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The Concept of European Citizenship Analytical Essay

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Updated: Jan 16th, 2020


The concept of European citizenship has in the past been marred by theoretical and historical problems. Thirty-five years ago, a French scholar by the name Raymond Aaron disputed the concept of European citizenship by stating that there was no such thing as a European citizen; he instead proposed that there were only nationals such as the French, British, Italians and the likes (Nicolaidis 2004, p. 78).

The perception of a European citizen in the holistic context of the European Union is often characterized by the multilingual nature of its citizens, though the voice of the European citizen in defining important issues in the same context (EU) is however rarely regarded as relevant (Nicolaidis 2004, p. 79).

The concept of European citizenship is often made in reference to academic circles and political debates, but other significant areas include consumer protection, immigration and asylum-seeking.

Nonetheless, the European citizen is well defined in certain specific documents such as the Amsterdam treaty, nice treaty and in the treaty of Lisbon although an extensive definition of European citizenship is outlined in the European Union constitution (Bellamy 2008, p. 597).

With the institutionalization of European citizenry, it is correct to note that Aaron’s concept of the European Union was wrong because the novelty of European citizenry in European integration is undisputable, through the support of slogans such as the European community and the creation of a common market (Everson 1995, p. 5).

However, these facts are not to be assumed that the concept of European citizenship is without its problems.

This is true because even though the concept is politically rich, the concept of European citizenry is often poorly defined, and characterized with intellectual and political difficulties of interpretation; thereby prompting a redefinition of the concept.

Conceptual Analysis

European citizenry is clearly stipulated in the 9th article of the treaty of Amsterdam which states that “Citizenship of the Union is hereby established that every person holding the nationality of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union” (Bellamy 2001, p. 3).

This provision outlines a number of privileges European citizens ought to enjoy and they include the right of mobility within the wider European continent (with a particular emphasis on residency within any of the member states);

European citizens are supposed to have a right to Ombudsman in any conveniently spoken languages and European citizens have the right to diplomatic protection, in addition to consular action from any of the member states (Bellamy 2001, p. 5).

However, the rights of European citizens under the Amsterdam treaty was further amended to include provisions stipulating basic human rights (like the right to good governance); although the same line of citizen reasoning is also accommodated in the treaty of Lisbon (Benhabib 2005, p. 10).

It is important to note that these provisions are largely political in nature; meaning that the definition of European citizenry basically revolves around the concept of citizen dwelling and cooperation within given territorial borders. Citizenship in this context, therefore, implies an abstract concept of belonging, coupled with a civic duty to transcend all forms of ethnic or nationalistic identity.

The European community, therefore, tries to act like a common body that is governed by common laws which exemplify the need for equality among citizens of all member nations.

When the context of European citizenship is analyzed from the Aristotle point of view, the need to empower citizens is brought to fore because Aristotle defines citizens as those who have the capacity to hold office (Liebert 2007, p. 417). Shaw (1998, p. 46) explains this concept by stating that:

“the concept rather entails equal opportunities of access to the politically defined rights and duties of the polity. To enjoy the status of a citizen is to de-nature power, to engage freely and equally with others by exercising the power to define how to live together peacefully, to decide who should get what when and how.

Citizenship is not just about legal decisions or governmental policymaking and implementation. According to some old and venerable traditions of European thinking, it is their condition of possibility”.

Since the concept of European citizenship is an example of a political odyssey, we can closely associate the philosophy of the European citizen to Saramago’s tale of an unknown island where European citizenship faces new unnamed challenges which also don’t have a solution in the horizon because it is merely a process of making laws (Benhabib 2005, p. 11).

These challenges can be broadly classified onto four distinctive groups which can be best explained by social and historical scientists. These challenges are further discussed below:

To a large extent, the concept of European citizenship is essentially a derived concept that defines European citizens and not necessarily a legal concept. The Lisbon and Amsterdam accord define a citizen of Europe as one residing within the member states; however, it fails to grant the specifics that grant power to each citizen of all nationality.

For example, if people hailing from third world countries (but who legally reside in any of the member states) want to be European citizens, they first ought to gain the citizenship of the member states (Benhabib 2005, p. 11). This creates a big problem for European citizenship because to a large extent the concept greatly relies on the philosophy of member states, but this concept is unfortunately advantageous for the living dead.

There is, therefore, a great challenge in understanding who a European citizen is because there has to be some historical understanding of member states’ citizenship guidelines since each member state has a different understanding or framework for citizenship which can either be contested by other countries or accepted by others.

