Smaller countries in the European Union struggle to assert their identities and promote their talents in a federation long dominated by the Big Four. The experience of small business units in large multinational firms may provide them with a way forward. Both large and small stand to win. Alongside unification we witness growing localism: Catalonia, Corsica and Lombardy are seeking more autonomy; new Euro-Regions are emerging. Small countries such as Sweden, Greece or Ireland, are struggling to find their role in the expanding European Union.
Will strong localism be a benefit or a barrier in the continuing process of unification? Will small countries have to give up their local identity for the sake of a “European Nation”? There are no easy answers to such questions, which are not without deep psychological impact for the citizens and consumers of Europe.
The local context seems to have particular importance for the European Union as the member states have a long history of warfare and alliances, the result of differing value sets and conflicting interests. On the other hand, improved transport and communication networks, booming sales of mobile telephones and the adoption of the Internet for e-commerce support Dichter's vision of the world customer as someone who can virtually shop at any place in the world.
However, such concepts as Ogilvy & Mather's “Eight Nations” concept provide evidence that the local context survives in natural clusters with a strong regional, economic and social identity rooted in lifestyle and quality of life concerns. These local clusters are characterised by stable relations and shared experiences (emotions and values). Apparently, the development of new technologies and the opening of geographic boundaries increase the individual's desire for security. The anchor is found in local belonging, a social location of comfortable and safe size.
Looking at the European Union, localism is an even more important issue: Eleven small countries constitute already homogeneous locations which function as anchors for the local consumer: Cross-border Euro-Region s and the emergence of metropolitan areas such as Greater London and the Île de France enhance this trend. And more small countries are about to join the EU. (We define small countries as those with populations less than 2/3 the size of the Big Four: France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom.)
As the European Union becomes more centralised and the Big Four dominate decision taking, the potential for conflict endangers the organisation as a whole. Already small countries need to be looking for defence mechanisms and developing survival strategies for the future.