Article 1 of the Treaty on the functioning of the European Union sets as one of its aims an "ever closer union among the peoples of Europe".
But the reality is very different. A European Policy Centre commentator, analysing the latest European Council meeting, recently explained the essence of the difficulty in resolving the Eurozone crisis. “In Germany there are huge discrepancies between Länder, but voters in the West think of those in the East as their brothers and sisters. We don’t have that in Europe". It's a different way of saying - see my post of 29 January 2012 - that "the Euro as constituted can't work unless, say, the Finns regard Greek public debt in the same way as a Finnish public debt".
So what lies behind the absence of political consent which would make a political union workable (and therefore make fiscal union and economic and monetary union possible)?
In my view the absence of political consent results from the barriers to a shared European identity ie the shared values and characteristics which make the people of an entity feel that others are their fellow citizens.
So what does a European identity mean?
My own personal journey towards understanding Europeannness began in 1973 when I first went to the United States and 1974 when I first went to the then West Germany. I initally felt a high degree of culture shock in the United States (in spite of the common language) as compared to West Germany (where I immediately felt at home), though of course I adapted during my semester of study to the entirely different milieu of Amherst College as compared to the then new Warwick University and at the end regretted having to leave.
But since then I've never felt more European than when I'm outside Europe, when I interact with other Europeans with many shared assumptions and common values. It's been the same in Zambia, where I lived from 1988-1990, and on visits to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India, China, Sri Lanka, the Middle East and the Caribbean - in fact, in any of the more than 25 countries I've been to outside of Europe.
I don't say this to be negative about the rest of the world - virtually all of the trips outside Europe have been very enjoyable - but to underline that there's a stronger European identity that the dysfunctional nature of the way the EU works perhaps helps to conceal.
In the coming posts I'm going to look at this issue from a number of angles and suggest some themes for reflection.