EU is facing identity crisis

While stock exchanges worldwide are assessing the impact of the euro in numbers and decimal places, Penn gathered a panel of international scholars to look at the sociological consequences of the new common European currency.

The interdisciplinary conference, “Euroland and Eastern Europe: Assessing the New Integration Processes,” took place March 22.

Although it may seem miraculous that countries that spent the better part of the last millennium battling each other could share an integrated monetary policy, the panel warned that many issues still remain unresolved.

The euro, which began to circulate Jan. 1, is now the combined currency of 12 nations and 300 million people, giving the European Union an economy second only to the United States.

Fifteen countries—Belgium, Germany, Greece, Spain, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Austria, Portugal, Finland, Britain, Sweden and Denmark—now make up the European Union.

Willried Spohn, adjunct professor at the Free University of Berlin, said that as the EU contemplates expansion eastward, countries that have historically had bad relations will face challenges.

“[You have to] connect the past with the emerging future,” said Spohn.

Spohn, who participated in the panel discussion titled “Citizenship, National Identities and Immigration,” said that Poland’s “self-image as [the] heroic resistance against Nazi Germany” and Germany’s “self-definition as [the model] rational state” may spark tension. Moreover, he pointed out that tension could emerge from Poland’s fears of losing national independence, German hegemony and the takeover of Polish businesses. Likewise, Germany will have to overcome its view of Polish workers as “cheap,” “unskilled” and “criminal,” he said.

But Spohn said countering these tensions are Poland’s desire to have a greater impact on European culture and Germany’s economic stake in expanding the EU.

The euro will also result in concrete policy changes. As markets open and industries press for more skilled migrants, there will be shifts in citizenship requirements, said Rey Koslowski, associate professor of political science at Rutgers University.

This conference was sponsored by the School of Arts and Sciences, the Women’s Studies Program, the German Academic Exchange Service, the International Relations Program, and the Departments of Germanic Languages and Literatures, History, Political Science and Sociology.

Originally published on April 11, 2002