political revue


Year LXV, 2023, Single Issue, Page 105


The Maastricht treaty has introduced the concept of European citizenship into the Community’s legal system. This issue may at first appear simply symbolic, but in reality it has major historical significance and numerous important political and cultural implications. From the time of the French revolution, citizenship has represented the individual’s membership of a people. As such, on the one hand, it evokes the idea of popular sovereignty, and hence the citizen’s possession of certain political rights deriving from it; and on the other, it identifies the political community to which the citizen belongs, and thus is historically associated to nationality.

This innovation of the Maastricht treaty highlights two crucial problems that the Community will be obliged to tackle. First, European citizens do not enjoy the most basic of democratic rights: that of selecting and controlling the men and women who govern them on a pan-European scale. Second, is the separation between the ideas of citizenship and nationality.


The strength of the idea of the nation is its capacity to provide its members with a sense of identity. It remains true that this sensation is based on a falsification, since the bonds which make a nation are ideological bonds. In the same way it is true that the idea of the nation throughout history has been frequently affirmed by violence, which has been used to suppress pre-existing natural identities, such as those local and regional ones that are based on personal intercourse and communal memory. This does not alter the fact that the nation, despite its artificiality, is a strong cohesive element between citizens; so much so as to give rise to a specific historical form of statehood, that of the national state. But nowadays, this form of the state is undergoing a crisis as regards the principle on which it is based, and is on the point of being superseded in a larger framework, with the conclusion of a historical process that has lasted decades, but which has recently, with the European Community, started to give rise to an increasingly articulated institutional framework. Maastricht represents a significant stage in this process (whatever the result of the ratification process in Great Britain and Denmark). Today, therefore, the issue of a post-national identity is posed in explicit terms.

It is worth noting that this issue is not only a European one. The nation is also undergoing crisis in the United States. There, the potent unifying factor which derived from the idea of the melting pot, and was closely linked to a phase of American history in which immigrants were able to benefit from practically unlimited opportunities for economic success and hence social integration, now risks collapsing in the face of disruptive pressure that has been brought on by the historical tendency of development to slow down. Enormous pockets of poverty have been created, which mainly involve (apart from a significant portion of black Americans) Hispanics and other minorities, especially those who have recently settled in America. This situation has caused a crisis of the American identity, and sparked off a series of moves to rediscover original identities, often forgotten and frequently completely fictitious (as for black Americans’ claims to an African identity; which, in reality, has been completely obliterated by centuries of separation from their continent of origin, and which never existed as a unitary factor even at the time of the slave trade).

Thus even the US is in a process of separation between the ideas of nationality and citizenship. Moreover, in this case the phenomenon assumes an exclusively disintegrative character, since it puts in danger the basic consensus which constitutes support for the democratic order, without providing a substitute for the mode of social co-habitation that has made the greatness of the American way of life. The situation in Europe is different. It is clear that also in Europe one of the factors contributing to the crisis of the nation are the separatist pressures within the national states, or, at least, the weakest ones (even if the groups that work to such ends use the idea of the nation in turn to dress up political movements whose real nature is simply tribal; thereby rendering the content of the idea of the nation even more obscure and contradictory). But in Europe the specific terms in which the issue of a post-national identity is posed are not the disintegration of existing states, but rather the opposite, that of their supersession within a larger European dimension. Hence the debate on this subject in Europe represents a significant coming-of-age, the outward sign of the adaptation of the collective conscience and the conceptions through which it is expressed, as new modes of social co-habitation emerge, based on the overcoming of old barriers, on a dialogue between cultures and on a widening of the scope of solidarity.


Throughout this debate there exists a widespread understanding that in the era of the global village, the myth of the nation has now completed its historical course, and that its devastating revival in the ex-Communist countries represents nothing more than its death throes. Likewise, there is a widespread appreciation of the fact that no other myth will be able to take its place. Clearly, however, the European federation will be born as a sovereign state in a world of sovereign states, and this will tend to create an embryonic sense of “national belonging” in its citizens. But this sentiment will be weak, since it will be based on an ideology which has been overtaken by historical events, and which moreover is totally incompatible with the social and cultural reality of a pluralistic people, such as Europeans are. Neither will a European federation be able to disavow the profound historical significance at its foundation, which will be precisely the overcoming of the national principle and of its historical embodiment in the national state.

On the other hand, the sole fact of the continual enlargement of the range of mankind’s interdependence, which is the material basis of the crisis of the national state, is not in itself sufficient to create a sense of solidarity, which represents the glue of every functioning state community. It is sufficient to recall how the strong degree of interdependence between the various Yugoslavian republics, and the resultant interest of all Yugoslavian citizens in maintaining the federal structure intact, was no effective hindrance to dissolution under pressure from a demagogic and violent minority. The cohesion of every state structure must therefore be safeguarded, above and beyond the necessary patterns of interdependence and material interests, by a sense of belonging to a community which is felt to have legitimacy.

