European Citizenship: Between Inclusion and Exclusion

By Armelle Ripart | 5 February 2018

To quote this document: Armelle Ripart, “European Citizenship: Between Inclusion and Exclusion”, Nouvelle Europe [en ligne], Monday 5 February 2018,, displayed on 02 June 2023

The European citizenship, created in 1993, has been conceived as a way to legitimise the European project and to bring it closer to its peoples. However, by doing so, it has neglected non-Europeans residing in the continent.

Since the beginning of the European project, one has tried to link it to Enlightenment, to humanistic and multicultural principles, such as to the insurance of peace or to the respect of human rights and of human dignity. Indeed, the European Community for Coal and Steel, even if based on economic mechanisms, had as its final goal to ensure unity among its Member States. After the traumatic experience of the Second World War, the necessity to strengthen not only cooperation between the until then hereditary enemies France and Germany, but also every individual’s fundamental human rights lied at the heart of the European project. Such values in accordance with the objective of ensuring amity within the continent were the first step to creating a fully conscious European identity. Nowadays, the European Union and the European identity are embodying those universal principles that deem to thrive towards a worldwide cosmopolitanism.

In order to strengthen the relationship between the European institutions and its people, and more generally to foster the creation of a European identity, the Maastricht Treaty established a European citizenship in 1993. The current article 20 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union grants a European citizenship to every national from the Member States. According to the same article, the European citizenship guarantees the following rights to its holder: “the right to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States; the right to vote and to stand as candidates in elections to the European parliament and in municipal elections in their Member State of residence, under the same conditions as nationals of the State; the right to enjoy, in the territory of a third country in which the Member State of which they are nationals is not represented, the protection of the diplomatic and consular authorities of any Member State on the same conditions as the nationals of that State; the right to petition the European Parliament, to apply to the European Ombudsman, and to address the institutions and advisory bodies of the Union in any of the Treaty languages and to obtain a reply in the same language”.

While some of those rights had not existed before the European citizenship, most of them had already been implemented, and in this respect, this new status did not propose a change beyond a symbolic gesture.  A European citizenship is rather a way to legitimise the European integration at a time during which the project is less popular within the European peoples. As the European citizenship can only be granted to citizens of Member States, its attribution depends on the nationality criterion rather than on the residence criterion, which has been and still is heavily criticised for the unfair inequality of treatment it leads to.

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As the European Union is identified as representing multiculturalist values, leading to a larger open-mindedness, one can expect Europeans not to be bothered by cultural differences and even to be receptive to other viewpoints. More generally, one could believe Europeans to be respectful towards non-Europeans. Indeed, according to the self-categorisation theory, values seen as in-group values are usually applied by individuals who self-identify within that group.

In their research paper from 2002, “Does European Citizenship Breed Xenophobia? European Identification as
a Predictor of Intolerance Towards Immigrants”, Licata and Klein looked closer at the effect of the European citizenship for non-Europeans residing in Europe. The authors argue that the Maastricht Treaty reinforced the social structure of the European identity by defining non-European immigrants as a relevant out-group. Their thesis supports that the institutionalisation of the European citizenship had as a consequence to bring about xenophobia among Europeans towards non-Europeans. They therefore underlined a contradiction between group-values and attitudes among Europeans with strong identification feeling.

Licata and Klein detected a correlation between those self-determined as Europeans and those with the least tolerance towards foreigners. According to the survey, respondents who claimed that there should be less foreigners in their own country simultaneously identified humanistic and multicultural values as European ones. Licata and Klein indeed conclude that “strong European identifiers tend to be more xenophobic than weak European identifiers, whilst this does not hold for national identification” (2002: 21). Therefore, a strong European identity seems to be the best factor explaining xenophobia, rather than political orientation or even national identity. Independently from the level of tolerance towards foreigners, humanistic and multicultural values were always listed as European values.

