This article explores historically grounded connections between cultural and political identities, and how they persist in contemporary Europe within its multilateral or ‘supranational’ frameworks. It argues that nations remain the starting point (and for many the end point) for conceptions of belonging and of political legitimacy. While economic prosperity is an essential ingredient, the European project cannot be built or sustained by perceived common economic interests alone. In recent years this has been realised by élites in favour of integration and has resulted in an increased concentration on the cultural dimension. Creating and psychologically implanting a formula which activates a resolute belief in a ‘common cultural heritage’ has proven difficult however. By comparison historiographic influences and contemporary social referents are still overwhelmingly national in character.