Within member states, there are also different depths of understanding citizenship and different feelings of how citizenship should be perceived by different citizens. European citizenship in this sense is therefore problematic if it is to be comprehended as a normative vision to encompass member states’ citizens.

Some scholars have identifies that when citizenship is analyzed in this sense, the concept of a European citizen is based on a raggedy and uneven foundation; and probably for the first time in the world, citizenship is to be defined on such unstable grounds (Benhabib 2005, p. 11).

Tully (2007, p. 71) further casts doubt on the European citizenry concept by stating that:

“It remains to be seen whether these diverse meanings and feelings for citizenship will generate conflicting policy definitions of ‘citizenship of the Union’; or even perhaps reduce definitions of European citizenship to mere words, which is what they seem to be for the British government”.

Tully (2007) makes such claims because there is a difference in philosophy between Eastern and Western Europe and a similar difference in languages and citizenship in the various regions of Europe as well.

Social and Cultural Exclusion

Questions are always asked on whether the new concept of European citizenship only bears the legal citizenship or also captures the social legitimization of the concept (Tully 2007, p. 71).

In this regard, it becomes increasingly important to analyze the concept of European citizenship within the wider context of sub government rule, with concerns like property rights, social policies and immigration rights, so that citizenship doesn’t seem like a “soft” form of the concept.

By referring to a “soft” form of leadership, this implies the dependence on the empirical and normative dynamics of leadership, putting in consideration the dynamics of citizenship among the member states (Tully 2007, p. 72).

These elements seem to be lacking in the conceptualization of European citizenship because to a significant degree, European citizenship as it currently is, is based on political, legal and administrative frameworks which are defined at the European level, oblivious to the cultural and social dynamics existing on the ground.

These factors withstanding, it is correct to note that there is a social and cultural concept within the conceptualization of European citizenship which seems to be lacking.

This is largely because the concept of European citizenship has got its push majorly by forces from above; meaning that European citizenship has been discussed in conferences, European Court of Justice, European council, and in certain forums such as intergovernmental conferences, instead of adopting a bottoms-up approach (Tully 2007, p. 72). For these reasons, Tully (2007, p. 73) notes that

“…it seems likely that for the foreseeable future European citizenship will have to accommodate a much greater diversity of political and legal forces than any national citizenship of previous centuries ever did.

In contrast both to its older state-centred or ‘cosmopolitan’ forms, future efforts to render citizenship compatible with governmental diversity will, in fact, be one of the major characteristics – and challenges – of European citizenship”.

However, at the very least, the Amsterdam treaty made it clear that the concept of European citizenship depended on the commitment of the member states in upholding the rights of the citizens, within the wider concept of the European Union.

Detachment of Nationality

The concept of European citizenship implies a post-national form of citizenship where in the past; all regions of Europe and the definitions and visions of citizenship have been previously locked within the context of national identities (Habermas 2001, p. 4).

Since the late 28th century, the concept of citizenship has been redefined to contain nationalistic identities which are to be understood as defining a group of people belonging to specific rules of grammar and language, shared memories of the past, and a shared understanding of certain cultural matters such as food, jokes, clothing styles, religion and the likes; however, the new concept of European citizenship is a shift from this paradigm because it reflects a dialect challenge to such thinking and brings to fore one of the biggest challenge in European citizenry which is to protect and nurture the multiplicity of national identities (which for obvious reasons won’t wither away) (Dunkerley 2002, p. 2).

European citizenry has therefore changed the concept of national identity which was normally derived from the understanding of territorial state protection (or the quest for it) because it was widely believed that citizenship was only possible when citizens would articulate their needs to one form of government, ruling a specific territorial boundary; but several sub governments currently exist within the wider context of the European Union (Habermas 2001, p. 4). In the same argumentative context, Carey (2002, p. 387) explains that:

“From the time of the French Revolution, this equation courted the well-known dangers of nationalism and territorial state violence. To be a citizen implied a duty of loyalty to a polity that was conceived as a solidaristic community based on the particularism of the nation”.

The concept of European citizenry is, therefore, trotting down a path which has never been witnessed before in the world; at least on a continental scale because it is aimed at detaching nationalistic sentiments and citizenship, but at the same time, it seeks to protect its citizens who identify more with their own nationalities at the expense of European citizenship (Habermas 2001, p. 4).

However, the hardest task in the legitimization of European citizenry lies in the challenge of insulating the new political order from unfriendly political undertones based on ideological differences which are often expressed as ex-parliamentary nationalism, or in some quarters, referred by certain scholars as Eurosceptimism (Carey 2002, p. 388).

