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

 

citizen-pic
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.

gisela
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?

eu-cit
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.

 

532px-eu_flag-map-svg
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.

The Euroculturer Recommends:

“Scotland – are you ready for more? Scotland on course for second independence vote after Brexit.” by Emily Burt

“Online Terrorism: Radicalisation on the web” by Eric Hartshorne

“Little Europe in Bengal: Contemporary trends in conservation” by Arnab Dutta

 

Advertisements

Favourite European Songs : “Dickes B reminds me of my adventures in Berlin”

Most of Europe’s popular music is made in either the United States or Great Britain, or is at least influenced greatly by American and British popular music, if only for the fact that a lot of popular music in non-English-speaking Europe is, nonetheless, sung in English. Some countries even try to battle this trend: the French government, for instance, passed a law in 1994 for a Francophone quarter where at least 40% of the music played on the radio must be sung in French.

Albert Meijer | albert_meijer@hotmail.com

Whether it’s Bach, Beyoncé or the Backstreet Boys, music is important in everyday life: to listen to, to dance to, to identify with, and to think about. Listening to a certain kind of music can be a great influence in the (sub) culture you identify with, be it punk, folk, or jazz.

Music transcends borders. Take hip hop, for example. With roots in African rhythms, Caribbean sound systems, call-and-response songs of slave workers, political speeches in the era of the American Civil Rights Movement and jazz, it has flown over from the American ghettoes to the poor and rich neighbourhoods of European cities, to the islands of Japan and even to the icy plains of Greenland, where Inuit rappers use hip hop as a medium of protest against Danish language hegemony.

While some politicians stress the importance of a pure, unified culture, the truth is that this ‘pure’ culture has been tainted by foreign influences for centuries. In the case of music, the strongest example is the Americanization and Anglicization of popular music. Most of Europe’s popular music is made in either the United States or Great Britain, or is at least influenced greatly by American and British popular music, if only for the fact that a lot of popular music in non-English-speaking Europe is, nonetheless, sung in English. Some countries even try to battle this trend: the French government, for instance, passed a law in 1994 for a Francophone quarter where at least 40% of the music played on the radio must be sung in French.

At The Euroculturer, we thought we would follow the French idea to reset the focus of popular music on European songs, although non-English language is not required to make the list. We asked several MA Euroculture students for their favourite European songs.

Polish student Beata Brozèk’s favourite European song is “To Ostatnia Niedziela”, by Mieczysław Fogg, meaning “This is the Last Sunday”. It’s a Polish tango from the 1930s, and is also known as ”The Suicide Tango” because of its morbid lyrics. “It was my grandparents’ favourite song. They would always listen to it during dances and dates. It was my favourite song when I was a child. Now that I am married, I understand more and more why it is so powerful”, she says. The song is about a person begging his/her loved one to give him/her the last Sunday before they will part forever. “In Poland, Sunday was the ultimate day for dates, where you would usually have coffee, a long walk, and maybe a kiss”, Beata tells us.

Sheila Pilli from Italy suggests a hip hop song with reggae-influences from Germany: “Dickes B” by Seeed. The song is about Berlin, which is evident in the video, in which the rappers and musicians walk through many Berlin hotspots. “When I went on a trip to Berlin, I met a guy in a club. We spent some time together, and he showed me the video for this song. I love the song and the video, it reminds me of my adventures in Berlin”, Sheila says.

Nokchachom Cheskhun, a student from Thailand who is better known as Pippa, chose her favourite song as “El Rey de Francia”, sung by Savinna Yannatou. If any of these songs are ‘truly European’, it is this one: the singer is Greek, the song is an 18th century traditional from Asia Minor, it is sung in Ladino (a Jewish language close to Spanish), and it is about the daughter of the King of France who dreams about love. “A Spanish friend hummed the tune, and I asked him what song it was. I looked it up and fell in love with the sweet melody and listened to it every day. It soothes my busy soul”, Pippa says. “It’s a dreamlike poem. I wish to sing this song one day”.

Swedish-Greek student George Tsarsitalidis also picks a Greek singer, Eleutheria Arvanitaki, as one of his favourites. “She is really famous in Greece, but also in other countries. She sings melancholic songs, and she is amazing”. Another favourite of his, well-known pop star Robyn, is from the country of his other nationality: Sweden. “Robyn is really famous in Sweden. I like the song ‘Dancing on My Own’, because it’s a good song to dance to”.

Albert Meijer, People’s Editor

Hailing from Osaka, Japan, Albert writes about the student body of the MA Euroculture programme. His academic interests lie in the fields of (sub)cultural studies, music science, sociology, and gender and queer studies. In his spare time, Albert likes writing and singing mediocre songs, walking through typhoons, making video blogs and getting stuck in difficult yoga positions.

A Luxury: Lack of Borders

Heather Southwood | southwood28@gmail.com

“From somewhere different?”
“Like Europe?”
“No, not like Europe”*

*War of the Worlds

Maybe it’s all psychological or maybe it’s just that America is so much bigger but, for some reason, in the run up to my trip, it seemed like a huge undertaking. There was so much to do, so much paperwork for the visa, so many forms to fill in for the university and so many hours to sit on a plane. It did not help that each time I spoke about my trip, someone had some horror story about the journey there: going through customs, immigration, or just the flight itself, everyone had a story to share and advice to impart. If you Googled transferring flights at my connecting airport, forums were filled with horror stories and complaints.

Yet, when I stepped off my plane, immigration was rather easy – I was greeted with a smile, not the surly face I had been promised. Customs was just the handing over of a paper card filled in on the flight and, at security, the security guard complimented my boots. In fact, since landing in America until arriving at my apartment, six different airport employees complimented my boots! So, even though I had heard all these stories about getting in to America, it was actually very easy and really friendly. Yet, I definitely breathed a sigh of relief once I had got that bit out of the way and I could continue on my way.

“Borders” is a word we hear a lot in Europe; having no borders, the Schengen agreement and of course from reading Balibar. I wonder if ‘Fortress Europe’ to those non-Europeans is almost like my psychological experience of entering America. Of course, as a European those borders to me either do not exist or are pretty easy: there are no visas, interviews, paperwork, forms with different numbers, handing over of financial evidence, or health insurance. Just the wave of a passport, some security procedures and knowing your final destination is all you need (and from experience, even if you get the destination wrong, they still let you through!). Of course, once you enter Schengen countries you can travel country to country without even those questions. I remember the first time I travelled to Germany: I was amazed by trains going to Amsterdam or Geneva, but maybe that was just a British thing.

Borders, or the lack of borders, I think may be a luxury that we Europeans may take for granted, whether they are physical or just physiological. An American girl, in the run up to my travels here as I envied her ability to walk straight in said, I wish I had your passport”. My friend with dual nationality would never give up her European passport, it’s too valuable. The European passport: it’s like the golden ticket for travelling.

Heather Southwood, Copy Editor

Heather is from Manchester, UK, and completed her undergraduate in Law before studying Euroculture in the University of Göttingenand Jagiellonian University, Krakow. She is currently completing a research track in Indianapolis. Her research interests include citizenship and the promotion of belonging in citizens. She also attempts to discover a new national dish she can cook every time she goes somewhere new.