Citizenship and the European Union

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Citizenship and the European Union

1. Introduction

The idea and practice of European citizenship is relevant in two main ways

to the recent controversy in Germany over plans by the governing Social-

Democratic Party to reform citizenship law. One of these is that the

concepts of citizenship and nationality continue to be thought of as

synonymous in Germany but are now relatively distinct, both linguistically

and politically, in several other national regimes and in the European Union

(EU). Secondly, on the one hand, new German provisions will be more

similar than before to the nationality laws of other member states by

introducing a right [as opposed to a discretionary possibility] to citizenship

through residence and legal naturalization, as well as ancestry. But, on the

other, the decision on 16 March 1999 to abandon the possibility of dualcitizenship

[or, in my language, nationality] means that, in this respect, the

German approach to citizenship now runs counter to suggestions made by

some specialists about the EU as a site of democratic practice.

This paper will open with a brief discussion of the distinctiveness of

citizenship and nationality. This is necessary so that one can understand the

following section outlining EU provisions. In conclusion, this paper will

discuss some of the arguments about the prospects for EU citizenship, with

special reference to loosening the overlap between the legal label of

national identity and the normative practice of citizenship.

Elizabeth Meehan


2. Citizenship and Nationality

As I have suggested elsewhere1, there are good grounds for treating the

overlap of citizenship and nationality as a matter of historical contingency

and not as an analytically necessary connection. In short, nationality is a

legal identity from which no rights need arise, though obligations might--

as is obvious when nationals are called 'subjects'. Conversely, citizenship

is a practice, or a form of belonging, resting on a set of legal, social and

participatory entitlements which may be conferred, and sometimes are,

irrespective of nationality--or denied, as in the case of women and some

religious and ethnic minorities, regardless of nationality.

While borders had been porous in the Middle and Late-Middle Ages and

migration normal, the strategic interests of new states lay in impregnability

and control of persons with or without leave to cross frontiers. Nationality

was an obvious criterion and proof of nationality a simple method of

verification. The process of modernization in the new states went hand in

hand with the construction of the nation. This served external and internal

purposes. It created a sense of the 'Otherness' of those who were a threat to

the strategic interests of political elites. And it fostered the loyalty or

allegiance that induced willingness to be taxed to fund the defense of the

state and to be enlisted into military service. Since 1945, allegiance is

relevant less to military purposes than to the legitimacy of redistribution

and the funding of welfare systems.2

The construction of the nation was promoted through the dismantling of

feudal bonds and their replacement by a gradual extension of legal and

political rights. So complete became the overlap between national identity

and citizenship status that, in many political systems, even those with

separate words, 'citizenship' and 'nationality' became interchangeable.

And, according to Raymond Aron, it was a contradiction in terms to see

1 Meehan Elizabeth, Citizenship in the European Union, London: Sage 1993;

Meehan, "European Integration and Citizens´ Rights: A Comparative Perspective",

Publius. The Journal of Federalism 26 (4) Fall 1996.

2 Miller, David, "In Defence of Nationality", Journal of Applied Philosophy 10, 1993,


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