How to be European? Denationalized life in the capital of Europe
Département des Sciences Sociales, sociologie Université Libre de Bruxelles Bruxelles, Belgium
European integration is based on the free circulation of goods, services and people inside the borders of Europe. Mobility would indeed allow erasing the national borders and would perhaps lead to the construction of a supranational feeling of belonging. But, for now, various ways of being or feeling European coexist within the European society.
My paper propose to explore a certain way of becoming European, or, at least, of feeling European. In Brussels, for many individuals working in or around the European institutions, the sense of belonging to Europe is clearly connected to the opportunity to live denationalized lives in the city. Through a qualitative research based on interviews with civil servants and trainees of these international institutions, we will show that those specific international workers experience a deterritorialized and denationalized universe on a daily basis. The way they use and appropriate the city of Brussels but also the way they privilege social encounters within their own cosmopolitan environment reinforce their belonging to the European identity.
The Brussels´ case is particular in this respect. Since the installation of the European Institutions in 1958, the city has known an unprecedented increase of the European foreign population. Today, the international functions of Brussels attract more than 100.000 persons working directly or indirectly for the construction of Europe. These foreigners, far from considering themselves as migrants, are multilingual. They value the experiences of international mobility and privilege a cosmopolitan environment. The outbreak of international infrastructures, the specific services intended for this qualified foreign population, the international and European schools of Brussels, the cosmopolitan universe offered by the capital (at least by certain places in the capital) but also the weakness of the Belgian national identity are some of the elements which create a real opportunity to experiment a denationalized live. My PHD research brings to light the ambivalent character of their feeling of belonging: even if the national roots remain present in their mode of identification, they value in the same time a symbolic and pragmatic identification to an European cosmopolitism.