European citizenship and the disillusion of the common man



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European citizenship and the disillusion of the common man


Michelle Everson, Birkbeck College, University of London

I. Introduction


Almost 20 years ago, the European Union was born, and with it, the European citizen.1 Today, we may have grown used to the concept of a European citizen; but, in the heady days following the dedication of a, once, European (Economic) Community to a, forever, ‘closer union of the peoples of Europe’, the novel concept of supranational citizenship drew a host of excited comment. Where was it to be located amongst the sliding range of communitarian, republican and identity-based theories of citizenships, and could it be deployed to give voice to traditionally marginalised constituencies?2 Alternatively, should it be dismissed as impossible on its own terms — after all, when have we ever seen a citizenship without a state? — and, accordingly, treated as a veiled, but usurping, threat to the sovereignty of the member states.3 Or, was it a simple chimera, which, with its paltry catalogue of political rights, merely masked the essential character of the European as homo economicus; a pale modern echo of Bismark’s Wirtschaftsbürger, and vehicle for the creation of an irredeemably neo-liberal European market as ill-conceived precursor to the forced creation of a European state grand goût?4
Today, both overly optimistic and menacingly apocalyptic visions of the European citizen might appear to have been misplaced. For all that we have not witnessed the emergence of a new, instantly recognisable, post-modern European citizen, armed with the necessary rights to forge his or her own identity against the once unyielding backdrops of ‘imagined’ (national) collectivities;5 neither have we seen the creation of the State of Europe, neo-liberal or otherwise. Instead, and all grand but failed constitutional aspirations apart, the legal vehicle of citizenship would appear to share this much with all European mechanisms of potential constitutional renewal: legal evolution is not so much a child of minutely planned conceptual revolution, but, rather, a matter of incremental pragmatism, whereby citizenship is unfolded by means of judicial response to instances of assertion of individual right. European citizenship has thus proceeded slowly to recognise the free-standing (non-economic) right of free movement (Martinez Sala6), to establish an essential link between acquisition of ‘derivative’ rights of citizenship and human rights (Chen7), and to concede a measure of transnational solidarity (Grzelcyk8).
Is that then the end of the story of European citizenship? Might we accordingly be satisfied that incremental legal evolution of Articles 17-21 of the European Treaty will provide us with an appropriate vehicle of self-recognition and self-projection for the individual European? The following pages argue that this question must be answered with a resounding ‘no’. Things are now far from well in the world of European citizenship. The initial impetus for this negative assessment is drawn from a discipline foreign to legal science, and, above all, from Neil Fligstein’s recent sociological-empirical finding that economically-driven processes of European integration only have the full support of a very small and financially very privileged group of Europeans (10-15% of the European population).9 However, the lesson that the entire project of European integration is now threatened by its own fatal disregard for the historical core of citizenship — the binding together of disparate and antagonistic classes within a community of fate — is one that is drawn specifically for legal science; and, above all, in promotion of a form and rigorous method of legal scholarship that has, all Europeanised temptation apart, retained its primary respect for the achievements of the post-war national constitutional settlement, but which has, likewise, never failed to pay due note to its historically-conditioned failings.10



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