recognise the huge gulf between their secular mindsets and the Theocentric world view of many Americans. This is perhaps most visible in Ireland, which as an English speaking country (along with the UK) is more subject than most other European countries to the influences of US media. Despite this however, I feel that when it comes to matters such as Iraq, gun control, capital punishment, employment law, social welfare, etc., the average Irish person will find more in common with a Bavarian than he will with a Texan.
David McCormack, Ireland

The making of European identity is about overcoming the time-worn divisions and petty nationalisms that have stood between our peoples. It is inherently idealistic. Sadly, as recent events have shown, while uncontroversial in mainland Europe, Britain is as ever behind the game, seeking to cling to an increasingly absurd image of itself as in some way 'special' or peculiar.
Tim Cooper, UK

Europe to me has the potential to be the greatest trading region in the world, with a population over double that of the US. It has a higher standard of living than any other region in the world. It is stable, efficient, peaceful, and environmentally a global leader. It's not perfect though, and there is way too much bureaucracy and waste. Too many focus groups and steering committees. The UK should join the Euro as soon as possible - it will help us to become more integrated, and give us a greater sense of being European, which is, after all, what we are.
Rob Holman, Chislehurst, Kent, England

I remember thinking, the first time I walked, unchallenged, across a bridge between Germany and France, "You can say bad things about the EU, but this is something my parents' and grandparents' generation could hardly have dreamed of." It gave me hope. Then again, travelling from Germany to England by coach in the summer of 2002, we were stopped and searched by French Customs at the Belgian border, and French *and* British Customs at the Channel Tunnel terminal. One African man was taken off the coach by British Customs; we didn't see him again. *All* borders should be open. "Kein Mensch ist illegal," as the Germans say.
Ken Walton, Germany (British)

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