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On what citizens mean by feeling 'European' : perceptions of news, symbols and borderless-ness

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What is ‘Europe’ for citizens? What do people mean when they say that they feel, or not, European? A growing amount of literature has been produced by political scientists and journalists alike to try and assess the absence or existence of a European identity, but it is very unclear what people tell us when answering our questions on their political identities. Multiple theories of political identities exist, imposing fairly rigid and untested (and, essentially, quantitatively untestable) assumptions on what they mean. No deductive technique, however, would allow us to let citizens explain to us the deeper signification of citizens’ answers to our questions on who they are and how they perceive their attachment to varying political communities. Therefore, this paper presents an analysis of a series of focus group discussions run in France, the UK, and the Netherlands with over ninety participants on what citizens believe to be ‘Europe’ and ‘Europeans’. They tell us how they believe the media inform them on Europe, and how they perceive the main symbols of the European Union. They explain what matters to them in terms of their direct experience of European integration, and finally, what a ‘European identity’ means to them and whether they think of themselves and of their peoples as European or not. We discover that citizens are relatively cynical with regards to the perceived bias of the media on the European question, derive impressionistic but somewhat surprising findings on the meaning they attribute to Europe through its symbols, with references to peace, cosmopolitanism and other ‘anti-identity’ values, and that ultimately, their predominant perception of European-ness relies, precisely, on the disappearance of internal EU borders. Finally, we can identify two main ‘ways’ for citizens to define a European identity, a predominantly ‘civic’ one, and the other, a predominantly ‘cultural’ one.

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