Year XXXV, 1993, Numero 2 - Page 63
European citizenship and new rights for Union citizens
European citizenship, a new political instrument for consolidating the Union after Maastricht.
The Maastricht Treaty introduces a new set of articles, grouped in a section entitled “Union citizenship”, into the founding charter of the European Community (and of the future Union). This section opens with Article 8, which announces the creation of Union citizenship and the fact that this citizenship is conferred on all member state nationals.
In the text itself the concepts of citizenship and nationality are overlapped and confused, revealing a traditional, and evidently not innovative, outlook as regards the attribution of political rights and duties. Under the Union’s new legal system, European citizenship is never recognised as being original, but instead derives without exception from an individual’s nationality – and automatically so. European citizenship can be acquired (or abandoned) only through the acquisition or loss of member-state nationality. The entry of a state into the Union confers European citizenship on all that state’s citizens, while the exit of a region from the Union (the Greenland referendum is a precedent) denies that region’s people their European citizenship, regardless of individual choice.
The Treaty establishes that Union citizens have the right to unrestricted movement and domicile in member states, albeit while conforming with the laws that member states must issue on this matter. The Treaty grants the right to vote in municipal elections to European citizens domiciled in a commune of a state other than the one in which they have national citizenship, but leaves the specific application of this to member states: a pan-European norm may be established, but only if member states are unanimously in favour and the European Parliament confirms it. In admittedly exceptional conditions European citizenship confers the right to diplomatic protection from any of the member states: European citizens will be able to go to a consulate or embassy of another country of the Union, so long as their own member state is not represented in the vicinity. Furthermore, the Maastricht Treaty introduces into the Treaties of Rome the right of petition to the European Parliament (already provided for in the Parliament’s Rules of Procedure) and the services of an Ombudsman (a new departure). Finally it establishes that all subsequent rules regarding the judicial structure of the Union which in the future will add to the Treaty’s citizenship provisions will only be decided by a unanimous verdict of the states, and will take the form of indirectly applicable directives. In this way a significant, built-in obstacle to upgrading the new legal framework is created.
A literal interpretation of the text, without attempting to assess possible developments beyond the framework of the Treaty while at the same time setting the new norms within the context of extant Community laws, makes the Treaty’s articles seem at most a novelty in the sphere of announcements, but lacking immediate legal significance and political repercussions. In fact, Community law has already attributed a series of “fundamental” rights to member-state citizens – the famous four freedoms, the free movement of individuals, goods, services and capital – and the provisions of the Treaty of Rome, like those of Community legislation, can be directly applied by national judges.
But even principles have an undeniable value, presaging more important developments, and it is precisely this potential value of Union citizenship as an instrument for strengthening the existence of the Union and for furnishing it with new political content, that demands that attention (from the viewpoint of elaborating federalist thought) is given to this subject, which could otherwise be relegated -for its legal and technical aspects -to the lecture halls of law faculties. Yet the enemies of Europe in France and Great Britain have immediately attacked the rules contained in the new Treaty, claiming that the new citizenship instrument will damage the indigenous and exclusive nature of national citizenship, and will create a dangerous bridgehead for unspecified outrages against their compatriots. Most recently, Denmark, in an effort to improve the chances of its citizens voting yes in the second referendum on Maastricht, actually drew up an agreement with other member states to opt out of the obligation to grant its own citizens, and those from other countries, the benefits of Union citizenship.
Evidence that the mid-term effects of introducing European citizenship abound with more significant developments than what the letter of the Treaty provides has emerged from the fact that some member states – for example France and Germany – have had to modify their constitutions in order to remove underlying potential contradictions which may have surfaced between domestic and Union legal practice.
European citizenship: a new type of citizenship.
If we look beyond the letter of the Treaty at the principles of federalist thought, it is reasonable to maintain that common citizenship will not be limited to offering a European version of current national legal institutions, but will be by nature innovative. Union citizenship is in fact the first model of a democratic and cosmopolitan citizenship.
