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European Citizenship : A Real Political Challenge

As Europe prepares to open up to ten new member nations, the question of European citizenship is more than ever a pressing one. Yet up until now the notion of citizenship has drawn all of its day-to-day meaning from national specificity. According to Dominique Schnapper1, Director of Studies at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), the question is not one of eradicating an existing idea, but rather of analysing the extent to which a true European public space will need to come to grips with the notion of citizenship.

Each of the countries involved in European integration is attached to the institutions which organise its public and political life. Developing a European citizenship means constructing a public space in which the members of the various societies composing Europe sense themselves to be citizens. But this necessarily entails citizens' accepting the legitimacy of the decisions taken by officials elected to/at the European level. It is crucial that debates and institutions, and a sense of what is at stake, combine to engender a political sphere common to all the citizens of the European Community. In concrete terms this means, for example, that French voters vote for Italian candidates, or Germans for Spanish, and not for reasons of national belonging but rather because of political affinities, which in turn spring from a shared view of the world, or the same social aspirations.

Without attacking ideas like markets or progress, it must nevertheless be said that when the economic dimension is preeminent, a merchandised view of social relations gains ground. Democratic societies cannot be reduced to simply material interests. If this occurs they lose the legitimate basis for limiting, among other things, excesses of ethnic, racial or religious passion. For this reason a common political will is critical. European citizenship will not be built by denying nations' historical traditions but by allowing them to evolve, through the activity of all concerned: politicians, theorists, and citizens.


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Dominique Schnapper. "Construire la citoyenneté politique en Europe". In Fondation R. Schumann, Association Jean Monnet, Europe - Hier - Aujourd'hui - Demain, Paris, Economica, 2001.

Contact

Dominique Schnapper
Centre de recherches historiques
CNRS-EHESS
E-mail: Schnappe@ehess.fr

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