National Identity and Europe in Times of Crisis

Cover of National Identity and Europe in Times of Crisis

Doing and Undoing Europe



Table of contents

(15 chapters)

Transnationalism is a multi-faceted phenomenon which has impacted on society and challenged, inter alia, the paradigm of national affiliations. The trasnationalisation of the European field has arguably contributed to a political arena where embryonic post-national identities and new forms of belonging are being negotiated, challenged and legitimised. By investigating the discourses of members of a transnational NGO of ‘active’ citizens, this chapter seeks to understand how current European identities are discursively constructed from bottom up in the public sphere. Appropriating CDA, this chapter offers insights into how discursive strategies and linguistic devices used by the speakers and predicated on the indexicality of transnational frames, construct Europe and patterns of belonging to it. This chapter suggests different conceptual dimensions of transnationalism enacted by members in discourse which are conveniently summarised as nation-centric, Euro-centric and cosmopolitan.


Literature on European and national identities displays a tension between occasional observations of an emerging ‘banal Europeanism’ (Cram, 2009) and a dominant strand (e.g. Guibernau, 2007; Toplak & Šumi, 2012) that questions the viability of European identifications vis-à-vis historically entrenched nationalisms, particularly in the context of the debt crisis and the resulting (re)nationalization of European politics. This chapter builds on recent work on Austrian European Union (EU) scepticism and its contestation (Karner, 2013) to examine instances – in diverse media coverage, readers’ letters to the editor of Austria’s most widely read newspaper, internet platforms, political essays and party political positions – of national identity negotiations in relation to the EU and as articulated in the context of successive European crises and the most recent elections to the European Parliament. The qualitative, thematic analysis of these wide-ranging materials developed here draws on two key concepts in critical discourse analysis, the notions of deixis (Billig, 1995) or ‘rhetorical pointing’ and of the topos or ‘structure of argument’ (e.g. Reisigl & Wodak, 2001), which are complemented by a third theoretical tool, namely the anthropological concept of ‘grammars of identity’ (Baumann & Gingrich, 2004). The resulting discussion reveals the uneasy coexistence of (critical) Europeanisms and various national reassertions in Austria’s public sphere and their respective discursive features. Further, the theoretical approaches synthesized cast light on internal diversities within political positions that are often too monolithicly classified as being ‘simply’ pro- or anti-European respectively. Instead, the analysis presented here reveals a spectrum of (at least five) competing positions.


This chapter considers the political controversy in Britain over the lifting of restrictions of freedom of movement on European Union (EU) citizens from Bulgaria and Romania in January 2014. The response of the then Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition Government centred on altering the rules on the payment of welfare benefits to potential new EU immigrants such that they would not be entitled to claim these benefits for 3 months after entry to the United Kingdom. This policy led to a split in the coalition, with the Liberal Democrat leadership claiming that it was a panicked move by the majority Conservative coalition partner, and moreover that it was a blatant attempt to appeal the electorate in an effort to be seen to be doing something to stop the welfare benefit system from being abused by ‘foreigners’. The backdrop to this political fracas centred on the economic contribution of East European immigrants to Britain and the claim and counterclaim over the issues jobs, welfare benefits and services such as English language support in schools. These contentious issues are examined in terms of an analysis of online comments to posted in reaction to a political interview with Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat business secretary, who claimed that the Conservatives were attempting to placate public disquiet over immigration as a response to the rising popularity of the United Kingdom Independence Party.


Departing from the assumption that discourse is both socially constituted and constitutive, and that social reality is co-constructed by the institutions of mass communication, this chapter takes under scrutiny media representation of the recent refugee crisis in Europe. The objective behind it is to maximise the validity of the Media Proximization Approach (MPA), drawing on the insights from Critical Discourse Studies, cognitive linguistics and corpus linguistics, in explicating how the media can potentially impact on the salience of issues and thus on public perception of problems and threats along with measures to be taken to deal with them. Examining the data from Poland, a European Union member state from Central Europe, criticised for its anti-refugee stance and refusal to accept the assigned quotas of migrants, and, importantly, the country ‘experiencing’ migrant crisis without refugees, we look at the role of word co-occurrence patterns in the discursive representation of refugees and immigrants in Rzeczpospolita daily and Niezależ, the Polish right-wing press. The analysis, of both quantitative and qualitative nature, focuses on lexical associations of two nouns, uchodźca ‘refugee’ and imigrant ‘immigrant’, and their role as epistemic, axiological and emotional proximization triggers in the process of mediated construction of crisis and European security.