Other authors had called for awareness towards the risk resulting from European citizenship, but did not provide their own empirical research. Magnette for instance underlined that “the hypothesis that the destabilisation of national identities as a consequence of European legal and political constraints would reactivate exclusionist and aggressive national feelings is not unfounded. The convergence between xenophobic, anti-liberal and anti-European movements that took place in most Member States (new and old alike) is flagrant.” (2007: 677). He therefore warned against further integration in the European Union that might have negative effect on social cohesion.

While Licata and Klein do offer an interesting reflexion towards side effects of further European integration, their assumptions lack enough relevant data that could back up such suppositions. In order to carry out their research, they administered questionnaires related to the general theme of European identity and citizenship with 313 psychology students in Belgium. The sample was therefore not representative of the European population, as the authors pointed out correctly. One could therefore argue that their research would need to be extended to a much larger and representative sample in order to be able to actually interpret the results as a general trend within the Union.

In this same study, the participants were given the percentage of foreigners living in Belgium (8,9% in 1998) and were asked to write the proportion of foreigners they assumed to be desirable. Licata and Klein argue that “although there are large numbers of European as well as non-European immigrants living in Belgium, the term “foreigner” is predominantly, if not exclusively, used to designate people of non-European origin” (2007: 12). While most Europeans tend to associate the term “foreigner” rather automatically with non-Europeans, this inclination shall in no way be considered as a generality. If the distinction between non-European foreigner and European foreigner was not made clear in the questionnaire, ambiguity remains and therefore it is impossible to accurately attribute the results to a xenophobic behaviour towards non-European foreigners. That ambiguity distorts the main objective of the research as that supposed rise of xenophobia might be also heading against European foreigners. Furthermore, The Université Libre de Bruxelles, the university in which the research was realised, is situated in Brussels, a city where a high proportion of European foreigners reside. Therefore, as the sample was only located in Brussels, the xenophobic attitude Licata and Klein have observed against non-European foreigners might in fact also be targeting European foreigners. Further research would be needed to observe if behaviours adapt whether the participants are facing European or non-European foreigners.

Putting aside the methodological problem of the described research, one can argue about a possible causality between European citizenship and rise of xenophobia within the Union. While it is true that one has observed a rise of xenophobic attitude within Member States of the European Union (see European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights: 2016), one can question if that really is related to the establishment of European citizenship. Indeed, such an increase has also been correlated with the first long-term consequences of the ongoing globalisation within the world economy. While the theory linking globalisation to the rise of xenophobia is highly debated, the influence of globalisation cannot be undermined (see Ariely, 2012). Kriesi, Lachat, Dolezal and Bornschier supposed that “the processes of increasing economic (sectoral and international) competition, of increasing cultural competition (which is, among other things, linked to massive immigration of ethnic groups who are rather distinct from the European populations) and of increasing political competition (between nation-states and supra- or international political actors) create new groups of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’” (2006: 922). Losers of globalisation will thrive towards more protectionism, economically as well as demographically. They also tend to be more receptive to populist xenophobic discourses (see Kriesi et al., 2006: 928). Such a phenomenon has been observed in most industrialised countries and not just in Europe. The election of Donald Trump to the United States presidency after a populistic campaign illustrates this widespread reaction (Groshek & Koc-Michalska, 2017). Therefore, one could assume that the rise of xenophobia within the European Union can be linked to globalisation than to European citizenship.

As argued, it seems highly hazardous to assume that European citizenship would breed xenophobia. However, one shall still consider the flaws of the European citizenship and the risks it may imply for relations between European and non-Europeans residents within the Union. As Lochack demonstrated, ensuring more rights and advantages to European residents widens the gap that separates them from non-European residents who do not benefit from those rights (1995: 56). Those non-European residents are therefore more and more considered as “outsiders”, and this difference of treatment has been described by many authors as iniquitous. For instance, Weil takes the example of two Turkish children. The first one was born in France and obtained the French nationality due to French naturalisation rules. The second one was born and lived in Germany his entire life. While the second person speaks German, and was socialised in Germany, he will not have the right to vote to local elections, as the German Basic Law does not grant him the German nationality. On the other hand, the Turkish child who was born in France and that obtained the French nationality over the age of majority could move to Germany and have more rights than the first one (1992: 39). Such differentiation strikes just as unfair as it seems incoherent.

