The concept of “European citizenship” appeared in 1992 in the Treaty of Maastricht, forty years after the establishment of the European Communities.
Certain states see it as an infringement upon their national sovereignty, as national citizenship is symbolic of sovereign authority. It caused some controversies, especially for Denmark, which released a statement during the Edinburgh European Council of 1992 in order to confirm that, “Citizenship of the Union is a political and legal concept which is entirely different from national citizenship (…)”.
In fact, EU citizenship is additional to and does not replace national citizenship. Still, it shows that both are interlinked. Indeed, it is impossible to have EU citizenship without having the citizenship of one Member State of the European Union.
However, this ‘additional citizenship’ remains blurred. The Eurobarometer of October 2015 held at the request of the European Commission shows that there are still people in Member States that know the term “European citizen”, but do not understand what it means (35%). Moreover, 13 % of the respondents stated that they have never even heard the term ‘citizens of the European Union’. But, we need to counterbalance that; indeed, 87 % of the respondents say they are “familiar” with the term, it is the highest level recorded since 2007.
What does European Citizenship Entail?
To be a European Citizen is to be a national of one of the Member States of the European Union.
It is in fact, mainly about having rights: they are listed from article 20 to 24 of the Treaty on the functioning of the European Union:
Being a European Citizen means that you have the right to move and reside freely within any country of the Union. Indeed, you are ensured that your situation is legal as long as you stay within the borders of the Union. It also allows the possibility of easier movement outside the EU, as in Ukraine, for example.
Such rights existed before the establishment of European citizenship, but it was only for a specific kind of population: workers or students, for instance. European citizenship encompasses the entire EU population, who can benefit from those rights. Moreover, as a European citizen and under certain conditions, you can entitle your non-EU-citizen family members to those rights.
As a European citizen, you have the right to vote in European as well as municipal elections, anywhere you decided to reside in the EU. You also have the possibility to stand for candidate in such elections.
This citizenship also allows a permanent protection by the diplomatic and consular authorities of another twenty-seven countries, within the EU but also abroad. Thus, if you are a Polish or Belgium citizen for example, the French or Spanish Embassy in Australia can protect you and help you in administrative enquiries in your own language.
Being a European Citizen means that if you feel that the national court of your country of residence has ruled unfairly, you have the possibility to bring your case to the Court of Justice and fight for your rights. Also, you can contact and receive a response from any EU institution in one of the EU’s official languages.
It is important to notice that by contrast to national citizenship, European citizenship does not prescribe citizen duties.
According to the European Parliament “The aim is to increase people’s sense of identification with the EU and to foster European public opinion, a European political consciousness and a sense of European identity.” This is an aim that the European Parliament has tried to reach since its creation, for example, the recent proposition to offer an inter-rail ticket to all 18-year-old EU citizens on their birthday.
So in a way, European Citizenship is linked with the idea of European identity. It is a legal statute share by all 500 million people in the European Union that attempts to unify people across the continent.
As far as I am concerned, European Citizenship since its creation has enhanced the European identity by expanding rights to all people of the Union. However, a crucial task remains: to educate citizens of the EU about European citizenship and how to use their related rights. This aim entails the use of existing tools as the European Citizens’ Initiative, which permits to 1 million citizens from at least 7 Member States to put an issue on the European agenda, and above all, make them involve in European politics. It is a duty that the Commission is aware of, as demonstrated by the third report on the EU citizenship: “Promoting EU citizens’ rights and freedoms”.
Indeed, the aim always remained the same, as Jean Monnet said in 1952, ‘We are not bringing together states, we are uniting people’
Aurélien Pommier, EST Ambassador to Poland, graduated from the University of Lorraine (France) in Law and in Economics. He is currently studying European Politics at the Jagiellonian University.