Towards a European Identity?

Maastricht, Amsterdam, and the Introduction of European Citizenship

European Union
Towards a European Identity? : Maastricht, Amsterdam, and the Introduction of European Citizenship - Richard Nield


A major theme of both the Treaty on European Union, signed at Maastricht on 7 February 1992, and the Treaty of Amsterdam, signed in October 1997, is the endeavour to create a common European identity. Article B of the Treaty on European Union states that among the Union's objectives is the assertion of "its identity on the international scene, in particular through the implementation of a common foreign and security policy." Despite the opt-outs given to Denmark and the United Kingdom, the introduction of the single European currency and the establishment of a European Central Bank on 1 January 1999 have similarly been seen as strengthening the trend towards a uniform European identity. The developments towards a unitary defence identity go some way towards answering Kissinger's famous question: "who do I call when I want Europe?", and the deepening of economic ties has been seen throughout the history of European integration as the essential precursor to political harmonisation.

However, the nascent 'European identity' in the spheres of economics and foreign affairs is only skin-deep. Though an important stimulus to the 'European idea', it is not synonymous with a true feeling of 'Europeanness' amongst the peoples of Europe. In the light of such developments as the Common Foreign and Security Policy and the Single European Currency, the question of what it is to be European and the conundrum of how to encourage the development of a specifically European identity among the residents of Europe is becoming increasingly important. Such a concept of a European identity goes far beyond the institutional framework of the EU and the way it is perceived abroad and extends into the spheres of political rights and duties, culture, history and ethnicity.

Nevertheless, the Treaty on European Union and its successor at Amsterdam d!!serve attention for their recognition of some of these wider implications of European identity. This paper will focus on the extent to which the treaties of Maastricht and Amsterdam have gone beyond institutional changes in foreign and economic affairs and examine to what extent the introduction, at Maastricht, of the notion of European citizenship has laid the foundations of what may grow into a true feeling of 'Europeanness.' In order to do this, four subjects will be examined: first, the notion of citizenship; second, the extent to which the Maastricht and Amsterdam treaties provide the political tools necessary to create a true citizenry; third, the extent to which any common citizenship is in practice possible for and palatable to the national governments and peoples of Europe; and fourth, what hope this gives us for the creation of a strong European identity in the future and what proposals can be suggested to accelerate this process.

Citizenship and its prerequisites

The concept of European citizenship introduced at Maastricht took a significant step towards the recognition that further widening and deepening of the Union must be underpinned by some degree of political unity. Its importance should not be underestimated, particularly in the light of the considerable opposition that the concept faced in countries such as the United Kingdom and Denmark. However, the question of whether its inclusion is a nominal acknowledgement of a vague notion of political alignment, or whether it will act as a springboard towards the creation of a genuine political union with its own identity needs to be examined. To answer this question, we must first be clear on what the label of citizenship entails. Once the idea of citizenship is defined, the final sections of this paper will examine the ways in which these preconditions can be adopted or adapted by the European Union in its search for a collective identity.

In order for citizenship to be meaningful, it is necessary that with the appellation 'citizen' come certain rights, loyalties and feelings of identity with fellow citizens. Brigid Laffan has summarised the main elements which have grown to constitute the Western idea of collective identity as: a historic territory or homeland; common myths and historical memories; a common mass political culture; common legal rights and duties for all members; and a common economy with territorial mobility for members. These prerequisites for collective identity are the benchmarks on which to model a prospective European citizenship.

Laffan goes on to draw a distinction between those elements which relate specifically to identity and those which form the basis of political rights, stating that: "[t]he ethnic dimension of nationality draws on the notion of a common ancestry and on the consciousness of shared identity and the civic dimension rests on citizenship and legal equality, a legacy of the Enlightenment."1 This differentiation between ethnic and civic identity is useful in assessing the development of collective identity, and this paper will make use of the division to first assess the extent to which the political preconditions of citizenship are developing, and then to look further into the prospects for the development of a cultural identity. The inclusion of citizenship within the civic dimension is, however, restrictive. Citizenship need not be based on such strong ties as nationality, nor can it exist in a vacuum. This paper will treat citizenship in the broader sense of a concept which embraces rights, access to political participation and belonging2 and which "is not only a kind of organizational procedure, but also a way of morally participating in community life for the preservation of its memory and well-being."3 It will be argued that the construction of the civic dimension of European identity is merely the bedrock upon which a feeling of belonging, and thence social and cultural identity, can be built. To assess how strong this bedrock is, we must first look at the Treaty on European Union at Maastricht and its successor at Amsterdam.

