A European citizenship in a European federation

Richard Laming speaking at Ventotene

By Richard Laming

Notes for a speech at the Ventotene seminar on 3 September 2003.

What is citizenship?

A constitution is a contract between citizens as to how they are to be governed.

Citizenship describes the rights of those citizens as contractual parties. What rights and duties do they have towards the state? What rights and duties do they have towards each other?

Democratic political systems cannot survive if they do not have a strong enough political culture. If Europe is to have a constitution, it must also have some kind of citizenship. That’s why it is an interesting subject.

Why do different countries have different political systems?

This might seem like an obvious question, or rather a question with an obvious answer, but sometimes it is the most simple question that has the most profound answers. So, why do different countries have different political systems?

Because the political system is not simply a narrow literal expression of the rules by which a country is governed. It is an expression of the culture of a country. It shapes that culture too. But then most cultural phenomena both influence and are influenced by the societies in which they exist.

If the political system is different one country from another, so is the citizenship. Citizenship is part of that political system, it is a reflection of it.

What does this mean for European citizenship?

It will be a reflection of the European federation to which it corresponds. The nature of that European federation will depend on which member states are part of it. It is our expectation that not every European country will be part of it at the beginning.

But what can we say about it now?

There is a common sense of identity in Europe that has been developing slowly. It is based on culture, sport, commercial links, and indeed some political elements as well. It is based on Europe as a political and geographical space. The fact that the EU has, since it was first set up, aspired to include the whole of Europe has fuelled this sense that European identity and the EU belong together.

What does this mean for the European federation?

It needs to be based on that growing sense of European citizenship. The strength of European citizenship and identity will be the basic strength of that European federation. As with any individual country, we cannot treat the constitution of the European federation as the sole distinguishing feature of the federation.

The particular lesson is that the federation has to reach outwards rather than inwards. A proposal that the next stage of integration will be based on a smaller rather than a larger number of countries makes no sense in the context of citizenship. No smaller group of countries will be matched with the kind of identity that makes a political entity stick together.

The theories of federalism that look to a breakaway group of one sort of another fail, in my view, because they neglect this important reality. We have to make theories for Europe as it is rather than for Europe as some people might like it to be.

Secondly, we have to create an identity for Europe that exists alongside, not instead of, the national and other identities that exist in Europe today. We are creating a federal Europe, not a unitary state.

There is an interesting parallel to draw with the United States. There, politics may be characterised as being based on a militarist nationalism on the one hand, and a separatism on the other based on race, regional identity, and so on. There is a small third group seeking to create an identity for the United States as a whole that is based on a civic nationalism rather than an ethnic nationalism, which increasingly is what the American self-image resembles. Jim Sleeper has written engagingly about this problem. It is interesting because of the way it mirrors what federalists are trying to do in Europe: to create a non-nationalist sense of identity for our political community. It is a problem that neither of us has yet solved.

This article was contributed by Richard Laming, a member of the Executive Committee of Federal Union. He may be contacted at richard@richardlaming.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Federal Union.

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