Officially born in Maastricht in 1993, European citizenship is unique in its kind: it is the first transnational citizenship of the modern era, and arguably the testimony of a prodigious path of integration among nations that, after years of troubled relations, finally came together to create the biggest area of democracy and freedom in the world. Almost thirty years later, European citizenship remains a highly topical issue for a number of reasons. In a general sense, it is pressured by the rise of populism, nationalism, as well as the constantly increasing constraining dissensus of national actors vis-à-vis supranational institutions. More specifically, however, recent developments, such as Brexit and attacks on the rule of law in some Member States, make a re-discussion of this form of citizenship ever more urgent.
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From a European point of view, one of the most relevant citizens’ rights was the right to vote and to stand as a candidate in any EU country during the elections to the European Parliament. Approximately 427 million citizens from all over the European Union were invited to elect their European representatives from 23-26 May 2019. In doing so, they actively took part in the democratic life of the European Union. Among them were also EU citizens who voted in their country of residence rather than their native country, and EU citizens being eligible for vote on national lists in countries other than their own.
Whilst not the only concrete example of the application of citizenship rights, but arguably the most timely, European elections once again underline the relevance of such rights for citizens of the Union. Europeans are entitled to a number of rights, which go far beyond election cycles. The crucial question is, however, whether the opportunities of EU citizenship in other areas are only relevant to EU citizens who leave their country of origin. Or are they also important to the static population and therefore to all Europeans alike. This publication and its contributors argue for an inclusive understanding of European citizenship, applying to all Europeans regardless of their mobility status.
While the existence of EU citizenship is undisputed, we must ask ourselves: Do we really know what European citizenship is and do we make the best use of our rights? While in 2018 seven out of ten Europeans felt that they were citizens of the European Union, only a slight majority knew about their citizenship rights and one third would even have liked to know more. The knowledge is there, but not necessarily the competencies for its application. Referring back to the introductory example, this years’ European elections – with a turnout of 50.66%, the highest in 25 years – are a beacon of hope in that regard.
“To be or not to be – EU Citizenship” aims to shed light on the rights of EU citizenship and to fill the gap between knowledge and application. It presents a number of concrete issues and perspectives around EU citizenship, which are of interest for liberal and non-liberal readers alike. Lying at the heart of the European project, EU citizenship is far more than European identity and does not merely limit itself to free movement either. It is a legal status, enshrined in the European Treaties. EU citizenship has evolved over time and confers a set of civil, social, political and economic (fundamental) rights upon citizens of the EU. The concept of active citizenship is moreover a call to action to citizens of the EU to get involved and take on responsibilities.
This publication aims to introduce these rights and opportunities, present some practical examples of application and give recommendations on how to make even better use of our rights and advance active citizenship. At a time when the liberal international order and, with it, European politics, politicians and political parties are increasingly questioned or even under threat, an active European citizenry is more necessary than ever. Active citizens as members of a political community are vital for all levels of a functioning democracy. In the aftermath of the First World War, the German Liberal Friedrich Naumann created a new approach to democratic development with the establishment in 1918 of his school of citizenship (“Staatsbürgerschule”) in Berlin. He believed that for a fledging democratic system to succeed, we need citizens who understand the procedures, believe in democratic rules and become personally involved. Driven by the emerging contrast between the emperor’s subjects and the new self-assured and active democratic citizens at that time, today Naumann, among others, is still a source of inspiration for civic education.
More than 100 years later, the topic is far from being less relevant. The present publication is the end of a one-year journey on the topic of EU citizenship, aiming at highlighting the multi-faceted concept of citizenship and its rights for a non-legal audience. While the 2019 European elections were one undisputed highlight of that journey, Brexit was another major, if less pleasant event involving citizenship questions. Expected in 2019, it has not yet taken place at the time of writing. These examples highlight that we can predict the future only to a certain extent, but we can at least prepare ourselves by deepening our knowledge and acquiring the competencies to make the best use of citizenship rights.
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European Affairs Manager
Italian, Maltese, Swede, Belgian, French, Bulgarian – no matter which nationality of one of the 28 EU member states you possess, you also enjoy EU citizenship and the numerous freedoms and opportunities it entails.
However, only one in two Europeans are fully aware of their status as citizens of the EU and one in three is not sure about what it actually means. This is surprising and alarming at the same time, as the concept of EU citizenship in itself is not new.