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Disentangling national and EU citizenship – the debate revisited

In previous episodes and separate research reports, we discussed the concept of EU citizenship as well as the most important rulings from the CJEU (Micheletti, Kaur, Rottmann and the recent Tjebbes case) on the relation between EU citizenship and the national citizenship laws of the EU Member States. We are therefore well equipped to continue our discussion of the possible need for harmonization of the Member States’ citizenship laws or the desirability of making EU citizenship an autonomous status independent of national citizenship.

The GLOBALCIT Observatory recently organised a debate around this theme and the contributions were bundled this month in Should EU Citizenship Be Disentangled from Member State Nationality? The kick-off contribution by Dora Kostakopoulou starts with the suggestion that the time is ripe for the disentanglement of EU citizenship from Member State nationality, and she suggests Article 20 TFEU could be reformed as follows (the part in italics is Kostakopoulou’s addition):

Citizenship of the Union is hereby established. Every person holding the nationality of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union. However, loss or absence of a Member State nationality would not automatically result in the forfeiture of Union citizenship, if the loss of EU citizenship is at stake.

Alternatively, if one would aim for a more autonomous EU citizenship so that “the EU would also have the power to make an independent determination of the EU’s citizenry”, she suggests the Article could have the following wording (her addition again in italics):

Citizenship of the Union is hereby established. Every person holding the nationality of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union. Every person holding the nationality of a Member State or declared as an EU citizen shall be a citizen of the Union.

It is unlikely however that “the time is ripe” for a more autonomous role of EU citizenship, with nationalist parties becoming stronger all over Europe and with the Eurosceptical parties likely to grow in the upcoming EP elections in May. Richard Bellamy hints in this direction too, as his response stresses that “the EU itself only exists as a creature of the contracting states”. Similarly, Jelena Dzankic notes that Kostakouplou’s proposal is “problematic because it would delegitimize the very existence of the EU as a voluntary association of states”. At the same time, Willem Maas’s contribution demonstrates that ideas for an autonomous EU citizenship have been around for a long time: “in 1943 the Italian Movimento Federalista Europeo promoted a European ‘continental’ citizenship alongside national citizenship”, while “some early drafts of the 2003 constitutional treaty [rejected by both the French and Dutch population in a referendum] specified that each EU citizen ‘enjoys dual citizenship, national citizenship and European citizenship’”.

Dimitris Christopoulos supports the extension of EU citizenship to long-term residents from a “republican democratic argument”. This would prevent an individual from being subjected to legislation which s/he did not have the chance to (dis)approve. Christopoulos considers it unlikely that this can be achieved by harmonizing the nationality rules of the Member States “due to the plural histories of nation building on the Old Continent”. He thinks it more likely, and in doing so is probably too optimistic about the European population’s identification and affinity with the EU institutions, that strengthening EU citizenship will in turn strengthen the European idea and stimulate voting in European elections. He feels that over time this could lead to an EU Directive on Citizenship.

Daniel Thym is sceptical of Kostakopoulou’s proposal, primarily because “the main added value of most citizenship debates is the symbolic dimension”. As we explained in a previous post a growing number of migrants with a secure residence are indeed not interested in naturalization. Discussions on identity also distract from what seem other pressing concerns among the European population, namely economic precarity and the rapidly changing demographic composition.

It is unfortunate that none of the contributions address these concerns and keep suggesting that flaws in the EU’s architecture will likely be overcome once the electorate shows a stronger involvement with the EU institutions, and once citizens are given and use their unconditional freedom of movement within the EU territory. While such unconditional freedom might suit the individual, the long-term demographic problems that this entails for both sending and receiving countries, for example in Poland where Polish workers who move to Western Europe are in turn replaced by Ukrainian citizens, are overlooked. Other demographic problems, such as rapidly declining birth rates that are considerably below replacement levels, are problems that countries are only hesitantly start to come to acknowledge. Concrete steps, for example by the Hungarian state that financially rewards having children in an attempt to increase the fertility rate, are generally frowned upon and framed as a eugenics policy.

While the contributors to the GLOBALCIT debate take different positions, none of them question the underlying principles of the EU, thus seemingly confirming Wolfgang Streeck’s thesis that opposition to the EU is still widely seen as immoral. The contribution by Liav Orgad comes closest to addressing some of the abovementioned concerns, by pointing out that what underlies the problematic relation between national and EU citizenship is also the lack of a shared identity (a European demos); EU citizenship, therefore, is essentially an instrumental status, “decoupled from even the thinnest of identities”, and may therefore ultimately undermine solidarity.

Author: Dr Olivier Vonk

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