This chapter focuses on the anti-European stance as it unfolds in Marine Le Pen’s and Jean-Marie Le Pen’s discourses. As most far-right parties in Europe, both politicians focus on the notion of freedom and national sovereignty, asserting a strong anti-European Union stance; however, they construct their anti-European momentum by playing on different strategies and emotions. By using corpus linguistics tools, the present study examines and analyses the discourse of both politicians in interviews and debates. It concludes that if they share most issues on which they base their political agenda such as the fear of increasing immigration because of the Schengen’s agreement, they differ as regards the ways they discursively address the same issue. Marine Le Pen relies more on a constructive/rational stance, by focusing on facts and figures as well as on solutions, while moving away from the strong and negative emotions which her father constantly used mainly as provocation strategies. This may have helped her build a favourable political momentum as witnessed in the 2014 European elections.


This chapter enquires into the German right-wing populist party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) and its narrative of the nation under attack. For two reasons, the AfD is a particular interesting case. Since its foundation in February 2013 the AfD was constantly extraordinarily successful in state, federal as well as European elections. The support garnered in their first elections is without precedent in German post-war history. What is more, no other populist party ever gained a similar backing in Germany. In contrast to other European countries, political culture in Germany for a long time entailed an anti-populist consensus which significantly curbed the outlook of populist parties. The rise of the AfD maybe indicates the erosion of this consensus. The chapter is based on the systematic analysis of all official party documents 2013/14.


EU membership has been for the greater part of the post-authoritarian period (1974–2010) an important element of the Greek national consensus. Europe was commonly associated in public discourse with geopolitical security, democratic institutions and economic prosperity. Moreover, accession to the European Monetary Union in 2001 was celebrated as proof of a successful national course and as promise for economic growth. Nevertheless, challenges to pro-Europeanism both from the left and from the extreme right have risen in the context of the economic crisis (2010–2015). While Euro-sceptical attitudes are still a minority within Greek society – but significantly increased in relation to past trends – the discursive negotiation of Europe in the Greek public debate is characterized by ambiguity and has acquired various negative connotations (e.g. austerity policies, authoritarianism, German hegemony, democratic deficit in decision-making). In the highly-polarized Greek political debate, a new cleavage has emerged based on the acceptance or rejection of the loan agreements and the austerity policies associated with them (the so-called pro- vs. anti-memorandum cleavage) which have also transformed traditional Left vs. Right cleavage thus allowing for political alliances between left-ward and right-ward parties. It remains to be seen whether the new cleavage will take the form of a clash between pro-Europeanists vs. Euroscepticists as it is often argued in the context of Grexit scenarios. While this new dichotomy can be misleading especially if it is unambiguously interpreted in cultural terms, it describes a newly formed social and political tension that is under process. A special chapter in this respect is the currency debate; the dilemma between the euro and the drachma represents distinct ideological paradigms and power structures. The present chapter explores the discursive negotiation of Europe in the context of the Greek public debate analysing discourses produced both by political elites and mass media with special focus on the 2015 referendum campaign and the implications of the July 2015 Greece-EU agreement.


Based on theoretical principles of Semantics, Pragmatics and Discourse Analysis/Discourse Studies, the present work analysed a corpus of opinion articles, published in Portuguese newspapers and news magazines from December 2011 to March 2013, in order to foreground the dominant social representations of ‘Troika’, ‘The Portuguese Government’ and ‘The Portuguese’ in these discourses.

A systematic analysis of discourse structures in the corpus was developed in order to examine their potential in the expression of ideological content. Concepts such as Semantic/Thematic Roles, Force Dynamics and Symmetry were combined with analytic models from Discourse Studies to illustrate the Ideological Discourse Representations and the Positions in the Discourse Space (DS) of Social Actors. The linguistic hypotheses and generalisations were generated bottom up, departing from the regular patterns observable in the empirical data and extracting conclusions from them. The interpretative practice was, therefore, made in adherence to corpus evidence.

