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


EU Social Rights: health insurance, (country) laws and hurdles?

The research programme bEUcitizen is not limited to pure research, but also focuses on real-life issues affecting citizens within the European Union. For instance the Work Package on Social Rights will deal with obstacles to the realization of EU citizenship such as the following: A German citizen, child of German parents resident in the UK, is trying to matriculate at Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany. The University requests a certificate from a German statutory health insurance fund confirming insurance coverage in order to enroll. Fellow students are insured as dependents through the health insurance of the parents, covering adult students up to a certain age limit.

The international office at the university informs the student, that she needs to enroll in a German statutory health insurance scheme, as the parents are not insured through a statutory German health insurance fund. However, this may be expensive for the student, as she would have to pay contributions to one of the German health insurance funds. Based on EU Regulation 883/2004, which deals with the coordination of social security of persons moving within Europe, the student is not obliged to enroll in a German statutory health insurance in order to be able to study at Humboldt University, since the NHS in England should cover the child as a family member.

The problem is, however, that knowledge of all these rules is limited, making compliance with the rules difficult at times. Although the NHS does not provide explicit coverage for family members, since all residents are covered as individuals, for the purpose of Germany, the adult student child has to be treated as a family member. The coordination regulation defines a person in such a situation as a family member. The university needs to be convinced that a certificate by the English NHS is sufficient. If this fails – due to a lack of knowledge – the German health insurance fund could confirm that the certificate has the same value as its own. In other words, the EU aims to make movement easier for its citizens, by regulating the access to social rights.

Nevertheless, even if the laws are in place, hurdles remain and have to be taken. One of the aims of bEUcitizen is to provide information, which can have impact on real-life situations and make a real difference to EU citizens.

Frans Pennings and Martin Seeleib-Kaiser

EU Citizenship – Many Pieces, But What Should The Puzzle Look Like?

Report: The Open Forum Discussion at Utrecht University kicked-off ‘bEUcitizen’, a multinational research-project on European citizenship. Its necessity became strikingly apparent.

UTRECHT, THE NETHERLANDS – 2013 is the European Year of Citizens. Yet, twenty years after the concept of ‘European Citizenship’ was introduced in the Treaty of Maastricht, few know what this citizenship actually entails. Less people still can agree on how it should develop over the coming years. At the same time, the notion of citizenship has been at the core of the European project, and many have benefitted from its practical application – be it to work, study or travel more freely within the European Union. This inconvenient divergence between perception and practice poses an important challenge to the development of the EU, and one that deserves more attention than it is generally accorded.

Against this backdrop, Professor Sybe de Vries (Utrecht University) kicked off the Open Forum Discussion on EU Citizenship. This forum marks the start of bEUcitizen, a multinational research project encompassing a consortium of 26 institutes in 19 different countries across Europe, which aims to study the impediments to the realisation of EU citizenship rights. “The concept of citizenship has a long history, from Aristotle to the recent judgment in Ruiz Zambrano”, noted De Vries. “At the same time, it remains a notoriously difficult concept to define and apply. The EU aims to become a space for its citizens to develop themselves. To do that, it is pivotal that we understand what the European notion of citizenship entails, and discover how to best translate that understanding to practice.”

The European Commission and its Citizenship Report for 2013
The European Commission is well-aware of the challenge at hand. In their EU Citizenship Report 2013, the Vice-President of the European Commission, Viviane Reding, notes that “We cannot build the European Union without citizens, we can only build the EU with the people it is made for and based on their ideas”. A range of challenges remain, as noted during the presentation of the report’s findings by Nathalie Stockwell (DG for Justice at the European Commission). These include the lack of accessible information, the subpar participation in the democratic life of the EU and the still-prevalent obstacles for workers, students and trainees. At the same time, Stockwell maintains an upbeat perspective, supported by the many deliverables of the Commission over the past years. European citizens are more aware of their rights, better able to move, and more capable to grasp uniquely European opportunities as a result. Persistent barriers, however, call for a debate on the future of Europe, especially as we approach the European elections.

Stockwell’s colleague at the Commission, Yuri Borgmann-Prebil (DG Research and Innovation at the European Commission), agrees. He lauded the extent to which this debate has been taking root in academia, and praised the collaborative nature of programs like bEUcitizen. In offering his own perspective, he stated “citizenship is the product of institutional design, co-created by many actors at many levels, including citizens themselves”. “Whereas citizenship on the national level is supported by deep historical developments, European citizenship is centred around mobility”, he continues. “Citizenship, therefore, is actualised by formal and informal practices that make use of this mobility. These practices enrich the lives of many, and create new opportunities.” In his view, citizenship is therefore more likely to gain traction with the European citizens if these practical benefits are highlighted rather than the prowess of EU institutions as such. “As soon as EU institutions are explicitly mentioned, the sense of solidarity seems to decline.” However, a striking revelation in this context is the fact that traditionally high support for the EU in the southern Member States is not correlated to a higher utilisation of citizenship rights.