If European citizenry is to be analyzed as some form of complex citizenship; fluid in nature and accommodative of the diverse nature of its citizens, there is bound to be a big dilemma in defining the rights and duties of its citizens through access to resources in the same European pool to guarantee the diversity that’s existent among all the nationalities existent in member states (Carey 2002, p. 389).

This argument brings us to an important observation of the fact that the Amsterdam and Nice treaty will remain a theoretical concept of citizenry unless European citizenry is able to eliminate the social and cultural inequalities of citizenship and equalize the opportunities European citizenship is supposed to bring.

Demilitarization and Civilian Europe

Europe has since been characterized by several wars, starting from the time of empire expansion in the 17th and 18th centuries but back then, citizenship was primarily based on the ability of the people to protect the territorial boundaries of the states while the commitment to war basically legitimized the right of people to enjoy citizenship in the states (Carey 2002, p. 388).

This was a significant reason why women found it difficult to enjoy equal citizenship with men because they were regarded less prepared for war and could do little to defend their countries. However, modern times have changed this perception.

In the past decade or so, European citizenry which is supposed to guarantee its citizens the right to stay peaceful has been characterized by several strenuous factors eating into the core of the “civilian Europe” model.

Certain contemporary observers make reference to the war on terror led by the US which has, in turn, threatened the security normalcy of Europe and the ethnic conflicts around Europe, such as the former Yugoslavia territory, thereby questioning the political agenda European Union has, in global politics. Warleigh (1998, p. 113) casts further doubt to the concept of European citizenship in this regard by stating that:

“granted that European citizens can enjoy a political life of non-violence, how can the ethos and substance of European citizenship be extended to those regions – especially south-eastern Europe – with a recent history of cruel violence and forcible displacement of hundreds of thousands of people?”

In this regard, it becomes very interesting to note that since there is a need to police certain areas of the European continent, it would probably mean that there needs to be a European army to validate European citizenry. Through this analysis, we find ourselves in the dilemma of whether European citizenship essentially means that there needs to be a military muscle to support the citizenship status.


European citizenry has been majorly cemented on political and administrative instruments and ignores many other concepts of citizenship.

The problem with European citizenship, however, stems from the qualification of a citizen in the European context because from the study, it is clear that European citizenship is discriminatory on third world citizens who live legitimately in Europe but do not enjoy citizenship of the member states they reside in.

In close association to this inequality, the concept of European citizenship is shaky because it greatly relies on the willingness of the member states to make it work although reality on the ground is that member states are very diverse in political, economic, and cultural frameworks and therefore the foundation for European citizenry is rather shaky and uneven.

Also, European citizenry is not holistic because it lacks the concept of nationalism and excludes the social and cultural makeup of citizenship.

This means that if European citizenship is to be accepted, it will mean that citizenship has to be redefined to accommodate the dynamism of the member states, but this would still lead to the development of many other challenges relating to how the citizenship status is bound to support the freedoms and rights of the people, by drawing its authenticity from a common pool of resources in the European Union.

Despite the controversy surrounding European citizenship, it is important to note that the concept is here to stay. With this understanding, it is essential for leaders to harmonize the inconsistencies that surround European citizenship.


Bellamy, R. (2001) Citizenship and Governance in the European Union. London, Continuum.

Bellamy, R. (2008) Evaluating Union Citizenship: Belonging, Rights and Participation Within the EU. Citizenship Studies, 12(6), 597-611.

Benhabib, S. (2005) Disaggregation of Citizenship Rights. Parallax, 11(1), 10-18.

Carey, S. (2002) Undivided Loyalties: Is National Identity an Obstacle to European Integration?, European Union Politics, 3(4), 387-413.

Dunkerley, D. (2002) European Citizenship: Changing Europe: Identities, Nations and Citizens. London, Routledge.

Everson, M. (1995) The Legacy of the Market Citizen: New Legal Dynamics of the European Union. London, Clarendon.

Habermas, J. (2001) The Postnational Constellation. London, Polity.

Liebert, U. (2007) The European Citizenship Paradox: Renegotiating Equality and Diversity in the New Europe. Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, 10(4), 417-441.

Nicolaidis, C. (2004) The New Constitution as European ‘demoi-cracy’? Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, 7(1), 76-93.

Shaw, J. (1998) Citizenship of the Union – towards Postnational Membership: Collected Courses of the Academy of European Law. London, Kluwer.

Tully, J. (2007) A New Kind of Europe? Democratic Integration in the European Union. Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, 10(1), 71-86.

Warleigh, A. (1998) Frozen Citizenship and European Unification. Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, 1(4), 113-151.

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