In the past there have been numerous examples of citizenship with inherent cosmopolitan tendencies (consider citizenship in the Roman Empire following the edict of Caracalla, in the great 19th century multinational empires and in the Soviet Union in this century), but the attribution of democratic political rights in the full modern sense was never attached to these. Furthermore the most important examples of democratic citizenship in history are marked by their exclusively national character, which prevents foreigners from exercising political rights and even from enjoying some civil rights (consider the citoyenneté of the French revolution and that of the Risorgimento states of the 19th century, up to the modern constitutional citizenships of the post-war period in western Europe).
In comparison to traditional forms of citizenship, the European one is capable of adapting itself more comprehensively to the universal principles of modern democratic thought, to the idea that the attribution of rights should not be limited by language, religion, race or any of the other distinguishing characteristics of individuals. Indeed European citizenship has the natural, inherent vocation of not relying on an individual’s national characteristics (exclusive and already existing and well-defined), nor on characteristics which are linked to the history of a single distinct community (common spiritual heritage, linguistic patrimony, settled residence of a population on a particular piece of territory). European citizenship cannot avoid being reconciled with the free exercise of an intention directed towards the future, with the firm commitment to adhere to an open model of civilised society that is characterised by common values enshrined in the European constitution.
It is precisely this aspect which makes the new union citizenship so similar to the American one, which contains (due to the large number of different ethnic groups and religions in the country, and the “immigrant” origins of all citizens’ ancestors) the most cosmopolitan content among modern democratic citizenships. North American citizenship is more an adherence to constitutional principles than an act aknowledging pre-existing characteristics; it is a declaration of intent for the future rather than a certificate of conformity with the past. Likewise European citizenship must be not simply open, but heading towards being universal. It should anticipate cosmopolitan citizenship in certain ways. As regards principles, it should even be possible for individuals who are prepared to declare their genuine adherence to the system of duties and rights (a civilised design of open society), as defined by the constitution, to acquire European citizenship.
The enormous amount of resources and space available (and the enormous moral dynamism of the pioneers) enabled the United States, until recently, to view their citizenship in unrestricted terms. The closure of American borders in recent decades has coincided with the crisis of US hegemony in the post-second World War period. Contrasting factors (limited space and resources, and the great power of nationalism) have prevented Europeans, with the exception of those states which had large imperial colonies such as France and Great Britain, from maintaining open borders and granting citizenship with similar generosity.
It is certainly difficult to imagine that with the existence of great demographic pressure throughout the world and a considerably unequal distribution of wealth between North and South, Europe can adopt an attitude as liberal as the US one was until the first half of the 20th century. The most recent developments in the citizenship debate (such as the new law recently approved by the French National Assembly) and even that relating solely to domicile rights (it is sufficient to recall the extremely long process to draw up new political asylum rules in Germany) are heading, perhaps even necessarily so, towards the introduction of controls and regulation of the access to rights that have previously been guaranteed with greater generosity. But the avoidance of Europeans becoming submerged under population flows from the world’s poorest regions does not signify blocking all access to citizenship rights: it is necessary to control migratory flows, not to hinder the process of integration.
Hence at least four features should be integrated into the new European citizenship: 1) within the framework of a European immigration policy, it must be possible even for non-member state nationals to acquire European citizenship. By becoming European citizens, these people will then have the right to acquire the national citizenship of the member state in which they decide to take up residence (this turns the current system on its head); 2) the acquisition of citizenship should be based on adherence to the constitution, that is to a system of values and organisation of social life; 3) all discrimination based on inherited citizenship should be rejected (thereby rejecting the ius sanguinis, which denies citizenship to immigrants’ children, regardless of their birth, education and stable, settled presence in their host state); 4) acquired citizenship must in reality (and not only in principle) be compatible with the retention of other non-Community citizenships (dual citizenship).
Acquired rights and new rights under the union.
