â€œTo feel attached to the cultures and people across the border and to remember our common history can enrich our identity as Italians, Austrians or Slovenesâ€, explains Josef Langer, a sociologist based in Klagenfurt (Carinthia), who sees Euroregions as a completely new supranational reality. He adds that the much more serious risk is to get lost in the numerous commercialised and pseudo-political identities offered by the forces of globalisation
Josef Langer is a sociologist working at the Institute of Sociology at the Alpen-Adria University of Klagenfurt. He specialises in theories of globalisation, identity and interculturalism. He has widely researched the social processes surrounding EU integration and has written extensively on these topics.
Q Many think that the new EU legislation on European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation (EGTC) should form the legal framework for the construction of a Euroregion covering Slovenia, Southern Austria, North-eastern Italy and North-western Croatia. According to the relevant regulation, pre-existing political and administrative bodies (Regions, Land, States and Provinces) should jointly contribute some of their administrative powers to this crossborder Euroregion. How do you think this new institution could challenge the perception of the roles of the Nation-States in our society?
A The EGTC offers a complete new definition of state border: I mean it represents a change from a national to a supranational reality. The â€˜genetic codeâ€™ of EU institutions which requires a â€˜pooling of sovereigntyâ€™ is being applied for the first time to the borders of Member States. This legislation provides an instrument for the common management, use and administration of a set of strictly defined and agreed matters. Whereas the Interregs and other previous EU cross-border instruments were conventional in the sense that independent organizations from different states cooperated, the EGTC has the potential to create a single supranational organisation for administering the border – from a line of control and distinction the border moves to become a place of common utilisation. Its implementation would mean a complete negation of the nation state in an important element of its identity – the outer boundary. However, for the time being I do not see any attempt in the Alps-Adriatic space to use the EGTC in such a manner. The new cross-border projects for the 2007-2013 period seem to continue in conventional patterns of inter-state cooperation and refer to the EGTC, if at all, only rhetorically.
Q Do you think that a Euroregional identity could be considered more relevant compared to the discourses of identity offered by Nation-States?
A The supportive attitude towards cross-border cooperation which we observe in todayâ€™s Zeitgeist, the ever-growing cross-border business activities together with EU funding of cross-border cooperation, stimulates awareness of what is going on in the territories across national borders amongst significant numbers of people. The recognition and realisation of cross-border opportunities bind people together, creating a feeling of community on the basis of mutual advantage. In the Alps-Adriatic territories there is an additional factor for creating community and this is centuries of common history prior to WWI. For the people between the Alps and Adriatic the time of their separation into nation states is much shorter than that of being together in the past. Hapsburg rule left many constructions and buildings in these territories which can create a feeling of communality even amongst those who are not historically involved. Demonstrating an Alps-Adriatic cross-border identity could be seen as a â€˜softâ€™ asset for building relations and developing common projects.
However, as I indicated before, we live in an era of multiple identities and, even more, of Western individualism and the dominance of particular interests connected with it. In this precarious situation for all collective identities the conflict between regional cross-border identity and a national identity such as Italian or Slovene need not be feared. In fact, my personal opinion is a feeling of attachment to the cultures and peoples across the borders and remembering our common history can enrich our identities as Italians, Austrians or Slovenes. Moreover, collective identities are also linked to material conditions, and here the Nation State is still more competitive than cross-border situations. Today I see no antagonism between the cross-border identity and the national identity, at least not in the Alps-Adriatic area.
The much greater risk, in my opinion, is getting lost in the numerous commercialised and pseudo-political identities offered by the forces ofglobalisation. Let us not forget, that in certain contemporary socialmilieus identifying with the logo of arbitrary global brands is moresignificant than identifying with a territory, culture or nation.
Q Some people see a national language as the primary indicator of one’s identity. What do you think should be the languages used and taught in the contexts of the Euroregional area to support cross-border cooperation, both in the public and private sectors?
A Personally I consider knowledge of a foreign language as an advantage. However, I am sceptical about obligatory foreign language learning. Nevertheless, for the Alps-Adriatic area the learning of the languages of this area should be encouraged and the necessary organisational opportunities (education, exchanges, etc.) created. I do not think that knowing a foreign language can negatively affect oneâ€™s identity. x