Citizenship and Identity


Europe: in search of an identity

The Citizenship of the Union is not a consolidated reality, rather, we are attending to the beginning of a long process that will result in one or another way depending on European integration process fate. To fully develop a meaningful European citizenship is necessary that a sort of European identity arise. Just like the compulsory educational systems had a main performance in building up national identities, the role of schools and universities in fostering a sense of belonging, an European identity will be of the most importance.

Let have a glimpse of the main topics of the current debate on European citizenship and its possible evolution. 

Supporters and detractors

The gradualist approach of European construction, devised by Monnet, was possibly the only one feasible and the one that has allowed progress in the integration process. However, that way of building up Europe has been based on bureaucratic institutions negotiated by official élites that produce essentially decisions of economic sort. This measures, and that is the main point, are contemplated with great indifference and distrust by member States citizens. The Brussels bureaucracy  is considered as a very distant reality by the ordinary Europeans. 

The institutionalisation of the Citizenship of the Union in Maasticht has been, with no doubt, the most important effort of building a bridge between the Union institutions and the citizens, of making them feel the economic and administrative regulations of Brussels as something that has to do with their rights and duties, with their identity.

At the moment, the result of this attempt has been rather disappointing enough.  Europeans largely ignore the new citizenship statute, the lack of information is the general rule, and, arguably, the feeling of European identity has not spread so much. 

Which are the reasons of this relative failure? Answers, evidently, vary according to the previous views on European integration process.   

For the most pro-Europe observers, the Citizenship of the Union, as it is detailed in the Treaties, is a completely insufficient legal statute. It grants quite worthless rights, edited in a quite hurried and confused way and, in consequence, it is not a surprise that Europeans do not get enthusiastic about it. 

Declaration of 

Furthermore, there are observers, as J.H.H. Weiler, that comment the extended rumour that affirms that the inclusion of a chapter on the European citizenship in the Treaty of Maastricht was due to a last minute complaint of Felipe González, Spanish prime minister at that moment. González highlighted the fact that the great imbalance between great economic advances (Economic and Monetary Union) and meagre political progress in the Treaty that was to be signed in Maastricht, will spark off discontent in the European public. It is reported that the European leaders rushed to edit, in a quite amateurish approach, the chapter on the European citizenship.

Nevertheless, for the most Pro-Europe sectors the rights yielded by the Citizenship of the Union are quite limited, and the most important, free movement of persons, is not completely developed. For the most radicals, the Citizenship of the Union is an empty of genuine content statute, that is being used to sell the idea of Europe. It is to hide the reality: Europe solely advances in economic integration, but as far as political integration is concerned it goes at snail pace.

Conversely, there is another opinion, the eurosceptic that consider the advances as excessive and try to put a brake to any subsequent evolution towards political integration an full European citizenship. This view has its strongholds in Britain, especially in the Conservative party, and in Denmark.

In Denmark, the Treaty of the European Union was rejected in a referendum  held in June 1992. The Folketing, the Danish Parliament, presented in December to the Edinburgh European Council, a document, Denmark in Europe, that summarised the reluctant Danish view about the advances of the Treaty of Maastricht, and among them, the institution of the Citizenship of the Union.

The European Council, to make easier the Danish support to the Treaty, reaffirmed officially that the European citizenship doesn't substitute at all the national citizenship, and the UE respect to the national identities of its member States. 

The Danish delegation approved an unilateral declaration that summarised a great part of the elements of its eurosceptic stage regarding the European citizenship:

" (...) the citizenship of the Union is a political and legal concept that completely differs from the conception of citizenship in the sense that it appears in the Constitution of the Kingdom of Denmark and the Danish legal system (... ) 

Any disposition of the Treaty neither implies nor foresees a commitment that binds to create a Citizenship Union equivalent to a nation-State citizenship (...)

The citizenship of the Union doesn't grant at all to any resident of another member Statethe right of acquiring the Danish citizenship or any other right, duty, privilege or advantage that come from the the Danish Constitution and  laws."

The future of the Citizenship of the Union will depend on the evolution of the public opinion of its members States between these two opposed views.  

The extension of the rights

For many, the rights included in the citizenship statute are limited and affect to a reduced number of Europeans, so they are considered as irrelevant by most citizens. 

The most significant is, with no doubt, free movement and residence of persons. Although there have been remarkable advances from the Treaty of Rome, where free movement was strictly bound to labour activity, there are still serious limitations that should be eliminated. Despite the different agreements reached, any country can re-establish controls on border whenever its security was considered to be threatened and residence freedom continues having different sort of restrictions.

The other rights affect in a negligible way the daily life of European people: the right of appeal to the European Ombudsman only deals with matters under EU jurisdiction; the right of petition to the European Parliament already existed and has to do with a Parliament with very scarce competences; the right to vote and stand in local government and European Parliament elections in the country of residence affects to a minority of European, the right to have diplomatic and consular protection from the authorities of any other member State concerns solely the Europeans that visit a third country in which there are not embassies or consulates of its own state...

Following the opinion  of the eurosceptic Rahlf Dahrendorf, the European citizenship lays still midway between two conceptions of citizenship: what he denominates theoretical or soft citizenship, certain feeling of being part of a community, of having some certain common goals and  values, and the practical or strong citizenship, real rights  -vote, fair trial, expression, association...-  that can be claimed and juridical institutions to protect the exercise of these rights. 

The great debate in the following years will be: do we make steps forward to strengthen the Citizenship of the Union statute, or do we keep it as a largely theoretical institution?

