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Feeling European?

Interviews conducted by Kate BowenMarch 23, 2007

They're French or Finish, Estonian or Portuguese, but do Europeans also feel European? DW-WORLD.DE spoke with a handful of people with international backgrounds about their own European identity.

Europe has many different facesImage: AP

Stephan Eisel (German)

Director of political education at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation

I am European with my heart and mind. Europe is a place of common culture and values. The European Union, for me, is the lesson that resulted from a history of European civil wars, in a historically unique order of peace and freedom.

EU Verfassung Symbolbild
Europe needs a constitution, said Stephan Eisel

However, it's not about lessons from the past but about the task for the future: The European Union has to remain stable, not least because Europe's role in the world can have a considerable influence on globalization, out of which arises a new and additional legitimation for European unification. It gains legitimacy not only because Europe can internally secure its fundamental values, but also because it has to defend it externally.

Only in this way does Europe have the chance to preserve its own free political culture. Its own decentralized, democratic structure is a part of this -- which is why we need a European constitution.

Klara Syrewicz (Polish-French)

Newspaper editor in Warsaw

My Polish parents found asylum in France during martial law. I was raised between Warsaw and Paris. Later, I studied in Britain. When Poland finally became part of the EU, I felt like someone had cured me from a split-personality syndrome. I'm grateful that I can now say, without hesitation -- I'm European.

Leonor Comin (French)

Student of Spanish literature

The feeling of being European is very complex for me because it's connected to both my personal and my national identity at the same time. My father is Italian and my mother is French…I never really felt like I belong to one country or the other. Both Italy and France make up both parts of my own identity. In this sense, I feel very European.

Deutschland Klima Luftverkehr Flugzeug Start in Düsseldorf
For some, going abroad helped shape their European identityImage: AP

As far as my national identity is concerned, I came to understand it better during my stays abroad. Living in Peru and Spain, I came to see how people in these countries view the French. The world seems to like France, which also makes me proud of being French.

As a student of languages, I had the chance to participate in the Erasmus program and spent a year in Valencia, Spain. There I met stduents from all over Europe. Thanks to our conversations, we learned a lot about each other -- both about us and our cultures. After this year abroad, I feel even more European.

Cordelia Berggötz (German)

Musicologist and mother in New York City

If anything, I feel German here in the US. There is a certain sense of connection when I'm with my French or Belgian friends here (and that's certainly the common "European" background), but it's all very diffuse and that's why I can't really say that I have a European identity. I doubt that it will ever come -- the countries are just too different. I sensed that during my time as a student in Italy. It's just a foreign country and a foreign culture, even if we're all part of Europe -- regardless of that fact that I appreciate and love Italy to this day.

What's more, I'm currently going through a critical period toward my home country. I'm sort of caught in the middle: I know that I don't belong in the US, but I don't really belong in Germany anymore either. From the outside, things seem a lot clearer and more critical.

Monika Nikzentaitis-Stobbe (German)

Project coordinator at MitOst, an organization supporting culture and language exchange in central, eastern and southern Europe

My European consciousness popped up for the first time when I spent three months in the US in 1988. After a few weeks, I was homesick -- not just for Germany, but also for Italy, France and England. (At that time I hardly knew eastern Europe.)

Alte Häuser in Bamberg
Monika Nikzentaitis-Stobbe missed European architecture while abroadImage: Illuscope

There was something that bound these seemingly very different countries together, in contrast to the US. I missed the architecture, the sense of time, the lifestyle. These days I also think of the common characteristic of doubting and criticizing -- and sometimes saying positive things too -- everything that has to do with Europe or one's own country. In other parts of the world, people probably don't reflect too much, or so negatively.

But as Sir Peter Ustinov said, doubts bring people together, while only certainty can separate. So, together with Lithuanians, Spaniards, Hungarians and others, I can discuss and complain about the most urgent problems, because we'll only be able to solve them if we work together -- and that brings us closer together.

