Opinion: Reflections on European Identity

3 mins read

By Nathalie Larsson

When I am asked where I am from, I need to take a deep breath, and weigh my two options. Either I explain that I am born in the States to a Swedish father and a German mother, that I have lived in these countries several times, swung from country to country like a pendulum, I know five languages whereof English is my first, and be met by question after question demanding of me to decide what country is my home. Or give the short answer of Europe, which often is met with criticism: “That is not a country”, “But what passport do you have?”. Surprisingly, I only recently realized that the second response is really the most valid and, undoubtedly, actually the most precise answer I could give.

I have noticed that the negative reaction is more common in Sweden than in Germany. When measuring European identity, one finds that it is present everywhere to varying degrees — it is not zero sum, which populists may argue. In general, European identity in the North is weaker than in the rest of Europe like Germany or Spain. When asked about their feelings toward the EU, 35% of Swedes said they felt mistrust, and 30% said anxiety. In comparison, only 24% of Germans, and 8% of Spaniards feel anxiety toward the EU. In Germany, the taboo of a strong national identity led to an excessive desire to don a semi-national identity of some kind, hence Europe. In Spain, it was the possibility to redefine national identity, while transitioning to democracy that advanced European-ness. Sweden, however, lacked the inherent necessity to take on another identity. It seems to be that the dream of a united European “country” never really reached Scandinavia. The failure of this utopian fantasy to establish itself is an uncomfortable failure in the EU’s mission and might, quite frankly, lead to a more unstable and less pronounced European Union in the near future; undeserving of the title “union”.

More importantly, the failure of a unifying identity has been one of the leading causes of the rise of populism in countries all over Europe. The Alternative for Germany (AfD) has almost 13% of the vote, the Sweden Democrats have just as much in parliament. Seeing posters for AfD back in Germany where my parents still live, with slogans like “Only Germans in Germany”, confronted me with the palpable threat of “homelessness” for the first time. It is a very real, perhaps unrealistic, fear I have that I could one day become stateless. That no country wants me, sends me away, yet I have nowhere to go. The fact that there are more and more people in favor of this just emphasizes the notion that a European identity has never been strong enough to connect the European peoples beyond their national identities. Furthermore, the steady rise of right-wing ideas in our daily lives could perhaps point towards the beginning of the end to the union as we know it. Our European identity is on a decline, something made clear by Brexit, and our national identities seem to be growing, at least for some.  

My European identity, on the other hand, has never been stronger. My EU-esque upbringing and my no-nation nationality means that I get to travel freely, work in many places, study where I want, and eat the foods I love. These are the modern times we live in, and there are many out there just like me. We are a new generation of global citizens and hopefully our numbers will only increase. Growing up in the schism between two nations, and halfway between the borders of virtually borderless countries, has shaped me into the person I am and I accredit a lot of my accomplishments and values to that. I would and could never trade this for a strong single state nationality. I could agonize over being taken less seriously because I lack a whole nation of people sharing my values and beliefs, but I will not. Instead I have people from over 28 countries backing and encouraging me.

When I recently recited my story to a new friend, I got the response that motivated me to write this piece: “That is so EU of you!” And honestly? I am proud, and I am thankful.


Nathalie Larsson is as international as they come and spends her university years studying peace, conflict and languages – the recipe for making change in the world (according to her). Classical art, cats, couture and cities occupy equal space in her heart.


The Uppsala Association of International Affairs is politically independent. Views expressed in articles published by us reflect the opinions of their writers and should not be interpreted as the views of the Association of International Affairs or Uttryck’s editorial board. 

Image: Pexels

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