There’s nothing European about EU citizenship

Back in November, it was revealed that the European Union was considering allowing Brits to retain ‘associate citizenship’ of the EU after Brexit. Since then, the idea has gained traction, with the European Parliament set to debate the proposal in spring 2017. A petition set up by Europhile Brits, urging the EU to adopt the proposal, has gained over 50,000 signatures.

Both before and after the referendum, Remainers readily declared themselves ‘European citizens’ – and many of them are cheering this proposal. But what associate citizenship would actually mean is far from clear. Until it is put before the European Parliament, which is hardly known for its clarifying, robust debate, all that is clear is that it would give Brits the right to work and travel freely within EU member states.

That such an arrangement can even be called citizenship shows how degraded the notion has become. Being a citizen now simply means having the right to live and work in a country. The idea of citizenship that emerged in the ancient world, and was later refined in the 18th century, the age of democratic revolutions, has been reduced to the status of a visa arrangement.

Associate citizenship of the EU seems no different to a typical work-and-travel visa, which governments around the world already offer. In fact, the arrangement being discussed is actually more restrictive and illiberal than many established agreements between nations, which at least allow citizens the right to live and work in both the territories in question.

EU citizenship has always been hollow, offering people formal rights without any real ability to shape the institutions that govern them. Now it’s being offered to spurned Remainers purely to soothe their post-Brexit wounds, and to allow them to continue proclaiming their European citizenship. But citizenship is bound up with democracy, a great European ideal. There’s nothing European about EU citizenship, ‘associate’ or otherwise.

Tom Bailey is a writer based in London.

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