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  • Citizenship, Democratic Participation, and Legitimate Governance in Europe
  • Nanette A. Neuwahl (bio)

If one is to judge from the lack of enthusiasm for national and European elections, one could be forgiven for thinking that many Europeans have given up interest in the way they are governed. Yet, there is reason to believe that the contrary is true, since society itself is changing. This is not just since the inauguration, on 28 February 2002, of the European Convention on the future of Europe. Conceptions of democracy, citizenship and governance are in flux, and Europe is a laboratory in which this can be observed.

Europe has moved a very long way from where it came from. It was transformed from a continent of strife into a continent of peace and prosperity. The experience with the European Communities has shown that only peace and common action could strengthen Europe. At first the six founding Members created the European Coal and Steel Community, in which resources in particularly sensitive sectors were pooled. Cooperation in other sectors followed, for instance, in relation to agricultural policy and commerce, a common market developed for goods, services, work, and capital. In 1999 agreement was reached between the 15 member states on a single currency, which now circulates in a market of 300 million citizens.

The progression was slow but steady. At first, there was only economic and technical cooperation. But for some twenty years now the European Parliament has been directly elected. And over the past decade we have seen the development of a political Union in which there has been collaboration in the fields of social policy, employment, asylum, immigration, police matters, justice, foreign policy and even defense.

In 1993 the European Economic Community was rebaptised the European Community and the concept of "citizenship" appeared in the founding treaties to underline that Europe has passed beyond the stage of economic integration. Tiny bits of political integration were introduced. This was in part the result of a "spill-over effect." It had become clear that it was not really possible to create a single market for goods and persons without coordinating security measures, environmental policy and other aspects of public policy, nor to proceed without putting the individual at the heart of the ever closer integration process.

The concept of EU citizenship creates enormous expectations in the minds of the people, some of whom use it to lobby for better social protection or a greater say in European affairs. In one conception, however, the notion of European citizenship addresses only nationals who live in a Member State other than their own, and it cannot be invoked against one's own state. The introduction of the notion of citizenship was half-hearted, because there was no agreement as to what it should mean in a context other than a nation-state. The provisions of the Treaty were the result of compromise, and it was essentially left to the European institutions to give them a more concrete content.

The generally accepted view of European lawyers is therefore that EU citizenship has essentially the content which the Union's institutions choose to give to it, and that if they cannot implement it because a difference of opinion, the Member States should remedy this by amending the Treaty. The influence of the European Court of Justice should not be overrated. Since the founding treaties are being amended ever more frequently, the Court is less likely to play a leading role in establishing the content of such important concepts as they may entail. Progress is therefore slow. The European civil society which could help to give meaning to the term does not really exist, and the European Parliament has no right of initiative. If citizenship in the traditional sense (inherited from the days of the French revolution) means power of political participation by a European electorate, then it is mostly absent.

That a greater amount of participatory democracy is needed in the European institutions has long been recognised, especially by the European Parliament. It is recognised too by some of the Member States, who deem that it would be irresponsible to give more powers to the EU institutions or even to let them...


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pp. 26-28
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