On 9 May we celebrate Europe Day. On this 65th anniversary of the Schuman Declaration 85% of Flemish adolescents and 80% of the adults feel European. 62% of the respondents also feel actively involved in what happens in the European Union. That is the conclusion of a study by the KU Leuven Centre for Political Research.
"I consider myself an EU citizen" and "I am proud to be living in Europe". These are just some of the statements that Soetkin Verhaegen presented to almost 3600 fifteen-year-olds and their parents (of whom over 4300 participated). She found that a surprisingly large number of adults and even more adolescents consider Europe a part of their identity. 11% of them even feel very strongly connected to Europe. 2% of the respondents, by contrast, did not consider themselves European citizens at all.
The degree to which someone identifies with Europe strongly depends on their level of education, knowledge of languages, and mobility. Higher-educated citizens and people who move between European member states feel more connected to the European Union. In addition, men feel more European than women.
Most participants have a pragmatic interpretation of what it means to be European. 89% of the respondents think first and foremost of how easy it is to travel between EU member states and of the Euro. 62% is actually interested in what happens in Europe and in the European institutions. They stay up-to-date and talk about Europe with, for instance, friends and family. Only 49% feels connected to Europe on the basis of a shared historical and cultural identity.
Soetkin Verhaegen also examined the elements that contribute to the development of a European identity. This identity is primarily developed at a young age. Parents transfer the European identity to their children -- in particular from mother to child. Based on these findings, Verhaegen recommends: "The EU could encourage her member states to include more courses on Europe in their school curriculum. Stimulating adolescents to visit other member states is a good idea as well. My research shows that the combination of courses and mobility has the biggest impact on the development of a European identity in adolescents."
For her doctoral research, supervised by Professor Marc Hooghe, Soetkin Verhaegen conducted a survey of 3598 students in their third year of secondary school -- the Flemish equivalent of high school -- and 4376 parents. The students attended 61 different schools and specialised in different fields.