European identity and common values

Cultural values and language define two of the most important characteristics of territorially defined nations or ethnically defined groups. The recent buzz around the EU blogosphere revealed certain cultural and language issues that limit the way in which people react and interact (1, 2, 3). By similarity, this is not different in the spatial planning field, especially considering that policy measures are usually filtered through the past,  present and future visions resulted from cultural and political frameworks.

Protesilaos Stavrou actually pointed towards an important issue of the European project. That of the European identity. It’s fairly easy to declare that from today on, the EU member states will promote a European identity, giving them a common benchmark of values. Some would say it sounds ideal, and this should be the cultural target of Europe, others will deem it as utopian, and see it as a threat to national culture. Deciding on who is right or wrong is difficult, but regardless of what your side of the barricade says, one should always be aware of the ‘other way’.

Bringing the European identity concept and spatial planning together shows that in fact there is no formal European spatial planning. It might not seem like it, but the two are in fact dependant on each other. As a result, it is difficult to define a European level of spatial planning, in the context in which the European level has no cultural representation, or a common benchmark of values.

Comparing spatial planning principles across EU member states identifies important differences not only in institutional architecture and decision-making processes, but also in priorities. While developed countries as those in Western Europe will prioritise green policies, developing countries as those in Central and Eastern Europe will, without a doubt prioritise policies targeted at economic gain, while keeping the ecological issues on the back burner. One clear example here would be the veto of Poland on the EU limits on greenhouse emissions.

We cannot talk about a European identity or a common set of values in the cultural sense, at this point in time. This is not by design, but simply because individuals will prefer to identify themselves with nation states and their values, rather than a European community. This is what makes policy-making difficult in the European context, considering its national and sub-national levels of implementation.