This integrated analysis has shown that the reconstruction of ‘Portugal’ and ‘the Portuguese’ vis-a-vis ‘Europe’, represented by ‘Troika’, corresponds to opponent positioning that polarise these entities, foregrounding the distance and the conflict between them and contributing to a vision of a disintegrated Europe. In fact, the reality depicted in the opinion articles analysed was a polarised reality, in the sense that these articles repeatedly used linguistic constructions that placed (through several rhetoric devices that will be analysed) Europe and Troika on one ‘pole’ and ‘The Portuguese’ on the other ‘pole’, expressing, thus, the movement of the actors to polar opposites.

On the theoretical level, this chapter proposes an integrated approach towards opinion discourse in the press, combining Critical Discourse analytic and DS Theory perspectives with the insights from Socio-Cognitive approach by Van Dijk and aspects of Cognitive Linguistics by Talmy.


The referendum debate in Ireland on whether voting in favour of the Lisbon Treaty has filled the pages of newspapers and the online media. Several anti-EU campaigns have emerged and politicians have shown their own attitudes towards the ratification process. Being our first contact with reality newspapers enable potential readers to better understand their lives and socio-political events (Van Dijk, 1991; Richardson, 2007). It has been argued that newspapers construe public identities for individuals and social groups through specific textual strategies and contribute to our understanding of belonging to a community (Fairclough, 1995a). Some scholars have proved that, in reporting on European matters, British newspapers are mainly Eurosceptic and tend to depict EU leaders in a negative light (Musolff, 2004; Nasti, 2012). It has also been demonstrated that when reporting on European integration newspapers tend to define what it means to be a European citizen by construing their own images of Europe. By doing so, newspapers have the power to support or subvert the feeling of European belonging by showing desired or unwanted scenarios. In his analysis of newspaper discourse, Fowler (1991) points out how transitivity is of great interest in newspaper analysis as it is a potential tool to investigate the same event in different ways, thus providing different views on the social and political events reported.

Against this framework, the present chapter aims to analyse, by combining a quantitative and a qualitative approach, how newspapers construct professional, social and private identity of the European politicians involved in the Lisbon Treaty debate following the features introduced by Fairclough (1995b) and Halliday and Matthiessen (2004) transitivity model. This study also investigates what qualities and features are attributed to EU leaders and to what extent the stereotyped roles of previous studies are also revealed through the analysis of material, mental and verbal processes.


In the last two decades, the region of Southeast Europe, Republic of Macedonian included, has been marked by a politics based on the pronounced primacy of the issue of national identity over other socio-political questions. National identity as an issue per se entails material, cultural and academic processes aiming at the construction and fixing of an idea and a sense of a collective. Ample evidence in terms of material culture (the architectural project Skopje 2014) and recorded public discourse supports the claim that the question of national identity determines the course of politics, nationally and internationally.

The main focus of this chapter is to examine the different discourses regarding national identity, and the multicultural and cultural policies, formulated against the backdrop of the conditions set by the EU. Through a discursive analysis of some of the speeches and texts of Macedonian and Albanian political officials, this chapter will trace the various (re)constructions of national identity vis-à-vis Europe and Macedonia’s aspirations for European Union (EU) accession. Additionally, Macedonia’s complicated interethnic relations are analysed through the country’s struggle with the name dispute with Greece and, through what is seen as a lack of loyalty from the Albanian political parties and citizens, which push for the change of the name for a faster EU accession. This further complicates the picture of the Macedonian EU integration and creates a triangulation of discourses: one stemming from the EU requirements, and two more, stemming from the two major ethnic groups and political parties in Macedonia, namely the Macedonian and the Albanian.


Public acts of self-criticism in Eastern Europe – a genre cultivated and extorted by the communist parties – did not disappear with the end of communism. In the young democracies of the region self-criticism has become an attempt to diagnose society’s ‘backward’ character and to develop ‘self-correction’ scenarios in order to participate in the Western modernising discourse. On the one hand, conservative and right-wing elites suppose that public acts of self-criticism (performed by politicians, artists or scholars) can endow the vetting procedures of the ancien régime with a sense of social catharsis and retroactive justice. On the other hand, liberal and left-wing intellectuals subject themselves to collective self-reckoning, not only with their choices made in the transition period, but also with the memory of WWII, in order to shape a civil society free of anti-Semitism and intolerance. An analysis based on the discourse-historical approach in critical discourse analysis, Reinhart Koselleck’s historical semantics and Michel Foucault’s notion of discourse, and carried out on the text corpus of selected acts of self-criticism in Poland, aims to diagnose the role these acts had in shaping public discourse on the troublesome past.

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