The European Citizenship

From the 1990s, citizenship has become one of the key issues of the political debate.  The notion of citizenship is changing at a great pace because of the great economic, social and political changes occurred while the 20th century moved into the 21st.  

The classical concept of Citizenship

We can define citizenship as a legal and political status which allows the citizen to acquire some rights (civil, political, social...) as an individual and some duties (taxes, military service, loyalty...) in relation to a political community, as well as the ability of intervening in the collective life of a state. The latter right arises from the democratic principle of sovereignty of people.

Citizens -of Spain, United Kingdom, France, Portugal, United States...- have a series of rights, granted by their constitutions, but also have obligations, with regard to their national community. In a democratic state, the citizen must fulfil those obligations since they were passed by the representatives they have voted in, using one of the main citizen's political rights, the suffrage.

Citizenship is restricted to people who have that condition. People that live in a territory but lack the status of citizen, are deprived of the rights and duties that citizenship involves. Every state has laws to regulate the way an individual can acquire its nationality, that is to say, the citizenship.

This concept of citizenship dates back to a historical period initiated with the great liberal revolutions in the late 18th century. It is a notion characterised by the pre-eminence of the state-nation as the political community that comprises the individuals. Citizenship is tantamount to nationality.

Challenges to the State-nation and the citizenship equivalent to nationality

From the classic ages (Greece, Rome) to the present the concept of citizenship has evolved. In the 21st century, we will witness citizenship quite different of a kind from today's.

Although the Nation-state continues to be the key element of the world political map, changes are taking place that portend an evident challenge to this kind of political organisation. 

Two major transformations are placing in question the role of the contemporary State-nation and the concept of citizenship that it embraces:

  • Firstly, globalisation, that is to say, the fact that the central and strategic economic activities are integrated on a world scale through electronic webs of capitals, goods, and information exchange. A key element of this globalisation is the development of the Internet and the information society. This globalisation of markets is the decisive factor that has impelled the last step in the European integration, the Economic and Monetary Union. The States-nation are less and less able to cope with the challenges of globalisation.

  • Secondly, the existence of more multicultural societies that break up the theoretical homogeneity of  States-nation. Regional or national diversity (Spain, Belgium, United Kingdom) and multiculturalism and  multiethnicity brought about by growing immigration are key aspects of the new European society.

European citizenship will rise from this new European society. 


The Europe of the future

The road toward launching of the European Citizenship

The right of free movement of persons inside the Community was introduced in the constituent Treaty of the EEC, signed in Rome in 1957. This freedom did not appear bound to any citizenship concept but rather it was closely linked to the conduct of an economic activity. In consequence, the right of residence was accorded to workers and their families, linked to the right to exercise a labour activity in another member State of the EEC.

Although in a meeting of the European Council, held in Paris in 1974, the necessity to grant special rights in the EEC to the citizens of the member States was put forward. It was only in 1976, however, when the Tindemans Report was issued, that for the first time, the object of proceeding beyond a common market and creating a community of citizens, was clearly proposed..

This report, edited by the Belgian prime minister on request of the Summit of Paris 1974, had no success with the governments, though it had an important influence in later steps towards integration. In a chapter, titled Europe of the Citizens, Tindemans proposed the enactment of different measures that made perceptible, by means of outward signs, the rise of a European awareness: unification of passports, the vanishing of border controls, the common use of the benefits of the Social Security systems, the accreditation of academic courses and degrees...

In 1976 a second step took place when elections to the European Parliament by universal suffrage were conducted.  Although Parliament's competences were meagre, for the first time, one of the key elements of citizenship, democratic participation, appeared

Later on, after the Fontainebleau European Council in 1984, a Committee of Europe of the Citizens, presided over by the Italian Euro MP Adonnino, was established. This committee approved a series of unambitious proposals leading to the constitution of a European citizenship.

More audacious was the Project of Treaty of European Union, passed by the European Parliament, in February of 1984, and presented by the euro MP Alterio Spinelli (Spinelli Project). 

In spite of its restraint, the Single European Act (1986) hardly included any of the Spinelli's project proposals, although it adopted, and that is fundamental, the objective of a political European Union. In this manner, a few years later, two Intergovernmental Conferences were convened  to reform the Treaties. One of them focused on the Economic and Monetary Union, the other one, solely on the political Union.

A meeting of the  European Council, which took place in Rome in October 1990, in the course of establishing  the IGCs guidelines, introduced a notion of European Citizenship, as an essential element of the Treaties reform, and with some characteristics and similar rights to those that were later included in the Treaty of the European Union or Treaty of Maastricht.

It was the Spanish delegation that first presented to the IGCs, in October 1990, a text on the European citizenship.  After diverse negotiation, and with the  enthusiastic support of the European Parliament that passed two favourable resolutions in 1991, the Treaty of the European Union came finally to institutionalise European citizenship.