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A common purpose

As the EU celebrates its 50th birthday (34 years with Britain as a member), its education ministers believe things have progressed enough to talk about a European history textbook common to all 27 countries.

Germany and France have shown the way forward out of ancient enmities with a joint collaboration on a history text, entitled GeschichteHistoire, already used in schools. But ministers in other countries are battling to define a common history for the entire continent post Second World War, which will overcome national myths.

The European Standing Conference of History Teachers' Associations, Euroclio, which advised Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina on their common history book, acknowledges that some things are interpreted very differently, but there are also things in common. Different interpretations are part of the discipline of history itself, the association points out.

History teachers foresee another problem in that EU ministers are not really interested in telling it like it was, because the stated purpose of the proposed textbook is European "identity building". The EU's own surveys show that the sense of "Europeanness" is declining among young people, even in pro-EU countries.

A Euroclio survey found a decrease in international and European history topics taught in schools during the past decade in favour of national histories. This is a debate raging within the UK itself, as Chancellor Gordon Brown urges schools to promote "Britishness", while some Scottish teachers and politicians lament the failure to promote Scottish history.

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