What does it mean to be a European citizen? The realities of EU citizenship and the nationalism problem of Europe


Source: EUtopia Law

Elizabete Marija Skrastina

In 1992, forty years after the European Union was established, the Maastricht Treaty introduced the notion of a “European citizen”.

It did not go well. Not only did this new term awaken mistrust between the peoples of the EU’s different Member States, it even caused such considerable internal controversy states such as Denmark that the European Council had to release a statement in order to confirm that “citizenship of the Union is a political and legal concept which is entirely different from national citizenship (…)”. In the same year, the European Commission sought ways to create common EU symbols but faced strong resistance from the Member States. A good example of this was the Commission’s proposals to have athletes from all Member States appear as one delegation during the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, a proposal which was fully roundly by governments.

Now, 1992 seems a long time ago, and surely, one would think, that after more than twenty years, with a generation already born as European citizens coming into adulthood, this term would have to be something warm and familiar, something, we cherish as much as our nationality.

But, for most, it is not.

In the European Union’s web portal, it is still stated that “EU citizenship is additional to and does not replace national citizenship.” Eurosceptics keep arguing that to overcome nationality is impossible, and those who think otherwise are to be regarded as utopian fantasts. With Brexit, it feels like the utopian idea of a one strong, united Europe is slowly drifting away. More and more people from the Member States reject the idea of an ever-closer Europe, often out of fear that their state might lose its sovereignty under the pressure of common policies. On this note, one might even argue that it is the lack of trust and general indifference among the Europeans that is the main reason why the European Union is facing such problems now.

A group of British Eurosceptic politicians. Boris Johnson, current Foreign Secretary of the UK, is in the middle.

A survey conducted by TNS political & social at the request of the European Commission in 2015 shows that there still are people in the Member States – fortunately, not too many, and the share of them is declining – that do not even fully understand the term “European citizen” and the mystery hidden within the term . In 2015, 13 % of the respondents stated that they have never even heard the term “citizens of the European Union”, while 35 % of respondents said that they have heard about it, but do not know what it means exactly.

Maybe this is the reason why, when looking at the statistical data from 2015, over 30 % of the Europeans admit not feeling like a European citizen.  In addition, 38 % of all Europeans admitted that they not only do not feel like a European citizen, they actually see themselves as exclusively a member of their nation.  This, again, might be the reason why European citizens distance themselves from European affairs – this can be seen in all its “glory” when looking at the 2014 European Parliamentary election where only 42.6% of all people holding European citizenship voted. 42.6%! Not only it is that the lowest turnout since the first European elections in 1979, it also makes one think – what happened?

A demonstration by the UK’s European citizens

It is not like the idea is not being promoted. There are different levels of Erasmus programme available to encourage exploring other Member States, there are European days, information centres in every country, videos, information campaigns and the homepage run by the European Commission – europa.eu – can be accessed in every single official EU language. But somehow, the notion does not reach its target. It seems that on the way from Brussels to our homes, the information gets lost and never really reaches us, the citizens of the European Union.

So what does it mean to be a European citizen?

Let’s put it in an everyday perspective.

To be a European citizen means that you can finish your dinner with your Spanish family, and carry on your night with drinking a nice, cold bottle of German beer, maybe snacking on some French macaroons while watching Downton Abbey and texting with your best friend from Bulgaria. It means that you can say “Hello” in at least five languages, and your “bad” words collection is enormous thanks to your friends from Italy, Estonia and Greece.

Being a European citizen means you can spontaneously buy some low cost airplane tickets and have a nice weekend whether up in the snowy mountains, deep into mysterious forests or sunbathing in the sunny beaches, regardless whether you are from Latvia, Portugal or Slovenia.


European Union

On a more serious note, it means that you can make your voice heard by a petition, or a letter, or even by becoming a candidate for Parliamentary elections and you have the fundamental right not to be discriminated whether by race, ethnicity, religion, disability, age, sex or sexual orientation. It means that, as long as you stay within the borders of the Union, you are never “illegal” and you can work and live abroad, and are always protected by the diplomatic and consular authorities in another twenty-seven countries, excluding your homeland. Being a European Citizen means that under certain conditions, if you feel that the national court of your homeland has ruled unfairly, you can bring the country to Court of Justice and fight for your truth.

To have the fortune to be a European citizen means that you have the rare opportunity to see, hear, smell, taste and touch the world in new ways again and again, and yet – stay true to your own nationality.

That is what being a European citizen means. Simple as that.

Elizabete Marija Skrastina is new to The Euroculturer. Keep up with her latest stories by following The Euroculturer on Facebook or by subscribing to our newsletter.

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MISS HELP… Packing!

There are some problems we all encounter regularly as Euroculture students. When Wikipedia doesn’t tell you the answer, when your coordinator just shrugs and your friends know no remedy, ask Miss or Mr Help. If you have a question for them, send it to editors@euroculturer.eu to get rid of your problem!

Dear Miss Help,

I am a Euroculture student in my second year. Up until now, I moved three times, not to mention the short trip to the IP conference in the University of Deusto. Every time I start packing, I go crazy. I have so much stuff and I need it all! What am I going to do without my flippers when I live so close to the beach in Bilbao? And how am I supposed to survive the Polish winter without the fifteen very warm and nice sweaters my grandma knitted for me? My internship employer wants me to dress decent so I need to pack my suits as well, not to mention the fancy ball gown I was planning to take for the IP gala dinner!

Please help me, I dread the next packing day and I know my fellow Euroculture students have the same problem because I read “I hate packing!” on Facebook all the time!

Sincerely, Desperate European Nomad

Dear Desperate European Nomad,

Yes, in most situations packing can be a distress, especially when today’s airlines (and we all know which specific one I mean) charge a fortune for even an extra kilo. I will teach you how to master the technique of travelling lightly. The trick (and it actually is no news) is to know what is necessary for your stay in whichever country you travel to, but most importantly you need to be realistic and be harsh on yourself.

I suggest that you start off with piling everything you think you need to bring on the bed. It could help if you make a list of things and then slowly go through the list several times, each time deducting two or three items. Really, there’s no need to bring your whole make-up bag or all of your chargers for laptops, iPods, mobile phones, etc. for a three-day-visit to your friend’s place in France. Instead, check if your friend has chargers that you can borrow, or leave your laptop behind because there are probably internet cafés over there and if you have a smartphone you probably have all of these functions in one. When it comes to make-up, only bring the basics (or if you dare: go au naturel).

However, the biggest issue seems to be that people always pack too much clothes and pairs of shoes. As you start to learn how to pack lightly, think back on the trips when you brought too much, and try to remember what you often packed yet never used and promised NEVER to pack again.

The trick here is to try to learn how to combine the smallest amount of garments with one pair of shoes and not bring half your closet.

A smart way to pack is also to think layers! Layers allow you to combine and also make sure that you stay warm when it gets cold in Krakow or stay cool if the weather is hot in Bilbao.

When you move for a longer stay, leave books and dictionaries behind (you always have access to online dictionaries, Google books, not to mention libraries). I bet there is a book shop if you desperately want books on your shelf. Also, you will receive a lot of course materials during the semester. For those who crave feeling at home in their new homes: IKEA exists worldwide!

If you think Miss Help was very helpful, also read MISS HELP…Long-distance relationships!