A Theory of European Citizenship

There is something tragic about Europe's current development. Democracy's march across the continent, and the formation of a single market across much of Europe, have created unprecedented stability, security, and prosperity. The new single currency, the euro, and the European Union's promise to admit as many as ten new members in 2004, are powerful indicators of ongoing integration.

Yet, the ability of European institutions to accommodate deeper and broader integration is increasingly undermined by the persistence of a contradictory and long-obsolete ideal: the nation-state as the basis of political legitimacy and sovereignty. It is largely because the idea of common European citizenship is often understood by analogy to that of national citizenship that further European integration engenders so much fear and opposition.

The nation-state in the traditional sense presupposed a citizenry that was created as competing collective identities decayed. Venetians became Italians, Bavarians became Germans, and so on. Nation-builders throughout Europe promoted - with varying degrees of success, to be sure - the emergence of a dominant culture, an official language, and an identity based partly on distinctions vis-à-vis neighboring states, peoples and cultures. National minorities everywhere faced expulsion or enormous official pressure to assimilate.

A European nation-state in this sense was untenable even for the original six members of the European Community - all of them highly industrialized countries with similar social and political traditions and institutions. It is no more feasible today for the EU's 15 members, and further enlargement means that the multitude of collective identities, cultures, languages, religions, and worldviews will become greater still. The singular "people" that defines citizenship in a traditional nation-state could be forged only by plunging Europe into appalling repression and war lasting generations, if not centuries.