Exercising EU Citizenship about rights, duties and possible barriers to their realisation by European Citizens.
Twenty years after the EU introduced the concept of ‘European Citizenship’ in the Treaty of Maastricht, the European Commission proclaimed 2013 the ‘Year of European Citizenship’. This was done to draw additional attention to a perceived problem: why don’t Europeans realise their rights as European citizens? With the term ‘realise’ here being used to mean both being aware of these rights and demanding, using and thereby materialising them. This year, the European Commission also awarded a consortium of 26 institutes from 19 countries in and outside Europe, coordinated by Utrecht University, a major research grant to carry out a 4-year research project to study this problem. This multinational and multidisciplinary project entitled bEUcitizen, sets out to identify and analyse which impediments hinder European citizens from realising these rights and why.
Possible Sources of Impediments
The project will search for answers to this question in four different areas. These four hypothetical types of barriers are:
1. Rivalry between different overlapping territorial layers of citizenship. In Europe local, regional, national and European identities, each with their own respective rights and duties, exist alongside one another. Different nations may have developed specific identities and related rights and duties during their own specific history, which may conflict with or rival the new European ones. Furthermore, while national rights provide protection by means of and within the borders erected, European rights pertain to the opposite, namely crossing and even razing those borders.
2. Possible conflicts between different types of rights. The project distinguishes between various types of citizenship rights–(civic, economic, political, legal and social) as there could be conflicts between these rights. E.g. the right to freedom of movement might reduce the right to strike (against the free movement of foreign workers) and the legal right to claim one’s interest in court may increase the political influence of the courts, reducing the influence of democratically elected bodies, thereby indirectly reducing the political rights of citizens as voters.
3. Possible conflicts between the rights of different categories of citizens such as natives versus newcomers/immigrants, Europeans versus third-country nationals, the young versus the old or males versus females. After all, it is conceivable that the rights of one group might infringe upon the rights of the other. For example, the right of one group to settle in another country may conflict with the rights of others to remain employed or to strike against others coming to their country.
4. In addition to these more principled causes there may be also practical hindrances such as language barriers and bureaucratic hurdles for citizens who try to claim their rights while residing in other European member states.
Rules and Practices
Such hindrances, rivalries, competition and conflicts create dynamics. It is one thing to have these rights inscribed in the law books, but quite another to have them in practice. In fact, the historical development of the concept of citizenship has been one of an ongoing dialectic between legal rules and social practices. Social practices such as revolts, have modified rules, while – in turn – these have (re)structured social practices. This dialectic is a central perspective of our project. We therefore consider citizenship a heterogeneous, dynamic, social and historical collection of practices, which have, time and again, found their more stable expression in more or less firmly enshrined legal rights and obligations.