Seminar on Citizenship in Northern Europe


As Finland and Sweden start their third year as members of the European Union, their citizens still face a dilemma: how will greater contact with other European political cultures affect their own national identities and concepts of citizenship? Will the EU become more 'Nordicised' or will the two Nordic countries be absorbed into a nondescript European federalism?

The issues raised by the concept of Citizenship in Northern Europe were explored in a seminar organised in September by the Finnish Institute and the School of Slavonic and East European Studies. Perhaps as a symptom of new mobility among scholars, over half of the speakers work outside their native countries.

One question asked in the seminar was whether a new supranational European loyalty can be engineered. If there were Nordic doubts about this, they were certainly strengthened by the contribution of Cris Shore (Goldsmiths College). He described numerous 'symbolic measures' taken by the EU to create a European identity, some of them serious, some amusing. With the emergence of a 'European people' seeming distant and lagging far behind the creation of European politics, the 'democratic deficit' is striking. "Without a demos", said Shore, "there can be no democracy - and a democratic system without 'demos' is just 'cratos', power."

For Finland and Sweden there is the added feeling that the centre of power is migrating to distant places, as Jussi Simpura (National Research and Development Centre for Welfare and Health, Finland) pointed out. This anxiety is accentuated by the fact that in Finland and Sweden there is a "coexistence of the state and civil society". The basic ethos of social institutions "has been and still is one of a good and benevolent state where all the citizens are members with access to decision-making on equal footing."

Conflict of political cultures

Thus the Nordic political culture would seem to be in conflict with the emerging European world of unregulated markets and weakened nation-states. Lars Trägårdh (a Swede working at Columbia University), went as far as predicting a collision: "Given the secular trends that seem to undermine the nation-state and favour solutions that build on federalist policies and a greater involvement of the institutions of civil society in supplying 'welfare', it would appear that the Swedes would be heading towards a deep crisis."

New problems in Northern Europe are, however, changing social reality. Doubts about the effectiveness of state action have emerged. According to Anneli Anttonen (University of Tampere) "in Finland a very important basis for social and gender solidarity among citizens has been the state-protected right to work and earn one's own income." In conditions of high unemployment this right cannot be guaranteed, and wage labour is not a source of social solidarity.

"The revitalisation of civil society gives us one possible solution to marginalisation and to the dependency culture in a society where wage labour cannot any more be the norm for citizenship."

Anttonen referred to suggestions that the idea of social citizenship should be based on a combination of wage work and community service instead of full-time employment.

In spite of many doubts about the direction of the European Union, the tenor of the seminar was not hostile to it. Elizabeth Meehan (a Scot working at Queen's University in Belfast) was encouraged by the possibility of new contacts and networks in Europe.

"For a long time, the European Commission, despite its sometimes daunting appearance and jargon, has been relatively open to people from non-governmental organisations - often people representing the interests of the poor. It has also been possible for women's groups, voluntary associations, trade unions, and specialists in equality issues, vocational training and the delivery of other public services to gain access to Commission officials. This access stems from the Commission's need for legitimacy and, given its small size, its need to call upon alternative sources of expertise."

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