European citizenship as foreseen by the Maastricht Treaty groups together the inheritance of Community law, which does not recognise a “Community citizenship,” but independently attributes to member-state citizens a series of prerogatives that increase their freedoms. Indeed without the European Community it would not be possible to explain the considerable freedom of movement which western Europeans enjoy in their continent, the equal opportunities that exist in many professional sectors and the guarantees of non-discrimination which they enjoy thanks to Article 7 of the Treaty of Rome. The new citizenship reinforces and fills out this framework, offering citizens categorically wider borders within which their equal opportunities are legally recognised.
Even nowadays, on the basis of the victories of Community law, European society can be presented as an open society, inspired by the principles of equal opportunity and considerable freedoms for its citizens. The varied nature of European society, characterised by language, traditions, legal forms, and different standards of organisation, offers Union citizens a wider choice, and presents them (at least in theory and given that they are fully aware of the opportunities available) with the option of choosing, alongside domicile, between the organisational structure of any member state or region. The mobility of human resources in the past assumed the dramatic connotation of emigration by the poor and dispossessed. Nowadays it can become a resource for all European citizens, who are offered the opportunity to organise their academic career, design their professional career, choose where to be cured or where to retire to, invest their savings, or conclude any type of contract within borders that are much larger than any single member state’s.
In defence of the Union citizen (and not to the detriment of Community institutions) it is also necessary to interpret effectively the new basic principle of Community law inserted into the Maastricht Treaty, subsidiarity: the obligation on the Union not to interfere in decisions that can be taken more effectively and with equal respect for non-discrimination at the closest level to the citizen himself, and hence in accord with the criterion of transparency.
If European citizens are granted rights and duties deriving from the Community’s legal structure, the Maastricht Treaty no longer introduces “new right and duties” but rather expressly recalls (by means of a very vague formula) the constitutional tradition of member states. Even politically advanced documents such as the Oreja report on the European constitution, currently being drawn up by the European Parliament (consulted in the April 1993 version), despite comprehensively listing and categorising fundamental rights under the Union, do not provide any new information as regards the content of rights compared to those guaranteed by member states.
If however we look once again beyond the letter of the Treaty, it can be maintained that the Union will be unable to restrict itself to a recognition at a territorial level of a broader interpretation of rights than those already acquired in the member states. Instead it will be forced (even by subsequent amendments, as under the American constitutional formula) to sanction “new rights and duties”. Indeed the Union itself represents a new fact, an altered situation compared to the past; placed moreover within the context of a level of development of civilised life which is more sophisticated and elaborate than the national one. Precisely for this reason it is inevitable that the Union recognise new rights for its citizens and at the same time oblige them to commit themselves to new duties.
The union, and multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society. The right to integrate, and the right to be different.
One of the most striking aspects in recent years has been the transformation of individual national societies from predominantly homogeneous communities to multi-ethnic ones, following immigration or other demographic group dynamics.
This transformation has taken place (in contrast to what occurred in the past in the US or in the intra-European migrations following the 1st World War) completely independently of the will of the societies receiving immigrants, and often even against the will of the immigrants themselves (this is the case for refugees, be they political or economic, and those seasonal immigrants who end up settling in Europe for lack of an alternative in their native countries or due to the new ties which they create for themselves in Europe).
The arrival in historic European communities of new peoples, characterised by extreme poverty as well as by personal habits, religious beliefs, and social behaviour that are very different (and at times incompatible) creates manifold tensions. Such tensions do not always arise solely in the moment of the immigrants’ arrival (it is sufficient to recall the ships of Albanians on the coast of the Adriatic), coalescing in feelings of fear, sometimes legitimate, on both sides, but tend to remain even after the first or second generation are permanently settled in a country, which unfortunately risks becoming the basis of fixed discrimination suffered from one generation to the next. One can consider the districts of Paris and Berlin where third-generation immigrants (often educated to the same standards as most of their contemporaries) still feel rejected, and moreover away from whom the French and German populations flee, because they feel relegated to the margins of life in these districts and unable to offer their children a settled future there.