Hence, in a post-national world the problem of determining a new legitimacy is posed; one which can provide the basis for a sense of belonging to state entities whose unity is no longer guaranteed by the bond of nationhood. The fact that the overcoming of the exclusive nation will revive a currently forgotten sense of local and regional solidarity is not the answer to this problem, since such a sense of solidarity will only be an enrichment of democratic life if it is expressed within a supranational state framework; while it will encourage disorder and disintegration if it takes on the attributes of sovereignty. The problem of the new legitimacy therefore is that of identifying a suitable bond that can guarantee the unity of the global political framework.


Such a bond, if it is true that the myth of the nation is now in decline and cannot be substituted by another myth (and granted that the decline of the nation will not lead to the return of general violence in a state of nature), will by necessity have a rational foundation. Habermas claimed to have identified it in what he termed “constitutional patriotism”, by which he meant the sense of common belonging that should unite citizens who recognise that the great values of democratic co-habitation (in relation to the prevailing stage of civilisation’s development) have been enshrined in the material constitution of their state. This represents therefore a loyalty which is not required of citizens due to their membership of a community whose legitimacy rests on the fact of being considered “sacred” or “natural”: but one which is freely matched to an institutional system that realises rational values recognised as having universal validity.

But in reality the formula of constitutional patriotism, if the ultimate implications of it are not made clear, is not a satisfactory response to the problem of a post-national identity. It denotes the bond which should exist, and which sometimes actually does exist, between the citizens of a particular state (which they find themselves to belong to by birth); and which is based on mutual loyalty, freely and rationally matched to their institutions by virtue of their democratic character. But, in contrast to nationhood, this formula provides no criterion to legitimise the size and borders of a state. And given that the size and borders of a state are not neutral with respect to democracy, the formula of constitutional patriotism undergoes crisis when a contradiction between the former and the latter is revealed; thus putting into question the political community itself.


This is what is happening in Europe, where democracy is undergoing crisis precisely because of the national dimension. The formula of constitutional patriotism does not provide an answer to the problem of the new size of the political community within which citizens must pledge loyalty to the state and through this feel a sense of mutual solidarity. It is true that there does exist a broad consensus that the political framework which will allow (at least in an initial stage) the overcoming of the identification of state with nation will be one in a European context. But the borders of the future European federation are structurally undefined. The European federation of tomorrow could include only a part of the actual members of the Community, or the Twelve, or exist as a broader structure of indeterminate size, possible extending to parts of the CSI and even to some countries of North Africa and the Middle East. The most realistic forecast is that it will be born within a restricted area and will tend to grow gradually.

But it is important to point out that whatever size the federation may be during any of the stages of its creation and development, its borders will never be “natural” nor “sacred.” Rather, its borders will remain arbitrary, that is they will be the result of chance historical events, and will never correspond to a territorial area defined (however imperfectly) by a principle of legitimacy that is as strong as the national principle; by virtue of which it is considered natural that the territory of France belongs to France, and that of Italy to Italy.


The European federation will be born out of a negation; the negation of sovereignty. As long as the federation remains limited to a region of the world, and is therefore in its turn a sovereign state, it will be intrinsically illegitimate as a consequence. Or rather, it will enjoy a provisional legitimacy, indispensable for guaranteeing its cohesion, only if it proves capable of expressing through its actions in world politics, its mission to promote the process of unifying all the peoples of the world within a cosmopolitan federation; whatever path history may take in order to attain this objective. Besides, if it is true that a post-national identity can only have a rational foundation, then the political community to which it refers can only be universal; just as the rules of reason are, which are not valid for one people or another, but for the entire human race. In the same way democracy, which is the foundation of constitutional patriotism, can only be imperfectly realised in the context of a sovereign state, since it is constrained by international anarchy to obey the rationale of power politics and to violate the rule of law. Democracy will only be completely fulfilled in a federal world political structure. For this reason, if constitutional patriotism is not given substance by an active cosmopolitan mission, it will be unable to guarantee the federal unity of Europe without being corrupted. According to the particular circumstances, constitutional patriotism will become patriotism tout court (even if very weak, since the overcoming of the nation is irreversible), or it will lose completely its unifying strength, leaving the field free for the forces of disintegration.


European citizenship is therefore the forerunner of world citizenship, and as such poses the problem of cosmopolitan identity, which unites men solely on the basis of the mutual respect which they owe each other as beings endowed with reason, and which in the final analysis underpins all the great values of social co-habitation. A World federation is the only definitively legitimate political community. Only by working on the basis of this understanding will federalists be in a position to elaborate effective tools for analysis and action in their struggle for the indispensable intermediate historical objective of a European federation.

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