A step in the first direction has been the edition and proclamation in the Nice European Council of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union

Inclusion or exclusion

From its birth in the ancient Greece, the concept of citizenship has experienced dramatic changes. However something has continuously characterised it, citizenship has always been based on an exclusion rule, that is to say, in defining clearly who are and, mainly, who are not citizens.

Who is entitled to the European citizenship?


The only way to access to the Citizenship of the Unionis is by having one of the member States nationality. It causes a paradoxical situation: the same person coming from a third country with the same circumstances will be treated in a very different way. In some States, this person would get the nationality and, therefore, would become an European citizen; whereas in other States, this individual would be excluded of nationality and European citizenship.

Until recent important changes, Germany's legislation kept on being based essentially on the blood right. German nationality was denied to a third generation Turk, although he/she and his/her parents were born in Germany, meanwhile it was granted  automatically to any ethnic German coming from the old Soviet Union, although he/she didn't know anything about German language or culture. In other countries, as France, this same person would have already acquired the French nationality and, in consequence, the European citizenship.

The citizenship of the Union was launched excluding millions of third countries nationals (TCN) that live within its frontiers. In fact, the permeability of the interior frontiers introduced by the Agreement and Convention of Schengen,  has come accompanied by rising more barriers in the Union external frontiers and by hardening the asylum right procedures. Here, in Spain, on an almost daily basis, we watch with dismay on TV the pateras (small and shaky boats) transporting illegal immigrants from Northern Africa. An unbearable proportion of this trips end up in a tragedy.

One of the greatest dilemmas that Europe currently faces is how to build an Union based on national identities and to exclude, at the same time, millions of TCN that already conform a conspicuous part of Europe's human landscape. These peoples are a significant element of Europe and, therefore, of European identity, which the European citizenship will be based on.

Nowadays, and the tragic events of 11 September 2001 in New York have reinforced this trend, a conservative and reductive view on what is Europe has imposed. But how long will we manage to go on hiding and denying the reality?

The democratic participation

After the signature of the Treaty of the European Union in 1992, what the journalists have denominated democratic deficit became more manifest. We are beholders of a process in which important competences, the foremost example is the economic and Monetary Union and the Euro, has been transferred from national institutions, elected and democratically legitimated, to European institutions not legitimised by people's vote. The members of the European Commission are named by the national governments, the Council of the European Union, despite a growing number of decisions are adopted by majority, continues being an intergovernmental institution. Finally, the European Parliament, the sole institution legitimated by suffrage, has so scarce competences that, its decisions and debate are mostly ignored by public opinion. All those institutions are quite distant from the Europeans, who largely consider them as ruled by a technocratic bureaucracy

The only way to build up a genuine European citizenship should be based on solving this democratic deficit. Citizenship is not a passive condition, that is to say, enjoying a series of rights and freedoms, but, it should be an active citizenship, based on political and civic participation. National citizenship has been constructed historically through this kind of social participation. This involvement has often adopted the shape of clashes and conflicts, which, in the long term, have developed a set of civil, political and social rights and duties, and a conscience of identity.

The European Parliament

At the beginning of the 2000, Joshka Fischer, German foreign minister, put forward again the great European dream: the construction of an European State that, of course, will adopt a federal shape, and whose institutions (President, Parliament...) will be elected by the people and will have political competences of certain magnitude. The citizens of that State will have rights and duties and will count on judicial institutions which they could claim their rights to. In 2000, today and in the next future, this will be one of the greatest debates: the need of establishing a federal European constitution.

The emergence of an European identity

The concept of European identity is, at least, problematic. To some extent, a great part of our continent's inhabitants feel themselves as Europeans, but a majority feel more intensely their belonging to France, Portugal, Spain, or Catalonia, Scotland or Flanders. Identities are not easely separated and, often, different feelings of affinity -ethnic or racial group, gender, political ideas, cultural affinities...- are mingled.

A genuine European Union requires an European identity, but it does not exist. There is no linguistic or cultural homogeneity. A common identity cannot be constructed on neither Christianism, nor democracy, nor economical identity, nor, of course, ethnic identity.

A lot af scholars have been lately trying to get to the bottom of what means to be an European.

Samuel Huntington, a celebrated American academic, affirms that Europe finishes where Eastern Orthodox Christendom and Islam start. So, Greece, member State of the EU, is it not an European country? The Muslims that have been so long living  any neighbourhood of London, Paris or Düsseldorf, are they not European?.

From another point of view, a French scholar, Henry Mondrasse, has claimed that a common cultural European identity does exist and that it could be the base for a political Union. Should this identity be based on individualism, the idea of nation developed in the last centuries, a certain way of combining science and technology or a certain idea of democracy, according to this definition of European culture, which is the difference between an American or an Australian and an European? Could a Russian or a Bulgarian be considered as Europeans?

What I am intending to highlight is that an European identity will not arise from an impossilbe cultural uniformity, neither will be built against other civilizations. Islam is, specially after New York's World Trade Center massacre, the foremost candidate to be the enemy. The victory of this kind of tendences would be a dramatic failure for the very idea of European integration.

One of the most suggestive theories in this field comes from a celebrated German thinker, Jurgen Habermas. According to the well know view of Habermas, in a liberal democracy, citizens should not be identified with a common cultural identity, but with some constitutional principles that fully guarantee their rights and freedoms.This proposal is very suggestive, because it comes from the best liberal and tolerant tradition of Europe, and escapes from and fights against ethnic nationalism, the great foe of peace and freedom in the early 21st century Europe.