The juxtaposition in the cities and regions of the Union of heterogeneous groups will be accentuated by the obligation of “intra-Community” society openness, determined by European integration. These same historic communities will be subjected to pressures and tensions deriving from the equalling of European citizens to national ones, and from the settlement of new groups, foreign to the Union, that must nevertheless be integrated. Faced with the tensions that are already surfacing in society it would be a mistake to ignore them or settle for simplistic options. All racist attitudes need to be rejected with utmost force. Yet an attitude of general legal acceptance, an indiscriminate openness to all the habits, traditions and social behaviour that co-habit in the cities, will generate considerable disquiet among citizens. It would be naive, and in many ways dangerous, to adopt the “pantheistic” attitude of the ancient Romans, who accepted all the divinities of defeated peoples into their religious universe (provided these were not monotheistic) so as to conserve social peace. Nevertheless it is necessary that a society which is open be ready to accept all the inputs that derive from the legitimate exercise of spiritual manifestations or from original ways of coping with day-to-day issues, when there exists in these features a universal content, one that is aimed at all mankind.
The Maastricht Treaty’s proposed solution to the various requirements of integration and diversity is clearly insufficient: the Treaty categorically differentiates between the status of citizens from other member states (who are on a par with national subjects) and those of non-European nationals (who are not considered equal). It ignores the problem of integrating non-European citizens, in whose regard it automatically applies the principle of subsidiarity, leaving the member states’ constitutional terms and laws untouched; these differ greatly from one state to the next and only in a limited number of countries do they provide measures designed to ease the political inclusion and effective social integration of immigrants. On the contrary the Treaty states that the Union should coordinate the states’ action as regards the erection of external barriers to entering the Union (visa policy, rules governing the right to political asylum) with the clear objective of closing borders and thereby reducing the influx from abroad. The Treaty’s proposed solution makes the governments’ embarrassment plain for all to see; they fear losing popularity if the same level of integration is offered to non-Community nationals as to Europeans (who are considered more similar and hence easier to assimilate fully).
If such reservations are understandable from the viewpoint of political decisions taken in the heat of the moment, since they reflect, unfortunately, the opinion of an important part of the population, in the medium term they reveal the weakness of the political planning which inspires them. If the nature of open society is to be preserved, the Union will in fact have to provide some European norms which lay down objectives and common guidelines, whose execution can be left to the states. The Union will have to codify both a judicial structure of integration and a series of norms that preserve the diversity and variety of society. The right to integration will entail certain duties for individual immigrants, even in the form of prohibiting certain behaviour. The right to cultural diversity will result in the duty of the Union and the states, and also of all citizens, not to interfere in certain expressions of people’s individual characteristics.
The balance between integration and diversity (homogeneity and variegation) will mark the degree of openness in multi-cultural and multi-ethnic European societies. The alternation of European and national parliamentary majorities, just as changes in public opinion, will determine the characteristics of this balance.
Economic democracy and the single market.
With the 1985 Single Act, Community law has gained a series of basic rules aimed at enlarging the sphere of opportunities available to individual citizens. As mentioned above, these greater liberties have been confirmed by Community legislation (for example, the free circulation of capital) and the Maastricht Treaty (with comprehensive freedom of movement and the right of domicile for EC nationals).
A further step towards guaranteeing the liberties of all European citizens will be achieved by the activation, albeit only gradually and subject to economic convergence targets, of the third phase of monetary Union. In that moment the purchasing power of citizens will be guaranteed throughout the Union’s territory, without danger of it being eroded by internal (inflation) or external (devaluation) currency instability. Citizens will have then acquired the right to monetary stability.
However, liberalisation does not result solely in greater freedoms for individuals and more opportunities to exercise rights. The reality of increasingly integrated international economies (in which the fate of industrial areas and entire cities and regions is coming to depend on the strategies of industrial elites that are frequently very removed from the problems of industrial zones) must be counterbalanced by new and more elaborate forms of economic democracy.
Many problems are not new to Community law, which in fact has often played an avant-garde role compared to the more traditional and less innovative national structures. Consider for example consumer protection, the policies of safeguarding the market, aimed at guaranteeing its proper functioning (overseeing mergers, competition and public subsidies) and to defend it from speculators and raiders (coordinated oversight of cross-border financial groups, harmonisation of accounting criteria); the policies of regional resource redistribution, the right of joint decision-making in the workplace, introduced into the new statutes of European limited companies; and finally the European Social Charter which, while not being entirely compulsory, is a first step towards establishing the minimum social standards for avoiding so-called social dumping.