Maastricht and Amsterdam

The Treaty on European Union signed at Maastricht made significant progress towards fulfilling some of the political preconditions for citizenship. The introduction of a timetable for the introduction of the Euro and the formalisation of the "right to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States"4 go no small way towards fulfilling Laffan' s requirement that there be a "common economy with territorial mobility for members." Similarly the declaration that "[c]itizens of the Union shall enjoy the rights conferred by this Treaty and shall be subject to the duties imposed thereby" demonstrates the existence of a will to create "common legal rights and duties for all members."5 Most important of the rights granted by the Treaty to its citizen body is the right to vote and stand in municipal elections and elections to the European Parliament in other Member States.6 This creates a genuine transnational political space within which further rights can be developed in the future.

Within this political space, an embryonic "common mass political culture" is also emerging. Elements of this can be found in the nine areas of common interest (for example asylum and immigration policy, police and judicial co-operation) on which the Council can adopt joint positions and joint actions, as well as in the third pillar of the Union which lays down a series of provisions for 'Cooperation in the Fields of Justice and Home Affairs' (the first and second pillars deal with economic and defence policy, respectively).

Many of these developments are reinforced by legal underpinnings and constitutional changes. With the inclusion of both citizenship rights and areas of common interest within the first pillar of the European Union, a legal basis has been given to cooperation in policy areas that were formerly dealt with on a national or informal basis. The introduction of the co-decision procedure will strengthen the role of the European Parliament and increase the legitimacy of EU policy, a crucial aspect of government-citizen relations.

Despite much criticism, the Treaty of Amsterdam has shown a willingness to both broaden and deepen the development of a European political space. The tone of the Treaty is far more positive than that of Maastricht. For example, the desire to reduce the 'democratic deficit', an essential condition for the real exercise of citizenship, is made clear in Article 1: "this Treaty marks a new stage in the process of creating an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe, in which decisions are taken as openly as possible and as closely as possible to the citizen."7 In addition, the declaration of the fundamental principles and rights of the Union and its citizens embraces not only humanitarian and political rights, but also social and economic ones.8 Similarly, practical advances are exemplified by a further review of the power of the European Parliament, the provision of further details on the nature of judicial and police cooperation and the insertion of the substance of the Social Protocol back into the Treaty of Rome.9

There are, of course, limitations to the progress made in the treaties towards the creation of a suitable civic environment for European citizenship. The major criticism which has been leveled at the Treaty on European Union10 is that the provisions on justice and home affairs were consigned to the third pillar, which does not come under the. jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. The removal of internal barriers which is central to this part of the treaty is therefore largely left to the intergovernmental agreement of Schengen (1985), of which the United Kingdom, notably, is not a part.

The Treaty of Amsterdam has been similarly criticised for failing to do anything but gloss over the weaknesses of Maastricht. Ludlow bemoans the fact that in his view the second treaty was no more than an "ad hoc list of good ideas, which pander to the whims and anxieties of particular governments, but which do not in any fundamental sense enhance our understanding of what EU citizenship means."" In .saying this, Ludlow exposes the central problem which the supporters of European citizenship face: the intransigence of national governments. Maastricht and Amsterdam went a considerable way in introducing what in many ways is a revolutionary concept and one which may still lay the foundations for a real European political union. However, in order to determine whether this will happen, it is necessary to address the problem of the nation-state.

The problem of the nation-state

If the institutions and treaties of the European Union are to lay the foundations of what Laffan called the 'civic dimension' of our notion of citizenship, then the question remains to what extent we can expect the problems of the 'ethnic dimension' to be resolved. A citizenry characterised by strong national loyalties and little sense of a European identity will be difficult, if not impossible, to maintain, for the bonds of loyalty and the sense of belonging which are necessary to bring citizens together will be lacking. As Wiener points out, we cannot create Europeans just by creating Europe.12

There is no doubt that the idea of the nation-state has great resilience. It has been the predominant form of political organisation in Western Europe over the last two centuries, and throughout that time the populations of the present member-states of the European Union have been flooded with patriotic rhetoric drawing on images of a common cultural, religious and linguistic heritage and a shared past. There is much evidence for the existence of such strong national mores. A survey of European citizens in 1995 showed that 40 percent of Europeans felt their own nationality only; 46 percent of those surveyed felt their nationality then European; whereas only six percent felt European then their nationality. A mere five percent felt European only.13 More recently, a poll which asked European citizens their ordinal preferences for citizenship of region, country or Europe showed that for 61 percent their first loyalty lay with their country (22 percent for the region and only 16 percent for Europe) and for 56 percent of those polled, Europe was their third choice.14

