EUROPEAN CITIZENSHIP: FROM CERTAINTY TO UNCERTAINTY

by Pertti Joenniemi

The concept of European citizenship attracts considerable attention and is currently in focus of a number of relevant struggles.

Defining citizenship is a matter of inclusion as well as exclusion and hence the basic nature of the European Union is at stake. Is there a tendency towards "Fortress Europe" with the rights covering only the nationals of the member states? What is the relationship between such a preferential treatment and the universality of the European values? Does European citizenship represent an endeavour to create a direct link between the individual and the European Union, akin to that existing on a domestic level between the individual and the nation-state thereby radically changing the political landscape?

Much of the appeal of the concept originates with the fact that citizenship suggests equality, and functions as an egalitarian symbol. A broad range of groups and activists are interested in making use of this quality in order to improve their position. Moreover, the very concept indicates that the European Union revolves increasingly around political and cultural issues instead of focusing merely on economic objectives, as was largely the case in the early period.

But there is yet another twist to it. The concept of citizenship also demands attention in being a distinctively modern idea, based on the existence of firm and unequivocal boundaries. The practise of citizenship depends on the modern liberal conception of an autonomous individual, capable of free choice and self-regulation, participating in public affairs as she or he decides, and participating with every expectation of influencing the outcome of political decisions.

Yet none of this is possible. The boundaries creating sovereign domains (which made the modern nation-state possible at the global level and made the autonomous individual possible within the state) are blurred and weakened by the transnational character of cultural, economic political organisation. Philip Wexler and Timothy Luke have, among others, pointed out that increasingly the practice of citizenship has turned into a mere simulation, a token with no nation-state in a supra national context such as the European Union. It may be significant in new issue areas such as the politics of consumption, but these alterations further undermine the certainty that could previously be attached to citizenship as a concept and an institution.

Back to index of issues

The uuslogo.jpg (2750 bytes) in London