Due to the now decade-long opposition of a single member state, Great Britain, the progress so far achieved in this field remains nevertheless highly unsatisfactory compared to the great changes in the structure of the European economy. The right of veto, repeatedly defended by Great Britain in the name of a misunderstood concept of democracy, is thus demonstrated to be completely at odds with the acquisition of new rights by citizens.
The impression of many people in the workforce that their professional destiny, the fate of the workplace itself and possibilities of finding alternative employment in their own region are about to slip beyond all control of democratic institutions is often an accurate perception. If this interpretation is valid, it will be more futile than ever to speak of comprehensive European citizenship. Moreover we are living through a phase of economic development which is increasingly characterised by the necessity (and urgency) of continuous adjustments to strategies emanating from world competition and by increasingly sophisticated technological developments. It is sufficient to consider how significant the industrial progress of Japan and the so-called Far Eastern tigers has been for the European labour market to imagine what spectacular effects China and India’s definitive industrial take-off will have, with the potential of billions of people working at much lower costs than European ones. Until now the response of European industry has been based more on inescapable necessities than on a comprehensive plan of European society: companies have sacked part of their workforces, stopped hiring and encouraged early retirement, as well as moving certain activities to countries outside the Community. The states and local organs have guaranteed the operation of some social stabilisation programmes. Workers made redundant by companies have been guided towards the service sector, whose capacity to absorb them is directly proportional to the state of the economic cycle.
In a demographic situation in which the pressure of new entrants to the jobs market has still not been reduced, the effects of sacking employees from companies has resulted in a steady increase in unemployment to levels currently far removed from the ideal ones of the 1950s and ‘60s; to the point that very large sections of the population are permanently without work, and plainly not enjoying comprehensive citizenship.
For this reason it is the primary task of economic democracy to guarantee individual citizens the right to exercise democratically all actions necessary to escape from the “minority” state caused by unemployment or solely from the danger that unemployment become a reality. This does not mean simply the right to strike and to undertake union action throughout Europe, which are already guaranteed but have not yet become significant factors in European life due to the weakness of European unions. It is also incumbent on economic democracy to realise (at a company level, at the regional economic area level, and up to the level of the Union) innovative policies which, based on the free concert of interests between social sectors, lead to a reduction in the unemployed. One can envisage a policy of permanent education which, using all the territory’s resources (removing them from the states’ monopoly), will stimulate the maximum amount of available energy so as to allow the workforce to achieve a professional qualitative leap, thereby enabling Europe to specialise in technological areas of great potential for the future. In addition one can hypothesise European accords between social sectors for the reduction of the working week, coupled to Union, state and regional policies promoting the quality of life, the recovery of urban areas, and the increased provision of cultural services. To enact such policies one can imagine resorting to new forms of civilian service, aimed at employing not only young people, but also the enormous energies of unemployed workers and part-timers, not to mention those of pensioners. Furthermore, it will be necessary to find a way to guarantee that collaborative economic structures, based on consensus between social sectors, do not exclude the least-represented sectors (the unemployed and the young in search of a first job).
In short the execution of economic democracy will need to be expressed within a new and more sophisticated concept of employment; one in which employment is no longer seen simply as an obligation or as a chore which men and women are condemned to carry out, nor as a right which falls down from the sky, but as the exercise of a public duty in relation to the community.
The environmental issue and the right to protect the environment.
An assumption increasingly shared by the public is that it is the job of democratic public administrations, be they local, national or pan-European, not simply to protect citizens’ traditional civil rights, but also to guarantee current and future generations the right to an environment which facilitates healthy living, procreation and the continuation of the human race. The environmental issue has by now passed on from being a subject confined to youngs’ protest movements, to become one of the world’s great political issues.
