This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement no 320294


Opening speech Prof Sybe de Vries at the bEUcitizen final conference 2017

Dear participants of the final bEUcitizen conference on “The Future of EU citizenship”,


JASON My children, what a savage mother you had

MEDEA My children, how your lustful father wronged you

JASON It was not my hand, that killed them

MEDEA Your arrogance and new marriage did

(English translation by EP Coleridge, Internet Classics Archive, accessed 15 February 2017) 


Prof Sybe de Vries

This extract of a powerful and dramatic scene of Euripides’ Medea, pictures Medea as a woman who does not passively sit back and accept the injustice of what has been happening to her. Not only does Euripides’ characterisation of Medea, who had just killed her sons, exhibit the inner emotions of passion, love and vengeance, his play could also be seen as a plea for women’s rights in a patriarchal society, where Medea makes it very clear that it is Jason who has acted out of his own selfishness (AD Messing 2009; SA de Vries 2017).

More than two and a half thousand years later, it was the Belgian stewardess Defrenne who advocated for the equality of women, this time though in Luxembourg in an act before the Court of Justice, without bloodshed and more successfully (Case 43/74, Defrenne).

The Medea of Euripides belongs to one of the most popular classical tragedies; Defrenne is undoubtedly one of the classics of EU law. If we assume that Medea is also about equality between men and women, Defrenne corresponds to the values set out in Euripides’ play. In classical Greece the patriarchal society was a major obstacle for women in gaining equality, although this view has recently been put into perspective by a colleague in Utrecht, Josine Blok, in her book on citizenship in classical Athens (JH Blok 2017). The primarily economic orientation of the European Communities, though, did not appear to be a handicap for the European Court of Justice to develop a European fundamental rights dimension.

As Defrenne received lower pay than her male colleagues for identical work, she brought the Belgian airline Sabena to the Belgian court and argued that their decision violated the principle of equal pay for equal work, which is laid down in Article 157 TFEU. After the Belgian Court referred the case to Luxembourg, in a seminal judgment the European Court of Justice held that Defrenne could indeed rely on Article 157 before a national Court, vis-à-vis a private, non-state actor, the Belgian airline, as this provision was directly effective.

Defrenne was a crucial case for the development of EU citizenship and is highly illustrative for the bEUcitizen-research, for a number of reasons.

First, one could argue, at least from a legal perspective, that from the moment when the Treaties granted rights to individuals and the opportunity of enforcing them before the courts the status of ‘Community citizen’ [was] officially recognized. In Defrenne the Court recognized the particular status of female workers, and adopted an inclusive approach to citizenship.

In our bEUcitizen project we have recognized that different categories of citizens are affected differently and may encounter multiple barriers to the exercise of their citizenship rights. Our research has shown that some categories of citizens are more vulnerable, including women, and particularly migrant care women, migrants or minorities. And that EU law can apparently not always be a shelter for all citizens (N Nic Shuibhne 2017).


Second, the Court said something more interesting: it held that Article 157 TFEU, which had been included in the EEC Treaty as a purely economic provision to eliminate distortions of competition, did not only have an economic but also a social aim. As such, it contributed to social progress and the improvement of living and working conditions and it formed ‘part of the foundations of the Community’ S Burri & S Prechal 2011). But this did neither result in a substantial EU social policy, due to a lack of competences for the EU, nor guarantee that economic and social rights of EU citizens are weighed on an equal footing.

bEUcitizen research shows that in the EU the economic and social spheres have up until today been decoupled (FW Scharpf 2002), and in addition there are large differences between the welfare systems in the EU. This makes free movement and a decent living for some EU citizens difficult to realize in practice, if not an utopia. And those who can use their free movement rights across borders may be accused of upsetting local and national structures of social relations and solidarity. Would the adoption of the Pillar on Social Rights be able to change this? We will hear more about this today.