Beyond the unfairness and the risks to social cohesion that widening differences between European and non-European residents would bring, such a distinction poses a fundamental problem to the European Union. Indeed, the European project has as we have seen based itself on cosmopolitan values thriving towards more universalism of human rights principles. By differentiating individuals within its population, the European citizenship creates a new category of “second-class residents” and therefore refuses to foster its humanistic commitments, or even betrays the ideological essence of its creation.

Furthermore, with this European citizenship, the Union actually applied the logic of identity construction of Nation-States, which is based on an opposition between its own group and “others” who do not belong to that group. As Lochack affirms, it is disappointing that one has not taken the chance that offered European unification to break with the classic way of creating identities and the feeling of belonging (1995: 58). According to him, the European citizenship simply led to a transposing of the Nation-State model at the European scale (1995: 58). One could have conceived the common European citizenship as an open citizenship, truly dissociated from nationality, which would have included all those residing and working on a same territory and would have bounded them with solidarity (1995: 58).

It is therefore illogical for the European Union to define itself as a universal example regarding human rights, while at the same time fostering favouritism of some residents. It is crucial for the Union to work actively on integrating non-Europeans as they are part of a common space. Their integration is essential for the social cohesion of the Union. As Castillo assumed, “the ‘scapegoat’ is always the other: depending on the case, the one that needs to welcome you or that needs to integrate him- or herself. As long as the other will not appear as a ‘close person’ in the battle for common success, he or she will be felt as an obstacle, if not as an enemy” (2014: 60). If the governments of Member States were willing to let the Union live up to its standards, European citizenship would be a tool to improve its population’s ability to live together.

Therefore, if the possession of a national citizenship is not a sufficient criterion to obtain European citizenship, what is? As Ferry argues, the geographical criterion cannot be a relevant one either. On the contrary he argues in favour of looking at how European values are embodied by the European population and the national governments. According to his vision, one needs to consider the European citizenship as a selfless contingency that a State (and consequently its people) shall ipso facto lose if it becomes refractory to the principles embedded into that citizenship (Ferry, 2000: 171). While it seems idealistic and hardly feasible to revoke citizenship to people or even Member-States that do not rightfully embody European values, such conception of European citizenship would better correspond to the humanistic goals the Union is trying to achieve.

It is crucial for the European Union not to lose the specificity of European identity that differentiates the European construction from those of Nation-States. Zweig said “the European idea is not a primary feeling, as the patriotic feeling, as the one conveying a sense of belonging to a people. It is not original nor instinctive, but it is born from reflexion, it is not the product of spontaneous passion, but the outcome of a slowly matured high-level thinking. It first misses entirely the enthusiastic instinct that hosts the patriotic feeling. The sacred egoism inherent in nationalism will always remain more accessible to the average individual than the sacred altruism of the European feeling, because it is always easier to acknowledge what belongs to you than to understand your neighbour with respect and disinterest” (2014: 21). By refusing to take into account that specificity, the European citizenship tends to push the Union towards making the same nationalistic mistake of the Nation-states, that is excluding parts of its population.

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Since its creation, the European citizenship seems to have failed to foster cohesion within European residents. While one cannot accuse it to be responsible for the rise of xenophobia, one shall nonetheless pay attention to the risks such citizenship may entail in the long run. As of now, it has not managed to go beyond the logic of national identity building. The main reason for this failure continues to be the reluctance of Member States to foster the construction of an independent European feeling, which is also the reason why another European citizenship is not imaginable now. However, limited steps can be taken to move the Union closer to its humanistic goals. A first step would be to ensure a sufficient reform of the European economic policy in order to stop the Union from being associated with uncontrolled liberalism. Assuming the Member States would agree on such shift, a European policy thriving towards more social and economic fairness would favour higher support from the European peoples, who then could find it easier to associate themselves with the Union. That way, the European Union can finally be able to live up to its own standards.


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