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  • European Citizenship in the Making:From Passive to Active Citizens
  • Marisol García (bio) and Michiel Tegelaars (bio)


Many years after the start of the process of European integration the question of citizenship in the European Union, as different from national citizenship, has become an issue. After having been bracketed out for almost forty years, the political has returned in force. The idea of European unity as the guarantor of peace and justice has been for centuries the counterpoint to European division, balance of power politics and frequent warfare. After the last and biggest war of them all the founding fathers of the latest attempt at European integration steered clear of earlier utopian objectives and adopted a top-down, incremental approach (Monnet's "little steps"), a limitation to functional and sectoral issues, and a strong voice for the individual Member States involved in the process. By giving Member States veto power over community decisions, a strong countervailing power was set against the initiative of the supranational institutions. This tension has remained a basic given to this day. From its earliest days the European Union has had its share of visionaries who sought to strengthen the reach and authority of the supranational institutions. Their strivings were tenaciously kept in check by Member States intent on giving up as little power as possible. Nevertheless, a slow but steady transfer of competencies has taken place from the Member States to the European institutions as more and more policies needed to be accorded at the higher level, and this has increased the urgency to make the institutions accountable to citizens.

Within the framework of the wider international situation the initial approach has worked wonderfully well: fifty years of internal peace and growing economic wellbeing all around. Of course, economic decisions on a continent-wide scale have political consequences not least because of their redistributive effects. No amount of technocratic justification can hide the fact that some groups have come out far ahead of others. Certainly one cause of the European "democratic deficit" is the sharply skewed interest representation at the European level (Schmitter, 2000, p. 44) through the lobbying that goes on in Brussels. Despite early awareness of the need for more citizen involvement, (cf. the 1975 Tindemans Report), decision making on European issues remained fairly opaque. The political will to bring the citizen into the legal framework manifested itself in the preparation debates for the Maastricht Treaty, which introduced for the first time the idea of a political union. The legitimacy question became really urgent when the Danish citizens voted NO in the referendum to ratify the Maastricht Treaty in 1992.

We argue here that although a formalization of the citizen of the Union has been introduced there is a historical tension between the Member States and the European institutions concerning decision-making powers. That this tension has limited the practice of European citizenship, but also that by introducing the principle an arena has opened up for creative action from the citizens themselves.

European Citizenship: the Formalization of the Principle

European citizenship as a principle was formally introduced in the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. The Treaty was engineered behind closed doors, but needed legitimacy from citizens. The establishment of an internal market based on the elimination of economic barriers between European Member States required not only free movement of goods, but also free movement of people. All citizens moving from one Member State to another were losing political rights and thus the need arose to introduce corrective measures to protect these rights in the country of residence. An added reason was first advanced in 1975, when the concept of "Europe of citizens" made its appearance. It was argued then that the birth of a European "consciousness" needed concrete measures and reassuring signals.1 However, the original method of bringing together policy-makers, leading politicians and sectoral interests within shared institutions, and a common framework of law did not include the voice of the majority of citizens. On the contrary the approach was patrician and technocratic (Wallace, 1993, 95). Only in 1979 could the citizens of the nation states that constituted the European Community elect representatives for a European assembly. However, this assembly...


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