Third, in later cases, the Court of Justice extended Article 157 from a (mere) foundational provision of the EU, to a Treaty article giving an expression of a fundamental human right.[1] The development of human rights in the EU, has culminated in the legally binding EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. And according to the Treaty respect for human rights and the rule of law constitute the core values of the EU. Notwithstanding this crucial development for EU citizenship, the limited scope of application of the EU Charter means that some European citizens, the sedentary citizens or outsiders, cannot claim their civil, social or political rights as enshrined in the Charter. And there are very limited powers for the EU to counteract upsetting developments, like those that take place in Hungary or Poland. Yesterday there was positive news, though, as the Commission started an infringement procedure against Hungary in respect of its higher education law, threatening the vary existence of one of our partner universities CEU. The action is, however, first based on the fundamental internal market freedoms, notably the freedom to provide services and the freedom of establishment, which then offer the possibility to challenge the Hungarian law on the basis of the right of academic freedom, the right to education and the freedom to conduct a business as provided by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. Furthermore, the Union’s legal obligations under international trade law are also mentioned as a reason for legal action.

bEUcitizenship research shows that it could ultimately be desirable to fundamentally alter the foundations of EU citizenship, placing fundamental rights at its core rather than mobility.

More heroines and heroes followed Defrenne in their endeavor to secure their EU citizenship rights. This led to groundbreaking judgments of the European Court of Justice, transforming EU citizenship into a fundamental status. During the last years, we see another trend, towards a limitation of EU citizenship rights, at least in a number of fields. The limits of legal possibilities to put more flesh to the bones of EU citizenship are in sight. The social and societal context must be taken into account: Citizenship cannot only be understood as a merely legal or constitutional category; citizenship must be studied in its interdependence between rules and practices, which is after all the premise of our multidisciplinary bEUcitizen project.

Meanwhile the challenges for the European Union are huge: the economic and financial crisis, widening inequality; the rise of populism, widespread contestation and Euro-skepticism; challenges to open borders and mobility; the consequences of the Brexit referendum, to list but a few.


It is against this background that our final conference takes place and it is more than ever pertinent to discuss the Future of EU Citizenship, which invites us to think about the end goal of European integration, the ‘finalité politique’.  After 70 years of peace and an era of unprecedented growth in Europe, one cannot simply conclude that, now the process of European integration has slowed down and even a Member State intends to leave the European Union, the EU has failed to live up to its expectations. And, that there would be no cause for celebration of 60 years Treaty of Rome.


The situation is serious, but not necessarily desperate. In fact, the end of the growth of European integration may, paraphrasing the words of TS Elliot, also be the beginning; the beginning of new forms of integration, as set out in the Commission’s White Paper on the Future of Europe, or the beginning of the development of a more mature concept of citizenship, or the embracement of alternative forms of EU citizenship.


These will be the topics of today and tomorrow.

Europe is in need of heroines and heroes, so that we do not only celebrate typically national fests, like today in the Netherlands Kings Day, but also the merits of EU citizenship throughout the whole EU.

I am happy to see that so many are present here in Brussels! Your contributions have during the last four years given the bEUcitizen-project mythological proportions, for which I would like to thank you so much.  We also have a number of guests and Advisory Board members present. Kalypso Nicolaidis, Herwig Verschueren, Stefaan van der Jeught, Catherine Woollard, Eve Geddie, Richard Bellamy, Daniel Keleman, Alice Kessler-Harris, Steven Blockmans, Agnes Jongerius and Catherine Barnard, who will be an inspiration for us and who will help us to discuss and disseminate the results of our project.

Furthermore, lunch sessions with policy-makers will take place during these two days and will be chaired by Herwig Verschueren and Sean Klein.

To grace our conference, there is an exhibition by Circus Europe (Machtheld van Buren and Peter van Lierop), with beautiful paintings showing the richness and diversity of Europe and its citizens. Furthermore, there is an on-going video presentation of our research, which has been set up by Beatrice Ngalula Kabutakapua.

This conference would not have been possible without the support of Antwerp University, in particular Maria Teresa Solis Santos and Anne-Marie van den Bossche, who have been supported by Alice Perenzin from Utrecht University. And, of course, not without the on-going support of the European Commission, in particular Philippe Keraudren and Yuri Borgmann-Prebil. I would therefore like to give the floor to Philippe Keraudren from the European Commission, DG Research & Innovation.

Our first heroic guest today is Professor Kalypso Nicolaidis: it is an honour to welcome our first keynote speaker, who is a Professor of International Relations at the University of Oxford and will give a speech bearing the intriguing title: To B or not to B a European citizen.

[1] Case C-50/96 Deutsche Telekom AG v Schröder ECLI:EU:C:2000:72, para 57.