Future of European Integration: Team EU at the Olympics?

Twitter account @EU_London2012 (now @EU_sports_team) was counting the gold medals for the EU. Of course, there was no Team EU at the Olympics, but I find it interesting.

Questions:

1. Can you imagine the situation when the citizens of the EU from the different nations will root for for one Team EU, or not and why?

2.  Team EU won 92 gold medals, but 59 of them belong to Britain, France, Germany and Italy. Don’t you think we need some solidarity with the smaller countries? 🙂

Answers:

Frank HägeLecturer in Politics, Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Limerick

1. Yes, but if that ever happens, it will be far ahead in the future. The difficult part will be to build a common European identity amongst the peoples of Europe first, then these kinds of things will follow almost automatically. As long as national identities outweigh the European one, it is unlikely to occur.

2. It’s not within the power of the larger countries to show solidarity. If their athletes don’t win, it will be athletes from the US or China, not those from Malta or Estonia.

Vihar GeorgievPhD student, European Studies Department, Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski

1. It is very difficult to imagine a Team EU for the Olympics in the foreseeable future. Sport is intimately linked to the notion of national identity, and one of its most potent mobilizers. That is why I am skeptical that one day athletes will be singing the Ode to Joy at the top of the Olympic podium. Even today separatist movements are active in some Member States (the Flemish community in Belgium, Scotland in the UK, Lega Nord in Italy), so it’s more likely to see new flags and new anthems added to the Olympic kaleidoscope rather than only one EU flag and anthem.

2.It’s quite normal that larger Member States win the most medals. These four countries represent nearly 54% of the total EU population. Let’s turn this suggestion on its head: smaller EU Member States should put more efforts and win even more gold medals 🙂

Oliver DaddowReader in International Politics, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Leicester

1. I do not think, in the near future, publics from different nations will necessarily see fit to get behind an EU team in its broadest sense. Public loyalties remain, in large part, tied to the concrete sense of nation as opposed to the abstract notions of Europe. Publics from across the EU (older and newer member states alike) are schooled on the greatness of their nations. The news media generally frame EU-related news stories around ‘clashes’ between states (eg Germany and Greece in the Eurozone crisis). Politicians go to Brussels to ‘do battle’ and ‘stand up for their interests’. This all poses strict limitations on the extent to which publics across the EU would transfer much of their alleagiance from their nation to the much more amorphous notion of a ‘European’ identity. If we take it back to basics, I expect many more people would say they would die to defend their country than would for ‘Europe’.

The exception is a tournament such as the biannual Ryder Cup Golf (where an EU team takes on a US team), where even the notoriously Eurosceptical British public can be seen waving EU flags at the course. But again, this is in the context of a classic sporting event: a binary of one team taking on another team, sometimes on ‘home’ soil and sometimes on ‘away’ soil.

2. Like most things in the EU it seems to be about resources. Much money has been pumped into creating the material and coaching infrastructure in sports such as cycling in the UK. I don’t expect this is the same much outside of France, Italy, Spain and Germany. They jealously guard their technology, secrets and innovations from each other, as I see it. It seems to be the classic EU case of the ‘big’ countries versus the rest! I’m not sure how this could or would be altered – only an EU team would benefit and this is unlikely for the reasons given above.

Carolin Rüger,Institute for Political Science and Social Research – European Research and International Relations, Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg

I also know a German website counting the medals for the “EU team”. It is not quite fair to compare the imaginary EU team with other national teams since the Europeans would have less team members if all nations were put together in one single team. In this case, there would also be less chances for medals.  Nevertheless, it is a nice gimmick and a positive signal in times of crisis.

The message is: As one team the EU can be strong – and this is not only true in sports.

Steven Van HeckeSenior Fellow – Research Group European and International Politics, University of Antwerp

1. I don’t think it is to happen soon. Look at what it took for GB to have one football team (instead of England, Wales and Scotland). There might also be a language problem with group sports …

2. The big countries would oppose it, for good reasons, it seems. Team EU would be used by the smaller and less succesful countries to raise their standards, I’m afraid.

Perhaps it would be better (and realistic) to start with exchanging good practices among EU member states.

Pavlos EfthymiouPhD Candidate in Politics and International Studies, St. Edmund’s College, University of Cambridge

I think that it would be a great development but nations are not ready for this yet. Perhaps a first step would be to have dual nationality. Meaning: Team GB/EU, Team GR/EU, so that we bring it more gradually to the desired final level. That said, I feel that in sport, it is natural to have competition even among best friends, one supports Werder and the other Bayern and all is cool, or twin brothers play against each other in the same league with diff. teams or best friends play against each other in a 5 a side next to their homes. Point is that this is healthy nationalism, and healthy competition, for which there should be no rush to address – it will come naturally if integration continues. What would be perhaps useful is if we made more regular stories of how well we are doing as EU here and there and everywhere so that more and more people embrace their European identity and citizenship. The unhealthy economic reality and relations intra-EU however, could be in part soothed, in terms of public opinion always,  through athletics and sport, bringing EU athletes closer together and creating a spirit of competition with US and China and other large  countries as ‘EU’ where we will have a massive advantage. That said, even in a Team EU future scenario, the Hungarians would still be exhilarated to  see their boys winning in Canoe and Kayak.

Alex Warleigh-LackProfessor, The School of Politics, University of Surrey

1. I don’t think EU leaders would dare create one yet. It would be like showing a red rag to a bull in political terms. But I think that a ‘Team EU’ could actually get more popular support than many people imagine – the Europe team for the Ryder Cup in golf gets huge support, even in Britain. It would be an interesting idea to take the winners of the European championships and organise a meet between them and the best of the US and China. It think it would depend how many representatives the eu could send – less than the current total for the member states, of course, but more than the us can send, to reflect the fact that between them the member states have a large share of the best sportswomen and men in the world?

2. This could be one of the downsides of a team EU – in many sports the EU representatives would be likely to come from one of the bigger and/or wealthier states, whereas at present if their athletes meet the qualifying standard any European nation can send them to the Olympics. I guess in sport that matters less than in economics…on the other hand, it might become a matter of pride to represent the EU if this is seen as a badge of excellence – for example, the great tradition of Czech tennis players. Petra Kvitova would be EU number 2 right now. And Agnieska Radwanska would be EU no. 1 – Poland’s not a ‘small’ country, of course, but it’s not one of the traditional EU leader states either.

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One Response

  1. “The exception is a tournament such as the biannual Ryder Cup Golf (where an EU team takes on a US team), where even the notoriously Eurosceptical British public can be seen waving EU flags at the course. But again, this is in the context of a classic sporting event: a binary of one team taking on another team, sometimes on ‘home’ soil and sometimes on ‘away’ soil.”

    I take exception to this. For a start is is EUROPEAN team, not an EU team that competes in the Ryder cup. Europe is not the EU and the EU is not Europe.

    Of course, the EU, disgracefully, tries to hijack this event even though it has no right to. As far as the sentence that British people can be seen waving the EU flag, this is quite simply a lie, pretty much like the rest of the sentence.

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