On being a European Citizen

by Bob Cox

Citizen, citoyen, Bürger, građanin – in any language and culture historically an urban concept; folk, snug in cities, fed by majority peasants beyond the walls toiling to feed them. Citizens frequently took up arms to defend their rights against nobles. So did peasants. In the 19th century “nationality” often came to replace “citizenship. Look at the small print on page 5 of your purple European passport. From one language to another it confuses “citizenship” and “nationality”.
British premier, Mrs May, in a spasm of Brexit patriotism said: “If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere.”

Well, some of us believe we are citizens of somewhere – Europe for a start. Dictionary (Oxford Shorter) definition “… an enfranchised inhabitant of a country, as opposed to an alien.” Connotation - freedom Our common European citizenship is spelt out in the Treaty of European Union (articles (9 & 20). In short, we have European citizenship as well as that of our country of origin. The Treaty sets out our rights as European citizens:

  • We can move and reside freely wherever we want within the area of the European Union
  • We can vote and stand as candidates in municipal and European elections. So far only citizens of the country concerned can vote and stand in national elections
  • When in need, outside the EU, we can seek protection from diplomatic and consular authorities of all EU member countries
  • When we doubt our rights are being respected we can petition the European Parliament and complain to the European Ombudsman to seek redress
  • When unsure, we can contact and must have a reply from any EU institution in the official EU language of our choice
  • Under certain conditions (such as privacy) we can get access Parliament, Commission and Council documents.

All of which means - where the Treaty applies, we benefit from non-discrimination irrespective of our nationality. Clearly some residually national rights are excluded. A prime example: jobs in national civil services or armed forces. But otherwise it means that in a given EU country a person from another member State benefits from exactly the same protection and the essential rights (except the “certain conditions” we noted above) as a born “native” of that country. In Europe that is a historical breakthrough and an asset to be treasured. Arguably only in ancient Rome was there such a precedent, tarnished by the fact that the Roman Empire also functioned on the basis of widespread slavery. And women’s citizenship rights were limited. Ultimately in today’s European Union citizenship is protected by the rule of law with the European Court of Justice against any attempt at arbitrariness by any authority in the EU. An asset to be cherished.

Do nationality and European citizenship clash? “You can have national feeling and simultaneously a European identity” says Elmar Brok, doyen Member of the European Parliament (Die Zeit 17/07/06). For this author three identities co-exist perfectly: a heritage of growing up in a big European capital city; an attachment to country of origin with its culture and all its faults; a citizenship of a broader Europe that is still in the making.