This reluctance to identify with anything beyond the nation manifests itself more obviously in some nations than others, the national allegiances of the Scandinavian countries and Britain seeming to be the most steadfast. Arter entitles his article on Finland and its referendum on the Treaty of European Union in October 1994, "A vote for the West, not for Maastricht", positing that its entry into the Union was more a reaction to the fall of the Soviet Empire than a desire for European unity. In an interview on Finnish radio in June 1994, Prime Minister Eska Aho, although a supporter of his country's entry into the EU, stated that it should remain principally an organ of intergovernmental co­operation and claimed that there was widespread consensus on the matter in Finland.15 Peter Lawler's article on Scandinavian exceptionalism points to a similar reluctance on the part of Sweden, Norway and Denmark to give up their particular identities. Having rejected Maastricht in its first referendum in June 1992, the Danish government stated that "Denmark will have no obligations in connection with citizenship of the Union" and a l post-referendum survey found that only 15 percent of Danes accepted the concept of joint citizenship.16 As Waever put it "Nordic identity is about being better than Europe."17 Similarly, a United Kingdom Government White Paper of March 1996 stated that "[p]opular enthusiasm for Europe and support for the development of the Union are most likely to be enhanced if the Union refrains from intrusion in national affairs and unnecessary regulation."18 The Treaty on European Union had a difficult passage in France where Jean-Marie le Pen, consistently representing between 10 and 15 percent of the electorate, champions the cause of nationalism. Even Belgium, home of the majority of European institutions, found cause to plead against the provisions of Maastricht guaranteeing the right of all EU citizens to participate in the local elections of a country in which they are resident.

Such strong national sentiments are an obstacle to the creation of European citizenship in both the civic and the ethnic sense. Anderson's argument that it was only the separation of cooperation on justice and home affairs into a third pillar of the European Union which "made it possible for the British, among others, eventually to. accept citizenship" is a compelling one19 and suggests that certain national governments will continue to hamper progress towards a true European identity.

To say that the strength of national identities in certain countries is too great for any real notion of European citizenship to take root is, however, unduly pessimistic. There are other trends which point equally strongly towards such a construct. One important trend is the gradual but significant movement away from the strong national sentiments described above. A recent survey found that among young Europeans, 38 percent were 'sympathisers' with European integration, 33 percent were 'positive pragmatists' and only 28 percent were 'sceptics'.20 Similarly, in polls that asked people whether they 'often' or 'sometimes' feel European, the percentage replying positively was 10-15 percent lower among those born before the Second World War.21 A 1983 poll found that whereas 54 percent of those Europeans over the age of 64 said they were 'very proud' of their country, only 29 percent of those under 25 did so.22 Furthermore, these trends away from strong national loyalties are manifested, indeed reinforced, by the much discussed movement towards a Europe of the regions. The next section of this paper will examine this trend and analyse what implications it has for the future of European citizenship.

A Europe of the Regions?

"If one aspect of the dynamism generated by identity politics is relegitimisation and reification of nationness, the other is fragmentation, displacement of its meaning, and hence its delegitimisation."23

Soysal's dramatic statement highlighting the contradictory trends of national identity points to the fact that we are living in a period of re-emerging identities. The break-up of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia has added seventeen new states to the European continent in only a few years, and many more 'ethnonations', as Soysal calls them, are struggling to be recognised. This phenomenon, moreover, is by no means confined to the Eastern part of the continent. For regionalism does not have to provoke the break-up of empires, bloody wars, and the formation of new nations to be an important political force. The number of regions who want more than for their identities to be subsumed within the personality of the state of which they are a part is growing year on year. To quote from Soysal, who lists but a few, "more and more groups seek economic and linguistic autonomy on the basis of their regional identities: Bretons, Corsicans, Basques and Occitans in France; Scots and Welsh in Britain; Lombards and Sardinians in Italy."24

What is significant for the purposes of this paper is that many of these groups are seeking to assert their identities within a European framework. As Llobera states: "In the overarching institutions of the European Union, ethnonations tend to see a potentially more sympathetic and flexible framework in which to realize their objective of shared sovereignty than they do in the traditional state in which they find themselves at present."25 In 1988, after many years of steadfast opposition to EU membership, the Scottish Nationalist Party adopted an 'Independence in Europe' platform, and Xabier Arzallus, the leader of the Basque Nationalist Party, went as far in 1992 as to say that he and his fellow 'nationals' would "find [their] way to Europe not through Spain, but as Basques... Why should we found a new state in the new Europe? The states will wither away."26 Although the rhetoric of the Basque leader is by any assessment extreme, there is indeed an underlying feeling that Europe can represent the regions better than can the nation states. In 1985, there were two offices representing the regions to the organs of the EC government, by 1994 that number had grown to fifty. Similarly, the Euro-Cities Association, founded in 1985 by six cities, in 1996 represented 38.27 Llobera concludes that "a growing pressure from ethnonations and regions to have a more direct say in the decision making of the European Union is the precondition for achieving a federal Europe with a strong democratic Parliament as well as an ever growing role for the Committee of Regions, which in due course could constitute, along with the Council of Ministers, a genuine upper chamber consisting of representatives of the regions and of the existing member states."28 Although he is looking several steps ahead, there is no doubt that the umbrella of a European identity is very appealing for Europe's regions, and the two forces, regionalisation and 'Europeanisation', will continue to be mutually reinforcing.

