It all started as an antidote to Brexit. I’m referring to my blogging, of course. I really didn’t know how to vent my anger and disappointment when I heard the result of the EU referendum. Like most of you, who could be affected by the outcome, I was worried about something that could happen to me. I did not feel safe anymore. My concern was whether the validity of my UK qualification would continue, after Brexit. Being also a French citizen, my professional qualification was my only tie to the UK that I could not get rid of. Selfish, I know, but I suppose that each one of the millions of EU citizens living in the UK, and Brits on the Continent, has a particular Brexit worry that he/she can relate to. It reflects the whole absurdity of the situation. Even more so that, well into the second year of the Brexit negotiations, the same worries linger on and are still present for all of us. Nothing has been solved because, as the famous EU saying goes, “nothing is agreed until all is agreed.”
[beautifulquote align=”left” cite=””]Bye-bye Brexitblog.net[/beautifulquote]
Writing these blogposts has really helped me. Not least because most of the posts get a fair number of views, reflecting an interest in what I write. I assume, of course, that not all the views are robots. In changing the title of the blog to something more poetical and less reminiscent of human unawareness, I have returned to a state of poetical naiveness and romantic idealism, that characterised me before June 23rd, 2016. But although the “shares” may have disappeared with the new blog title (I’m working on that), the nature of my posts will not change. My total opposition to Brexit remains unchanged, and during the upcoming summer break, I will prepare a letter that I will send to all Dutch MEP’s, in September. A drop in the ocean, I admit, but with the present drought, every drop must be treasured.
[beautifulquote align=”left” cite=””]The promise of transnational citizenship[/beautifulquote]
I still firmly believe that we must respect the referendum vote, and may have hurt a few feelings in my criticism of the recent London march. There are other ways of attenuating the effects of Brexit, other than having a second referendum. The idea of an official EU citizenship, available as a document, for all EU citizens – including British citizens residing in a EU-27 member state, before the UK leaves – is a wonderful idea that strikes a chord with my poetical naiveness and romantic idealism.
EU citizenship is by far the most universal and powerful attribute that the Union can give its citizens. It certainly does not replace national citizenship, but augments it, in giving citizens not only the chance to care about their individual countries, but to care about the continent as a whole. If citizenship represents membership of a political community, it provides individuals with a sense of belonging, acts as a source of identity, and reinforces the political cohesion within the community.
But citizenship must go beyond simply defining identities, and must contribute to, and strive for, social integration. This is where people lose their sense of belonging and feel estranged from the community that they are supposed to identify with and be part of. EU citizenship must thus not only be a legal status, but a fact of everyday life.
The arguments put forward by those supporting the concept of European citizenship for British citizens in the EU, centre chiefly around freedom of movement, as typified by the following quote,
My national identity is deeply important to me; both personally since I am proud to be a European, but also for the sake of all our people, young and old whose rights to live, work, retire and travel freely within the EU, I strongly want to protect and defend.
Although justifiably correct, this view does not entail fully what citizenship actually means. Whilst it is true that citizens can move freely within their respective states, the notion of citizenship goes way beyond freedom of movement.
On July 23rd, a citizens’ initiative was officially registered with, as goal, the proposal to implement a permanent European citizenship for all EU citizens.
EU citizens elect the European Parliament and participate in its work, thus exercising treaty rights, enhancing Union democracy, and reinforcing its citizenship. Noting the ECJ’s view of Union citizenship as a ‘fundamental status’ of nationals of Member States, and that Brexit will strip millions of EU citizens of this status and their vote in European elections, requests the Commission propose means to avoid risk of collective loss of EU citizenship and rights, and assure all EU citizens that, once attained, such status is permanent and their rights acquired.
Before trying to answer the question of whether European citizenship is desirable and feasible, just ask yourself how you feel about your present situation and why. Do you feel like a true citizen of the country in which you reside? If you actively participate in the political debate of your country of residence, or have the right to do so, the chances are that you will consider yourself to be an active citizen. But what occurs when the political debate transgresses national borders, how do you feel then?
As a dual national, I suppose that I must feel that I am both a British and French citizen. But do I? Culturally and linguistically, of course, nothing has changed despite leaving the UK in 1984, and France in 1999. Culture and language are fundamental aspects making up citizenship, and are probably the main reasons why I do not feel the urge to take up Dutch citizenship, despite living here for 19 years. Although my Dutch is fluent, it is not innate. My knowledge of Dutch culture is basic, to say the least.
Having experienced how it feels to live in a state that has nothing to do with where or how I was raised, I do wonder if citizenship needs a bounded territorial space, in which citizens can identify themselves with their own democracy, and whether expanding citizenship beyond national frontiers will only serve to weaken it. On the other hand, transnational citizenship, in our increasingly globalised world, may represent the next logical step, illustrating the different levels of governance – local, regional, national, and global.
In order for EU citizenship to have any chance of working, the EU must reform its democracy, and then sell it to its citizens. How many of you know exactly how the EU works, in comparison to the institutions of your country of citizenship? I admit that I don’t. French president Emanuel Macron’s proposal of organising regional meetings, ahead of next year’s European Parliament elections, is a step in the right direction. But it is a small step, and has come half a century too late. The damage has already been done. The people of Europe have become skeptical about, and alienated from, EU institutions.
EU citizenship is a wonderful idea, if it reflects what the EU should represent – equality of all its citizens, in an open space of cultural, political, economic, and individual freedoms. It must not just become a pan-European bus pass, for those who want to retire on the Spanish Costas, and elsewhere.