Jean Monnet Center at NYU School of Law

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Demos as Identity in the TEU-- Rethinking Citizenship

Despite its centrality to the notion of democracy and political legitimacy, there is something inherently troubling in the introduction of citizenship to the Union lexicon. We have already seen that in substance Article 8 was an empty gesture. On this reading, its significance must be seen at the symbolic level. For some, it could be the symbolism of accountability and democracy. But then, why so empty? There is another possibility. In its rhetoric Maastricht appropriated the deepest symbols of statehood: citizenship, defense, foreign policy -- the rhetoric of a superstate. We all know that all three are the emptiest and weakest provisions of the Treaty, but at the symbolic level do they undermine the ethics of supranationalism? Supranationalism is a move away from statism to a new uneasy relationship between Community and Member States. Indeed, Community was a fine word to capture that value. Now the operational rhetoric is Union, not Community. We have come full circle. The deep irony is that the full circle has come on the ideological level alone. In the way it related to individuals, supranationalism was about the diminution of nationality as a referent for transnational intercourse. But, on this reading, under the rhetoric of the TEU, the Us is no longer Germans or French or Italians and the Them is no longer British, or Dutch or Irish. The Us has become European and the Them, non-European. If Europe embraces so earnestly at the symbolic level European citizenship, simply defining a new other on what moral ground can one turn against French National Fronts, German Republicans and their brethren elsewhere who embrace Member State nationalism. On the ground that they chose the wrong nationalism which to embrace?

This unease would be particularly justified if the understanding of European citizenship were to embrace that strand in European political thought and praxis which a: understands nationality in the organic terms of culture and language and religion (and ethnicity); and b. conflates nationality and citizenship so that nationality is a condition for citizenship and citizenship means nationality. Why, then, not advocate, realistically or otherwise, the elimination of the concept of European citizenship? It is, I think, because in European citizenship, understood as vehicle for identity, there is, strangely, immense promise.

How so?

Is it mandated, we should ask, that demos in general and the European demos in particular be understood exclusively in organic cultural homogeneous terms? Can we not break away from that tradition and define membership of a polity in civic, non-organic-cultural terms? Can we not imagine a polity whose demos is defined, understood and accepted in civic, non-organic-cultural terms, and would have legitimate rule-making democratic authority on that basis? A demos understood in non-organic civic terms, a coming together on the basis not of shared ethnos and/or organic culture, but a coming together on the basis of shared values, a shared understanding of rights and societal duties and shared rational, intellectual culture which transcend organic-national differences. Consider in this light again Article 8 and see its latent promise.

Citizenship of the Union is hereby established. Every person holding the nationality of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union [...]

As mentioned, the introduction of citizenship to the conceptual world of the Union could be seen as just another step in the drive towards a Statal, unity vision of Europe, especially if citizenship is understood as being premised on statehood. But there is another more tantalizing and radical way of understanding the provision, namely as the very conceptual decoupling of nationality from citizenship and as the conception of a polity the demos of which, its membership, is understood in the first place in civic and political rather than ethno-cultural terms. On this view, the Union belongs to, is composed of, citizens who by definition do not share the same nationality. The substance of membership (and thus of the demos) is in a commitment to the shared values of the Union as expressed in its constituent documents, a commitment, inter alia, to the duties and rights of a civic society covering discrete areas of public life, a commitment to membership in a polity which privileges exactly the opposites of nationalism -- those human features which transcend the differences of organic ethno-culturalism. On this reading, the conceptualization of a European demos should not be based on real or imaginary trans-European cultural affinities or shared histories nor on the construction of a European "national" myth of the type which constitutes the identity of the organic nation. European citizenship should not be thought of either as intended to create the type of emotional attachments associated with nationality based citizenship. The decoupling of nationality and citizenship opens the possibility, instead, of thinking of co-existing multiple demoi.

One view of multiple demoi may consist in what may be called the "concentric circles" approach. On this approach one feels simultaneously as belonging to, and being part of, say, Germany and Europe; or, even, Scotland, Britain and Europe. What characterizes this view is that the sense of identity and identification derives from the same sources of human attachment albeit at different levels of intensity. Presumably the most intense (which the nation, and State, always claims to be) would and should trump in normative conflict.

The view of multiple demoi which I am suggesting, one of truly variable geometry, invites individuals to see themselves as belonging simultaneously to two demoi, based, critically, on different subjective factors of identification. I may be a German national in the in-reaching strong sense of organic-cultural identification and sense of belongingness. I am simultaneously a European citizen in terms of my European transnational affinities to shared values which transcend the ethno-national diversity. So much so, that in the a range of areas of public life, I am willing to accept the legitimacy and authority of decisions adopted by my fellow European citizens in the realization that in these areas I have given preference to choices made by my outreaching demos, rather than by my inreaching demos.

On this view, the Union demos turns away from its antecedents and understanding in the European nation-state. But equally, it should be noted that I am suggesting here something that is different than simple American Republicanism transferred to Europe. First, the values one is discussing may be seen to have a special European specificity, a specificity I have explored elsewhere but one dimension of which, by simple way of example, could most certainly be that strand of mutual social responsibility embodied in the ethos of the Welfare State adopted by all European societies and by all political forces. But the difference from American Republicanism goes further than merely having a different menu of civic values and here it also differs from Habermasian Constitutional Patriotism. Americanism was too, after all, about nation building albeit on different premises. Its end state, its myth, as expressed in the famous Pledge of Allegiance to the America Flag -- One Nation, Indivisible, Under God -- is not what Europe is about at all: Europe is precisely not about One Nation, not about a Melting Pot and all the rest, for despite the unfortunate rhetoric of Unity, Europe remains (or ought to remain) committed to "... an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe." Likewise, it is not about indivisibility nor, blessedly, about God.

The Treaties on this reading would have to be seen not only as an agreement among states (a Union of States) but as a "social contract" among the nationals of those states -- ratified in accordance with the constitutional requirements in all Member States -- that they will in the areas covered by the Treaty regard themselves as associating as citizens in this civic society. We can go even further. In this polity, and to this demos, one cardinal value is precisely that there will not be a drive towards, or an acceptance of, an over-arching organic-cultural national identity displacing those of the Member States. Nationals of the Member States are European Citizens, not the other way around. Europe is "not yet" a demos in the organic national-cultural sense and should never become one.

One should not get carried away with this construct. Note first that the Maastricht formula does not imply a full decoupling: Member States are free to define their own conditions of membership and these may continue to be defined in national terms. But that, in my view, is the greatest promise of introducing supranational citizenship into a construct the major components of which continue to be States and nations. The National and the Supranational encapsulate on this reading two of the most elemental, alluring and frightening social and psychological poles of our cultural heritage. The national is Eros: Reaching back to the pre-modern, appealing to the heart with a grasp on our emotions, and evocative of the romantic vision of creative social organization. But we know that darkness lurks too. The Supranational is Civilization: Confidently modernist, appealing to the rational within us and to Enlightenment neo-classical humanism. Here, too, we are aware of the frozen and freezing aspect this humanism might take. Martin Heidegger is an unwitting ironic metaphor for the difficulty of negotiating between these poles earlier in this Century. His rational, impersonal critique of totalistic rationality and of modernity remain a powerful lesson to this day; but equally powerful is the lesson from his fall: An irrational, personal embracing of an irrational, romantic pre-modern nationalism run amok.

On this reading, all too briefly elaborated here, supranational citizenship is the context in which nationality and statism may thrive, their daemonic aspects under civilizatory constraints.

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