The Union will have to guarantee its citizens’ right to preserve the environment, by which individuals, as well as groups, local communities, member states and the Union itself, are permitted to employ all the decisive instruments that will be at the disposal of the Community’s and member states’ judicial structures. Moreover it will be necessary to recognise the pre-eminence in the judicial system of the right to preserve the environment, which is still considered (even when national structures contemplate it in one form or another) a “subsidiary” right, whose imperatives are therefore often subordinated to the satisfaction of other rights.
Hence the preservation of the environment must become one of the objectives of the Union, an institutional duty for all its organs. Clearly this will bet he task of the European constitution and of secondary legislation, not to mention the role of the member states (according to the principle of subsidiarity) to coordinate the safeguarding of this right (and the exercise of duty) with other interests and potentially conflicting rights/duties: primarily the right to free economic initiative and to property.
The interests of regions outside the Union, and the cosmopolitan rights and duties of European citizens.
In an increasingly interdependent world it is impossible to speak of the Union as an open society with a cosmopolitan vocation if the Union does not take charge, in an institutional context, of the problems of regions outside Europe as well. Clearly in this case the need for innovative solutions is posed. Indeed a traditional interpretation of democratic systems holds that public institutions respond exclusively to the majority view of a state’s internal public opinion, whether the state in question be national or multi-national, of small dimensions or continent-wide proportions. If then there exists a large section of the European electorate which calls for protectionist policies, lobbies for closure against the outside world or even for the European government to adopt an aggressive stance with respect to the aspirations and interests of other peoples, the Union government and European politicians would have to accommodate these demands.
Yet if the majority were able to force Europe into enacting a “closed fortress” policy against the entire world or even to follow hegemonic goals, European institutions would not offer any guarantee that Union policy would favour the real medium-term interests of Europeans, who need to be stably placed in a framework of global interdependence. Whatever policy Europe may conduct to the detriment of the international balance would soon be turned into a disastrous situation for Europeans themselves, who will be unable to defend either their quality of life or their liberty in the face of the will of the rest of the world, or even simply a large section of it. Hence, it is necessary to include in the Union constitution innovative constitutional features that can guarantee that medium-term interests (the integration of Europe in the world) are protected and not subordinated to short-term ones, which electoral logic tends to promote.
Two policies (compatible with each other) can be followed in order to guarantee this result. The first solution consists in the inclusion in the European constitution of an article enabling (on equal terms) the transferral of Union sovereignty to the United Nations (or in the future to other international democratic intermediary bodies). The constitution should also declare the unilateral commitment of the Union to promoting the democratic strengthening of the UN and moreover unreservedly recognise the jurisdiction of the High Court of Justice in the Hague (thereby subjecting the Union’s entire foreign policy to the scrutiny of an international tribunal). Such a commitment would represent the clearest enactment of the right of European citizens to promote their interests without being obliged to kill (the right to live in peace and not be obliged to make war against anyone in order to lend weight to one’s legitimate interests), even though, until the world federation is created, it will not be possible to abolish armies.
The second solution, more innovative than the first, takes the form of re-formulating the rights and duties of European citizens as rights and duties towards the whole of humanity: for example, the defence of the fundamental rights of every member of the human race and the right to intervene (even armed) whenever these rights are disregarded. Innovative legal instruments can be attached to the proclamations of principle, with the aim of allowing citizens to carry out tasks in the service of cosmopolitan institutions that are otherwise owed to the Union: the right to fulfil military service requirements in UN rapid-response corps, rather than in the European army; the right to do “cosmopolitan” civilian service (not only for young people, but also in the other forms mentioned above) in place of European or national ones; the right to send a share of personal taxes directly to the United Nations, rather than to European institutions.
In conclusion the Union will have to attribute to “cosmopolitan law” not the 19th century interpretation of the rights of foreigners, but rather consider it as a system of rights and duties for European citizens in relation to the UN. The task of the Union constitution (the first example of a large federation which is multi-national, of continental proportions, and with a cosmopolitan vocation) will be to co-ordinate and balance the exercise of rights which are attributed at various levels to its citizens: rights attributed by national constitutions in relation to local communities and national states; the federal rights which set down the framework of European citizenship; cosmopolitan rights which transform European citizens into citizens of the community of destiny of the whole planet.
