To those who doubt the relevance of the European project today, we can provide countless answers such as: Europeans are stronger together economically than they would be if they were to be divided. Similarly, Europeans would be stronger militarily, if they had a common army.
Eurosceptics also provide various rebuttals to these arguments: most of them argue that each European country could do as well alone. Furthermore, they go on to say that, in any case, beyond matters related to the economy and defence, national identity is the only thing that is politically and culturally important and it must be safeguarded. According to the Eurosceptics, the reason for this is because there is no European identity. There are also other opponents, albeit rarer, of the European Union that have a different narrative. In particular, this narrative consists of saying that they are not against the European project, provided that it serves to defend European identity, protecting it from any infiltration by people, religions and cultures from elsewhere.
It leads us to the key question, which will drive the political debates next year. This question deals with the nature of European identity: If it exists, is it historical, geographical, religious, political or ethnic? All these dimensions deserve to be studied. However, it all leads to dead ends or arbitrary choices: where do European borders stop? What religions are worthy of being considered as European?
Perhaps it is only art that provides a convincing answer to this question: indeed there is a European artistic identity. A work of art that is European can be recognized without hesitation.
It may not necessarily be the work of a European artist (because Europe has exported her vision of the world to other continents), or from European heritage (because Europe knew how to integrate art forms from elsewhere in its conception of art). The identity of European art comes precisely from its ability, which is practically unique in the world, to integrate immense cultures from elsewhere over time, transcend and give it a new form.
In time: European art is the heir of Greek statuary, drama and poetry; biblical narrative, Latin statuary, drama and poetry, orthodox icons, Gaelic stories, Germanic, Nordic, Roman and Gothic architecture, Christian religious painting, and everything that has followed until today. Though not ever cutting ties with its past or trying to forget it.
In space: European art has always been very open to influences from elsewhere: we find, starting from the Greek period, Egyptian, Persian and Indian influences. And soon after, Chinese, Arab, African and then Native-American influences. And today, European art, more than any other, receives, acknowledges and transforms everything that originates from everywhere else.
This exceptional ability to be nourished from the past and through its neighbours can only be found in very few other cultures. In particular, it is found in the United States, Canada and Brazil—three cultures that are, in fact, very largely European utopia that succeeded to a certain extent. On the other hand, it is practically not found in any other culture, neither in Asia nor in Africa, the Americas and Oceania, which for the most part had remained closed to the rest of the world until very recently. In fact, they were even closed off from their own past, because each dynasty sought to make a clean sweep from the previous one.
In a very real sense, European identity reveals itself through art: to have enough self-confidence to not be afraid to be nourished by what comes from elsewhere. This must not be forgotten.