Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Monday, September 12, 2011

Nested Citizenships and Identities in Europe

In 1992 (or 1988 if you prefer) French, Germans, Spaniards, and other European peoples became something else: citizens of a new entity called the European Union. The Maastricht Treaty was clear in its intent when it "resolved to establish a citizenship common to nationals of all [EU] countries." That this was something new for Europeans (and a large step toward creating a more perfect union) does not mean it was a new concept. History is on the side of nested citizenship which is not precisely plural citizenship but is certainly its close cousin. Americans are long familiar with this though they seldom think about it and what it means. In the United State one is certainly a citizen of the USA but, at the same time, one is also a citizen in one's state (Texas, Washington, Delaware, California....) Nothing shows this interplay of the rights and duties and citizens of one state versus another more than the system of tuition reductions for state universities. A citizen of Texas wanting to attend a public university in the state of Washington must pay "out of state" tuition - in other words, more.

Nested citizenship is like a Russian doll.  It starts small with a city or a community and each successive "container" add rights and duties until one arrives at the largest and ostensibly final one that represents a limit between "us" and "them".  What the Maastricht treaty did was to create another larger container that encompasses all the other little containers (27 as of today). It is additive not subtractive.  No one lost national citizenship as a result - the French remain French, Germans remain German - but they now have passports that say EU and they have rights and responsibilities attached to that entity.

Citizenship, however, is a status attached to an individual.  It may be acquired though residency or blood but it remains a personal status with rights and duties that individual men and women are called on to exercise (or not) as their inclinations dictate.  Identity is also individual.  You can proclaim anything you like (citizenship without consent, anyone?) but you cannot make people act as or feel loyal to something that they don't identify with.  Today there is such a thing as an EU Citizen but making Europeans out of 27 very diverse national cultures and peoples who, until relatively recently, were slaughtering each other on battlefields is a taller order.  Quite frankly, it is a work in progress.

This attempt at the creation of a new identity is a lot of fun for political scientists, psychologists, sociologists and other academics.  There are a lot of theories out there about nationalism, citizenship, state creation and so on.  For these people the EU is a marvelous opportunity to see how some of these theories play out in the real world.  There is much literature on this subject on the Web and in libraries and I recently chose one to read and reflect on.  After all, I am raising two daughters who are, depending on the context, Americans, French and citizens of the EU.

Euroclash: The EU, European Identity, and the Future of EuropeEuroclash:  the EU, European Identity and the Future of Europe by Neil Fligstein is, despite its provocative and rather silly title, a thoughtful take on this supra-national collective endeavor.   Fligstein does a very good job of explaining how the EU works, the major treaties that have defined it and the economic transformation that has  ripped away national borders and made interaction and identification with other Europeans possible and even desirable.  But it is really in the latter part of the book (Chapter 5 onwards) that he get to the heart of the topic at hand.  "Who are the Europeans?" he asks, and "What is European Society?" His hypothesis is as follows;

"As European economic, social and political fields have developed, they imply the routine interaction of people from different societies.  It is people who are involved in such interactions that are most likely to come to see themselves as Europeans and involved in a European national project.  In essence, Europeans are going to be people who have the opportunity and inclination to travel to other countries, speak other languages, and routinely interact with people in other societies in the Europe-wide economic, social and political fields.  They are also going to be amongst the dominant material beneficiaries of European economic integration." (italics are mine)
Fligstein then uses data from the Eurobarometer 2004 survey to test his argument.  He seemed a bit disappointed by some of the results when he notes that only 3.9 percent of the EU population thinks of themselves as exclusively European.  As for me, I practically fell out of my chair when I saw that number.  Think about it, 3.9% of a population of 500 million speaking over 23 different languages have come to consider themselves to be exclusively European (and not French, Dutch, English...)  Another 8.8% think of themselves as primarily Europeans with an associated national identity.  That means that back in 2004 a whopping 12.7% of people in EU countries identified more closely with Europe than they did with their nation-states.  That is extraordinary.

So who are these "exclusive Europeans?"  The data show that people (men more than women) who are relatively young, well-educated, multi-lingual, belong to the professional or managerial classes and have middle to high incomes are much more likely to identify with Europe.  These are the people who have the skills (linguistic and professional) to participate fully in the EU and who have profited handsomely from economic integration.  People who continue to identify most closely with their nation-states tend to be older, mono-lingual, infrequent travelers to other EU countries, low-income and blue collar (basic workers.)  It is easy to see why - these are not people who can take full advantage of what Europe has to offer.

Based on that and current data Fligstein makes some predictions which I think are quite plausible.  As the population ages and those who actually remember who was doing what in World War II pass away, there will be younger Europeans who see EU citizenship as both a good thing and a given.  As economic integration advances, there will be more opportunities for people from different EU countries to interact though trade, travel, business, professional associations and so on.  The clashes will come from people who have not benefitted from the rise of the EU and who deeply resent not only Europe but their fellow national citizens who have sold out to the technocrats in Bruxelles for economic gain (yes, I have heard this argument).

In this context I find some sympathy for the Far Right in France.  They do represent a portion of the population that, in my mind, has some legitimate grievances.  I don't much care for how they express themselves but I must concede that their complaints and fears are real.  When I listen closely to the rhetoric of the Front National I hear a desperate tone - they are losing, they know it and the best they can do is to try to slow it down.  Fligstein points out that European center-left and center-right parties have given up the fight against the EU and have converged on a pro-Europe stance.  Anti-EU positions are not popular with middle and upper-income voters.  Proponents of less (or slower) integration might stand a chance if they became more European - that is to say, if they tried to coordinate with other parties in countries other than their own - but given the xenophobic and nationalistic nature of many of the right-wing parties, I find this to be unlikely.

I think the data are quite clear:  a European identify is forming before our eyes, all the indicators show that the trend will continue with more economic cooperation driving greater social integration and (dare I say it?) more political integration.  As an inside observer of all this, I confess that I am a bit awed by the scope and success of the European project.  And in the context of my own personal situation, it add another dimension to questions about citizenship.  To be French would be a great honour.  To be an EU citizen would also be an honour and confer even greater rewards.  Because one follows from the other, this is a very compelling argument in favor of becoming a citizen of a European nation-state.

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