The Prudence of a European Polis
Professor Philippe van Parijs (University of Louvain), who was requested to present a critical reflection on the Commission’s report, is not surprised. In his view, the Commission fundamentally misconstrues the nature of citizenship. “Citizenship”, he believes, “is not about being a participant in a market. Rather, it is about becoming part of a polis.” A particularly problematic aspect of the market perspective is that it disregards those who do not participate. “The EU does a lot for the ‘movers’, but tends to disregard the bulk of the people; those who stay at home.” They view the EU not as an opportunity, but as a threat. “Factories file for bankruptcy after being outcompeted thanks to the competition in the internal market. ‘Foreigners’, willing to work for lower wages, come in to take their jobs thanks to the freedom of establishment. Simultaneously, the EU keeps boasting about productivity and mobility. There is a very clear disconnect.”

For his alternative, the polis, Van Parijs envisages democracy to be at the heart of citizenship. He observes the fragmented nature of the EU, with distinct French, Italian and Greek identities, and labels the Union a demoicracy – an entity consisting of multiple sub-entities that preclude a dominant shared identity. “And yet, we are profoundly interconnected. We cannot credibly hope to tackle challenges at the national level.” We should therefore more vigorously move towards a EU-wide demoscracy, not necessarily to replace the national citizenship, but to explicitly and tangibly complement it. “This will help foster a group of leaders that appeals to the interests of all EU citizens, and allow us to move beyond the self-defeating bargaining in the national interest. As long as that practice persists, the realisation of citizenship remains problematic.”

This view was not left unopposed. “It is enlightening to take a historical perspective”, Professor Maarten Prak from Utrecht University remarks. “Consider, by means of analogy, the Union of Utrecht. Collaboration did take place, but was almost seen as a necessary evil to arrange for practicalities. All members explicitly refrained from the creation of common rules and institutions, and a spectacularly successful period ensued.” The lesson of this analogy, according to Prak, was that “a more modest unity could be created where none had existed before”. This he opposes to the implicit assumptions of the EU Citizenship report, which in his view argues for meta-structures that “create uniformity where none exists and perhaps none should exist”. A real European demos, he argues, is at this point not within reach. “A Union of 500 million inhabitants cannot be compared to the relatively small Athens of the classical time.”

Yet, there is a danger in striving for a more modest unity, responded Professor Uwe Puetter (Central European University). Such a modest interpretation may strengthen the focus on markets, and subsequently exacerbate the already challenged prospects for those who ‘stay at home’. He noted that the global economic crisis has affected European citizenship in two ways. First, the social consequences of a market-centred approach to citizenship became apparent. “It has become clear that we should not forget the social dimension of citizenship, as we have seen that few Member States are able to deliver de facto social security for their citizens.” Second, the crisis showed how a focus on markets has come at the expense of enforceable social and political rights. “EU citizenship compensates for a sense of security that is taken away, but this compensation particularly materialises for those who use their movement rights. The recent crisis of the EMU has shown that citizenship in its current form cannot, in the end, protect citizens or even cater to their most basic needs.”

Imagining a Puzzle
By bringing together these different perspectives, the Open Forum Discussion on EU Citizenship made for an entertaining and insightful event. More importantly, it showed the imperative of the research bEUcitizen intends to undertake. From a multidisciplinary perspective, the idea of European citizenship is about to be developed further with a vision to help the European Union in overcoming existing shortcomings to the exercise of citizenship rights, and face the challenges ahead. The contributions of the participants at the Open Forum showed that there are many pieces that make up the concept of European citizenship, but there is no agreement on what the puzzle should look like. The success of bEUcitizen will critically depend on the continued exchange of these perspectives, and on the ability of all participants to translate those in a coherent synthesis.

Thom Wetzer (Europa Institute, Utrecht University)

Open Forum Discussion on EU Citizenship 2013

Open Forum Discussion on EU Citizenship 2013

Wednesday 18 September, 20.00

Senate Hall, University Hall, Domplein 29, Utrecht

2013 has been proclaimed by the European Commission as the ‘Year of European Citizenship’, as it is 20 years after the EU introduced that concept with the Treaty of Maastricht.2013 is also the year, in which the same European Commission awarded a consortium of 26 institutes in 19 different countries across Europe, coordinated by Utrecht University, a major research grant to carry out a 4-year research project studying the impediments to the realization of EU citizenship rights: bEUcitizen. The project is officially launched during our kick-off. On Wednesday 18 September, 20.00 hrs you are welcome to attend the Open Forum Discussion on EU Citizenship 2013


Opening & welcome
Prof. Sybe de Vries, Utrecht University


Introduction to the EU Citizenship Report 2013
Nathalie Stockwell & Yuri Borgmann-Prebil, European Commission


Reflections on EU Citizenship 2013
Prof. Philippe van Parijs, University of Louvain (UCL)


A historical perspective on EU citizenship
Prof. Maarten Prak, Utrecht University


EU citizenship in times of crisis – lessons for beyond 2013
Prof. Uwe Puetter, Central European University


Discussion: opening the debate with the public



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