The positive and negative aspects of citizenship obligations in a Europe undergoing a crisis of political identity.
Having outlined, albeit in a rough draft, some ideas for the form and content of European citizenship, it is worth assessing whether the citizens of the nascent Union are ready to claim their new rights and commit themselves to respecting the obligations which have been referred to: in other words whether they want to revolutionise their relationship with the political community to which they belong.
Normally such questions are posed by the enemies of Europe, in an effort to justify sceptical or superficial replies, but never for the purpose of attempting a serious analysis. Nevertheless the question is not rhetorical, not even from the viewpoint of those who believe in the possibility of founding the European federation. A positive answer cannot be taken for granted. The theme of citizenship needs to be treated with considerable attention, and avoiding the arousal of emotive responses. Citizenship encompasses such values as community identity and a feeling of loyalty towards a particular political community; any transformation into a European context must be fully discussed with the people. Arguments should be laid out clearly and a considerable willingness to discuss and explain is necessary.
But discussion of citizenship is not difficult simply because it symbolically involves the many positive connotations of the relationship between individuals and the state. The citizenship issue is also difficult to deal with because these same citizens feel increasingly betrayed: citizenship (a democratic institution) is being emptied of meaning by political corruption and the crisis of national states. Both positive and negative aspects of citizenship exist, which makes it difficult to propose a new form of citizenship. Indeed talk of “European citizenship” signifies the search to rehabilitate people to large-scale politics during a historical period in which dissatisfaction with slogans seems to be prevalent.
The relatively rich and advanced societies of western Europe are witnessing a growing number of events that demonstrate the considerable distance between states and their citizens. For example the number of those not participating in elections, or who vote for political protest groups or groups clearly incompatible with democracy, is growing. The tendency of politicians and public administration to be held in contempt is present in almost all European states, as is a manifest indifference on the part of populations to the destiny of their countries.
The “challenge” to the obligations of citizenship in western Europe clearly has several explanations: economic slow-down and the social unrest caused by this, the spread of petty delinquency in the cities, the uncertainty caused by the presence of disturbing social phenomena such as increased drug abuse among many young people, and the risk they run of being infected with fatal illnesses, which causes the ghost of the great plagues to reappear.
However a single political fact seems to connect the profound public dissatisfaction in France, Germany, Spain, Italy and other countries: the degeneration of parliamentary democracy into a “democratic regime” (where the word regime contains a negative connotation, synonymous with the German term Demokratur and the Italian partitocrazia). The “democratic regime” is a political system that is predominantly elitist, remote from the concerns of the “people” (or those who are not professionally involved in politics) and impenetrable thanks to a jargon which is hypocritical, abstract and probably devoid of meaning.
The widespread diffusion of corruption has furthermore convinced a large section of the public in European countries that politicians not only do not merit respect or sympathy, but are at the very least arrogant professionals who manipulate power, if not frequently real and proper criminals. The phrase “they’re all thieves” resounds throughout Europe: and this provides little reason to cheer, given that democracy ought to empower those who are supported by at least a majority of the population.
For different reasons, in the other half of Europe (rehabilitated to democracy after the totalitarian experience of state communism) the obligations of citizenship have entered into a crisis not dissimilar to the western one. Everywhere, the civic enthusiasm of 1989 has been replaced by a more sombre, if not actually desperate tone, which reveals the public’s dissatisfaction with the new order. And even in Eastern Germany, the state enjoying greater economic aid and the greatest potential resources, and which knocked the wall down, the population does no longer proudly proclaim “Wir sind das Volk” but is divided into Wessis and Ossis. In the multi-national states of Central and Eastern Europe the re-awakening of nationalism has actually been transformed into a mass “denunciation” (through referendums and elections) of the obligations of common citizenship. Millions of people have rejected Soviet, Czechoslovakian and Yugoslav citizenship. The communal rights of the citizens of these states (even if they were often nominal rights) have been annulled, and in this way many situations, while not becoming confrontations as fierce as Yugoslavia’s, have resulted in yesterday’s fellow citizens becoming today’s foreigners, deprived of political rights and treated like Gastarbeiter, i.e. guest workers exposed to political and economic uncertainties.