Adriano Valerio (Italian)

Film director and directing teacher at the International Film School in Paris

I'm Italian but I live in France and I've lived for short periods of my life in London and Norway.

Recently I was having a discussion with my girlfriend. She is Chinese and works in New York. We were considering where we could set up a family and, without thinking, I said: "In Europe." (She'd like to go back to China or stay in the US.) I realized that I was not very concerned with the country as long as I could be in Europe, close to my roots, my family, and my working contacts.

Anna Niedospial (Polish)

Business analyst in Germany

If I try to list the values that are supposed to identify the EU, I'd have to say a strong commitment to the individual, respect for human rights, tolerance and affection for tradition. Do I identify myself with those values? Yes, I do.

But is it enough to feel European? I don't think so. There is one thing that I really miss in the western European approach: The basic European principle that people must be treated equally. For many of them, as a Polish citizen, I'm considered second class. And the ignorance about Poland makes me really sad sometimes. Isn't it just as European as the others?

Aitziber Romero (Spanish)

Intern in Germany, recipient of the Erasmus and Leonardo scholarships (both awarded by the EU)

Bildgalerie 50 Jahre Römische Verträge Bild 16 2002 Euro Einführung
Using the euro every day is a reminder of being European, said Aitziber RomeroImage: dpa

The European Union makes the borders between the member states smaller and, therefore, people from the different countries have a greater opportunity to get to know each other. In this way, people have more contact to new cultures and feel more like they're a part of a broad society.

Cooperation between the countries in common projects helps encourage people's feeling of being European; using the euro in everyday life does as well. There's still lots to do, but I'm optimistic and think that the background idea is very good.

Malgorzata Gorniak (Polish)

Student of thought, culture and society in Lillehammer, Norway

Can we say that we feel European? Isn't Europe a mixture of European and non-European citizens? Look at Germany: How many people live there who were born in non-European countries?

I am European because I've been living in Europe for about 28 years and I can say I feel European, but not completely because I have some wonderful friends from non-European countries from whom I can learn a lot. I was born in Poland but I traveled to many European countries as a child, like Denmark, Hungary, the former Yugoslavia, Italy, Austria and Germany. I also lived in Germany for about 10 years and now I live in Norway (a non-EU country).

Geri KcKenna (British)

Based in London with an NGO working to bring education to war-torn communities around the world.

My mother is the daughter of a Czech refugee and my father is Irish. I would always tick the box British but my Czech heritage is very important to me.

The EU -- the principle of it is fantastic, the idea of working closely together and of there being common laws and processes is great. For some countries it means upping their game, which is good, but for some it can also means reducing their standards.

From a personal perspective -- it makes things a lot easier with travel, and the principle of being able to work in other countries is great too. We get access to so many more goods now, we can get everything. For me personally, it would be great for Britain to take up the Euro.

Riverfront in Porto, Portugal
The EU has been great for Portugal, says Lucy PepperImage: DW/Kyle James

Lucy Pepper (British)

Award winning illustrator and blogger, Lucy lives in Portugal with her Portuguese family

Before I left Britain, I felt British, half English and half Scottish, but none of it was a hugely important thing for me. Once I arrived in Portugal, I became fiercely British as a way of holding onto my identity. But British is a hard thing to be here as you're only known as English or, if you're lucky, Scottish (as in most places, it's better to be Scottish than English... we English aren't exactly universally adored). I've always felt European at a kind of low-level, as an underlying thing, in a way that I felt I had more of a connection with Europeans than I might have with any other continent.

Membership of the EU has been a huge boon to Portugal in the last twenty years, giving it the chance to be a real part of Western Europe and I'm lucky enough to benefit from it. I never really understood the anti-European stance in Britain. Since Portugal converted to the Euro nothing has changed except hopefully a freer flowing economy. Okay, prices have gone up a bit, but they probably needed to. But seven years on, I still hear "55 cents for a coffee? That's daylight robbery!" when it used to be 100 escudos eight years ago -- that's fifty cents.