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Are we moving towards city-zenship?

The role of national citizenship remains the subject of heated debate. What is particularly noteworthy is its relation with supranational forms citizenship (e.g. EU citizenship) but also local citizenship (e.g. “city-zenship”). In one of our infographics we showed that Toronto is among the cities with the highest percentage of foreign-born residents (46%). Percentages for some other major cities range between 25% (Paris) and 62% (Brussels). Migration is thus a major contributor to the expansion of cities all around the world. The United Nations estimates that by 2013, the world will have 43 megacities with more than 10 million inhabitants. Urbanization will also continue, with 68% of the world’s population expected to live in urban areas by 2015 compared to 55% now.

An important question is therefore whether the rise of cities will inevitably mean the decline of nation-states. After all, we have seen in a post on the French Revolution that the invention of national citizenship is a relatively recent phenomenon. It may also require a new citizenship narrative – in other words, a new story showing what different populations (urban vs. rural; mobile vs. sedentary) have in common.

This does not mean, of course, that the nation-state is not still very much alive. FCI explained in two reports how national citizenship and EU citizenship are linked and how citizenship-by-investment programmes have been attacked for “selling” and “compromising” national citizenship while investors are mainly interested in the opportunities offered by EU citizenship. These programmes having been criticized by different EU institutions in recent years, the European Economic and Social Committee also issued a report last month in which it “echoes the European Parliament's call in a recent report to phase out all investor schemes, and urges the Member States to follow this recommendation or provide reasonable arguments and evidence for not doing so”.

On the other hand, authors such as Benjamin Barber, who claims that “man is an urban animal” expect that the demise of the nation-state will continue and will lead to a growing role for cities (possibly with a global parliament of mayors) and bottom-up initiatives such as local governments for sustainability. FCI will continue to analyse the relation between supranational, national and local citizenship and shed light on the growing clash between “thinking like a city” and “thinking like a state”. As Avner de Shalit recently put it, “the city is cosmopolitan, impartial, flexible, and open towards whoever enters it, whereas the state and the nation tend to be particularistic, partial, closed, and inflexible because they are trapped in their institutions, which are not easy to change”. Given the flexibility of the city, are we to expect more “local” initiatives like in Toronto or Hamburg, where it was proposed to grant immigrants voting rights in municipal elections before naturalization – a proposal which only failed because it was overruled by Canadian and Supreme Court?

Author: Dr Olivier Vonk

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