European citizenship and the future of European identity

In light of these developing trends towards regionalisation, the way in which European citizenship might adapt needs to be examined. The most important point is that European identity must not be exclusive of other identities. As explained above, the attraction of the regions to the idea of Europe is that, unlike their own states, the European Union does not expect a large degree of ethnic homogeneity in its citizens and does not try to eclipse their regional identities with the shadow of European citizenship. To introduce European citizenship is not to introduce an entirely new identity (the futility of this will be obvious in the light of the above discussion of national and regional loyalties) but to introduce another layer of identity. Cesarani believes that "toleration of a diversity of cultural, regional or other identities - indeed celebration of this diversity - could become the accepted norm of the twenty-first century."29 Howe agrees that the "Community can expand to embrace those who differ in ways traditionally deemed fatal to the preservation of a viable social order. Ethnic differences can flourish and communication gaps persist within a larger community, if the political salience of these tangible differences wanes." In order for this to happen, the European Union's concept of what defines its citizenry will have to be sensitive and flexible.

Where does this leave our aspirations for the development of European citizenship beyond the civic dimension and into the ethnic dimension? Surely, if a multiethnic and multicultural society is to be embraced by Europe, then it can have no real ethnic identity of its own. If we return to Laffan' s components of ethnic identity - a historic territory or homeland and common myths and historical memories - we will find that this is not necessarily true. Many have argued that Europe lacks the same kind of common history and cultural heritage that underpin citizenship in the nation state. 30 What this ignores is the tremendous power of the present to find patterns in the past by which to explain itself. As Cesarani explains, "The attempt to construct a notion of homogeneous identity is always an active (if not always a conscious) political project on the part of one group or another, realized through a variety of cultural and institutional forms and strategies."31 Neumann similarly believes that, "The existence of regions is preceded by the existence of region­builders, political actors who, as part of some political project, imagine a certain spatial and chronological identity for a region, and disseminate this imagined identity to others."32

Those who wish to shape the European destiny in favour of the creation of a real civic and ethnic identity for the citizens of Europe must take it upon themselves to be such region-builders. Thanks to the slow evolution of the nature of identity, this process of ethnic identity building will be a long and gradual one, but as Howe states, "Slowly but surely beliefs about community will start to adjust to the political and legal infrastructure if that infrastructure protects a prosperous and peaceful community."33 There is, moreover, a great deal of European heritage which can be drawn upon to fulfill the idea of a historic territory with common historical memories. Above all, the cultural legacy of the Roman Empire must not be forgotten, and nor must its lessons as to the way in which citizenship can operate. Not only was it a community "in which citizens were able to appeal to more than one set of enforceable standards when claiming their rights"34, but it was also an age which, along with the Greek Empire which preceded it, moulded much of modern European culture. This cultural mantle was then subsequently taken up by different parts of the continent, but often with pan-European effects, examples of which include the influence in art of the Italian Renaissance and the spread of Gothic architecture from its birth in France.

Most importantly, the process through which a sense of 'Europeanness' can be added to the pre-existent feeling of identity of European citizens has already begun. In the context of European history, the five decades since the process of European integration began have seen the growth of a striking and unprecedented degree of inter-state cooperation. The Treaties of Maastricht and Amsterdam have taken fundamental steps towards the political underpinning of this process through the creation and elucidation of the idea of European citizenship, but have had very little time to bear fruit. The trends away from a strong sense of nationhood and towards what could become a 'Europe of the regions' can only be expected to be gradual ones. What the European Union must do in the meantime is to draw on the common ties of its citizens, imbue them with a common but not exclusive sense of European identity, and encourage them to participate in the democratic process of EU decision-making. The Union itself has explained the process in the following terms: "In political terms, 'European citizenship' has to be interpreted as the abandonment of purely economic European integration in that citizens are no longer merely subject to Community rules but become involved in the dynamic process of European integration and Community activities that affect and will increasingly affect their daily lives."35 If this is case, then the emergence of a real European citizenship, both civic and ethnic, may only be a matter of time.



Richard Nield is from Wakefield, West Yorkshire, in the United Kingdom, and studied Modern History. He is a European Studies major at SAIS-Bologna Center and has a particular interest in the politics of identity and nationality.