Can national citizenship and European citizenship coincide, or does the supranational form of citizenship supersede national identities, rendering the individual cultures, heritages, faiths and languages irrelevant?
This debate is a tricky one: since its inception in the 1992 Treaty on the European Union (EU), the conceptualisation of ‘European Citizenship’ has embodied the increasing political integration of countries in the EU; however, many people have argued that this ‘pseudoidentity’ merely fails to acknowledge and appreciate the individualities of each state whilst also overlooking the fact that many Europeans certainly do not feel ‘European citizens’.
European citizenship can be defined as belonging to ‘value-based communities… complementary rather than an exclusive identity… an active role of citizens in their different communities across social, cultural, economic and political domains’. This description - as opposed to definition - of European citizenship underlies the dynamic complexity of the notion, but is illuminating in its tentative attempt to outline the core elements. Perhaps one could argue that Europeans hold both a ‘national identity’ and a ‘European citizenship’ which can co-exist: people can and have been seen to recognise themselves as members of more than one political community. ‘National identity’ would be set on a shared culture, language and heritage and ‘European citizenship’ would add to this - as a recognition of the shared ‘bloc’ of territory and governing body based on a shared set of values, for example the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
There is no doubt that the EU prides itself on this ‘unification in diversity’, peacefully coexisting despite the different political and social situations of each country. Indeed young people especially seem to be benefitting from the possibility to travel, work and study easily and cheaply across the continent and meet people from all over Europe and beyond. My own experience can vouch for the rewarding and fascinating possibilities to network and integrate with people from a multitude of different paths, learning about their culture and stumbling through the building blocks of learning a new language together. This integration, whilst perhaps not as tangible to older generations, is certainly true if I decide to travel this summer and visit the friends I have made throughout my year abroad. I could travel all over Europe easily and cheaply.
I recently spoke with a German friend who feels ‘European first of all and German second’, and believes that ‘the French and Germany aren’t really that different culturally, except for the language.’ Another friend, who is French, but studies in Germany, shared this view; to her, the idea of a European citizenship is ‘beautiful’ and the concept of free movement is now a fundamental part of European identity. Echoes of this sense of belonging pervaded every young person I spoke to, all of whom came from a multitude of different European nations in continental Europe. The similarities in culture and administration in the different parts of continental Europe pay tribute to this, and recall the rich and long-lasting heritage of colonialism and imperialism, which transcended the national borders as we know them today.
However, this sense of belonging was not echoed by those I spoke to who came from Britain; I myself am British and I can vouch for the fact that most people in Britain consider themselves only British and do not feel part of Europe whatsoever. For older generations who remember the seventies and Britain’s fall from an arrogant imperial superpower to the mortifying underdog twice refused entry into the European Economic Community by De Gaulle, the bureaucratic giant that is the European Union appears merely a ‘money-drain’; decisions which concern Britain that are made across the Channel Tunnel often result in sour grumbling about ‘loss of power’ to ‘those bloody French’ (who can forget the decades of rivalry at that age?!). For younger generations, the wide-spread ignorance of any language other than the mother tongue can result in detachment and a perceived arrogance. Most people are clueless when it comes to how the cumbersome layers and layers of government in the EU work, how power is divided, or where their taxes end up. Many of my friends refer to ‘continental Europe’ as merely ‘Europe’, as if Britain has no part to play whatsoever.
But things are changing: thanks to immigration, thanks to freedom of movement, thanks to cheap buses and even cheaper hostels, it is now easier than ever for young Brits to travel and explore the ‘mysterious’ bloc across the Channel. With the increasing internationalisation of the world and politics, being aware of what is ‘out there’ is undeniably on the rise. For many, whilst learning another language is not necessary, it IS an interesting, enriching and exciting experience; it is a great addition to the CV and encouraged by many universities. The concept of European Citizenship has a long way to go; there is no denying that and even in the original EEC countries, like France, there is a strong sense of national history and identity, emboldened by their revolutionary history. But fundamentally, France does not consider itself above the rest of Europe, whilst Britain does. Britain does because of its imperial history, its ‘special relationship’ with the United States, and the huge part it played in the World Wars. But this is changing, with the waves of young people looking across the Channel to broaden their horizons; with the interchanging of friendships, cultures, languages that comes with it, and consequently the increased opportunities to find affinity in this shared history, and to develop this sense of community, aided by the flattening of the world economically, politically and technologically.
European Citizenship is like a political regime, like democracy: it is something that has to develop from the ground-up, it is something that has to be created, accepted, and evolved by the people, and not forced, not written down in a document and expected to materialise. Education is needed to change prejudiced perceptions and combat disillusionment. But it is happening. And it will come with time.