But even Union citizenship, the European citizenship on which these reflections have concentrated, has met fierce opposition by certain sections of the public. It is important that federalists pay close attention to this reaction, not to draw discouraging conclusions, but so as to identify more precisely the terms of the situation. When the first of the two referenda about the Maastricht Treaty was held in Denmark in the summer of 1992, the population chose also (and perhaps primarily so) between belonging to a small, rich, independent state and a community destined to become larger, grow more complex, and shoulder greater responsibilities, as well as having greater potential. With this first vote the Danish rejected the advantages and burdens of the new citizenship.
Even in other states the difficulty of ratification has revealed how the problem of choosing between an exclusively national citizenship (emblem of a closed society) and European citizenship (symbol of an open society) is still a subject which divides public opinion. In France, for example, the positive result of the referendum on Maastricht was extremely tight and risked interrupting the entire process of European integration. But even in Germany and Great Britain a popular vote in recent months would have involved a considerable degree of uncertainty.
It is clear that even a new Union Treaty (already planned for 1996) which transforms the most innovative ideas on European citizenship into the best judicial formulas will not be enough to avoid these obligations of European citizenship being ignored or even rejected by the titleholders of rights and duties which derive from it. European citizenship can provide the means to confirm the Union in the hearts of Europeans, as on the other hand it can remain the never-finished wing of the European building. In order that the new obligations of European citizenship establish themselves effectively among the people and within the Union it is necessary that a large part of the population adheres to them with conviction, affirming them through their daily behaviour, and seeing in them the basis of a more advanced democratic life, of a more comprehensive relationship between rights and duties. The acquisition of European citizenship should represent for the vast majority of the population the moment of gaining greater rights, a qualitative leap in their relationship with public authority, the arrival at a better period for participation in the political and civic life of their community. At the same time, the new citizenship must have cosmopolitan features, that is it must furnish Europeans with a clearer understanding of the link which unites their future to the futures of other peoples in the world.
Such an ambitious objective cannot be kept implicit: it must be properly explained to the public. It cannot be the product of the broad interpretation of a treaty, nor the result of a fortuitous combination of events, nor ultimately the product of the enlightened action of an individual. Civil society must support the transition from old to new citizenship. Moreover such a difficult achievement cannot be maintained over the long term if there exists no clear political mechanism enabling European citizens to maintain a dialogue with the new institutions and to conserve their identity. Hence it is necessary that the Union be founded on a sustainable federal and democratic nucleus which allows the common elaboration of innovative policies.
The new citizenship and new rights must be the basis on which new European parties are formed and old parties and movements are reformed. As regards the problem of the content and scope of new rights it is possible to evaluate a difference between those who want an open and integrated society and those who instead prefer a protected society that is closed in on itself and facing the past. The citizenship and new rights of the Union are two key concepts which new and old political forces, forming or combining at the European level, will be able to use to increase the political dimension of Europe, transforming the Community, or its federal nucleus, into a great constitutional democracy which is open to the peoples around it.
The history of these last two years has taught that Unions, even those which have great common traditions behind them, can be dissolved if they are not in step with history and prove unable to realise people’s dreams. The European Union will be able to strengthen itself if it can provide innovative solutions to the democratic concern which prevails in the populations of Europe, as throughout the world. In this way it will furnish all peoples with an example of how the defence of individuals’ rights is rooted in the capacity to build a civilised world based on rules of co-habitation, and not of divisiveness. It will demonstrate that the achievement of new and more advanced rights is strictly linked to the conditions of stable and institutional pacification of society, a point which Europe will have reached by renouncing the sovereignty of its individual national states.
If, on the other hand, the Union does not become a great democracy it can not ever be considered an irreversible fact, and its cohesion will always be undermined by the inability to interpret the concerns of our age.