Many authors distinguish between collective and individual identity, or between the collective and individual dimensions of identity (e.g. Calhoun 1994, Taylor 1989). At first glance it seems quite obvious that European identity is a collective identity or a collective dimension of identity. On closer inspection we find that both identities (and its dimension) are bound together and both are a part of personal, subjective identity. The collective dimension arises, manifests and transforms itself when experiencing cultural differences, e.g. in a situation when I cannot successfully apply other dimensions of my identity. For example, we can imagine that in being a member of an ethnically dominant group one does not encounter different cultures so often, as being a member of an ethnically non-dominant group. Hence, the collective identity of ethnic minorities is stronger as well as the bonds of solidarity and loyalty.
On the other hand, the members of dominant ethnic groups do not show such strong mutual solidarity and loyalty. Let us pose the important question: Why do we have the need of collective identity at all? It is because collective identity is the manifestation of individual identity and the need to identify ourselves with something as abstract as national identity is the consequence of crisis of individual identity (Cohen 2000). Collective identity could be understood as an overlap of individual identities (Appiah 1994). When we research collective identities we deal with the serious problem of dialectics between a subjective identity and a socially recognized (or inflicted) identity. By using the notion of collective identity we are at risk of cementing a fake hypostasis (Berger and Luckman 1999).
The category of collective identity could work as a kind of scenario which reproduces embedded cultural patterns and stereotypes (Appiah 1994), and therefore creates an obstacle in the open and reflexive process of identity formation. We are getting into the trap of the methodological nationalism which consists of fostering national stereotypes, foreclosure, and mutual ignorance, hence conserving group antagonism and ground for potential conflicts (Lesaar 2001: 181). When talking about collective identity we have to realise that collective identity is not a “thing”, a “real entity”, let alone a “static entity”, but it is a kind of theory, a concept or analytical tool, something like the lens of camera, through which we perceive and interpret reality (Melucci 1996: 77). As Appiah (1994) argues, there is not a clear borderline between the multicultural policy of recognition and the policy of coercion. Exploring the question of European identity, national identity and their mutual relationships create a serious methodological challenge for the social sciences.
Since national identities have become our “second nature” we need to foster multicultural dialogue and literacy in order to develop and maintain political and civic communication across Europe (Habermas 1996). The dilemma facing the collective identities across Europe comprises the fact that both the recognition and the rejection of national identities cause certain barriers towards reflexive and open identity formation.