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Citizenship and Collective Identity in Europe

As the European Union (EU) experiences one of the longest and deepest economical crises of its history, the cultural and ideological differences between its various collectivities are becoming ever more apparent, thus potentially jeopardizing the EU’s long term integrative projects. In Citizenship and Collective Identity in Europe, Ireneusz Pawel Karolewski, a professor of Political Science, deals with the topical issue of collective identity in Europe through an examination of the concept of citizenship. In his efforts to elaborate a reliable theoretical perspective with which to study the relationship between collective identity and citizenship, the author primarily undertakes a comprehensive but effective review of these two concepts. After establishing this theoretical framework, he then frames his argument and builds ideal types in order to empirically analyze the citizenship-collective identity nexus as it pertains in the EU.

By adopting a relational approach to citizenship, Karolewski identifies three of its components : rights, obligations, and compliance. The different configurations these components assume influence the particular form of citizenship possible and allow the author to conceptualize this notion in political and relational terms. Citizenship is thus identified as a type of membership in a political community in which individuals share and assume diverse ties. Before discussing the different models of citizenship in relation to their collective identities, Karolewski maps this last concept from a functionalist perspective to identify its different functions. By doing so, he highlights the possible links between his two main notions and the weaknesses of the functional conceptualisations of collective identity. Karolewski’s extensive overview of these central concepts might be considered an unnecessary detour for some readers, but it is well worth the while for the more interested ones. It is indeed extremely well documented and illustrated with sources from diverse fields of research, even though politics is largely dominant. For those readers less interested in Karolewski’s theoretical overviews, the author has taken the effort to include detailed recapitulations throughout the book.

This review of the concepts used in this study subsequently leads the author to frame his argument. In order to bypass the deficiencies of the functional conceptualisations of the notion of collective identity, Karolewski proposes an approach which specifically links citizenship to collective identity. To do so, he defines collective identity as a sense of political commonness where shared citizenship can be regarded as the main integrative device. Depending on the configuration of the three components of citizenship identified earlier, different models of citizenship – each of them associated with a specific form of political collective identity – are generated. Those three ideal types, in the Weberian sense, allow the author to empirically explore the different models of citizenship in the EU and their consequences on a potential European collective identity.

The republican model of citizenship focuses on the obligations citizens have towards their political community. By highlighting the obligation component of citizenship, this ideal type theoretically engages individuals in a logic whereby they feel obliged to commit themselves to the res publica and the common good of its citizens. This model is active and participatory ; two civic virtues with integrative effects entailing a strong notion of collective identity where public interests, in the minds of citizens, are superior to private interests. To explore a form of republican citizenship in the EU, the author focuses on its constitutional conventions. Even if the deliberation processes suggested by the EU relate in theory to a European republican notion of citizenship, Karolewski argues that these processes do not generate the required mechanisms to produce a real republican sense of collective identity. By constantly expanding its borders, the EU has engaged itself in an ever growing project of societal diversity and heterogeneity, thus jeopardizing the feelings of solidarity and obligation required by republican citizenship to build its collective identity. Although deliberations in the EU are meant to have an integrative effect and thereby compensate for this diversity, the fact that they don’t occur among citizens and are elite oriented produces challenges to the republican model of citizenship.

The liberal model of citizenship is based on the rights component of citizenship. In this paradigm, citizens are guided by their individual interests. The actions of the political classes are not meant to directly achieve common good, but to protect the freedom, property and rights of citizens ; primarily against the ever present possible transgressions of the government or fellow citizens. Therefore, instead of identifying themselves to others like in the republican model, identification in this case is based on the rights possessed by the individual. Collective identity, thus, is weak. The EU, according to Karolewski, has displayed strong liberal accentuation on European citizenship by promoting and making laws more prominent to citizens in order for them to see the EU as a community of rights, even though the liberal model of citizenship is associated with a weak collective identity. The constitutionalization of rights by the EU is an example of an attempt to create a collective identity. Nevertheless, according to the author, some concerns are to be raised. The Charter of Fundamental Rights, as an illustration, concerns mainly institutions and member states, not citizens. Plus, the abundance of universal rights such as the ones promoted by the EU are vague and based on the diversity of European identities. They do not, consequently, offer much guidance in the formation of a shared European identity and leave affective attachments to national communities.

The caesarean model of citizenship highlights the compliance component of citizenship. It states that individuals living in community have a permanent feeling of insecurity and seek, to remedy this situation, a strong ruler to protect them from alien elements. In order to attain a more comfortable status, individuals are willing to be compliant towards an authority that has the power to constrain political chaos and bring order to the collectivity. In this model, collective identity is strong, but not in a political sense, since homogeneity is based on a common perception of danger and not in an engagement towards public life. As a result of the EU’s discourses and policies, its population is constantly facing threats coming from the perception of difference between citizens and non-citizens and terrorism. Therefore, argues the author, citizens become neurotic. This homogeneity of fear shared within the group calls upon more state action. The EU has responded by migration control as a component of identity management and by a war on terror. As Karolewski puts it, the securitization of citizenship is in this case never entirely accomplished, making collective identity impossible. The governance of risk and a politic of insecurity bring constant fear and therefore limit the activities and public practices of the citizenry which restricts the formation of a collective identity.

This study, in conclusion, brings the readers to the challenging result of what Karolewski calls the expectations-outcome gaps of the European citizenship. These shortcomings result from mismatches between the identity politics of the EU and the logic of the identity behind the different models of citizenship. By ignoring the identity implications of the citizenship models, the political actions are producing outcomes leading to an inefficient development of collective identity in Europe, which challenges the legitimacy of the EU itself. If this result can be somehow expected before the conclusion, Citizenship and Collective Identity in Europe’s interest is not based on its unpredictability, but on its brilliant ability to marry a rich framework to a vast and contentious empirical objet. This genuine exploration of a potential EU collective identity follows a rigid logic and a strong train of thought, leaving only perhaps a little possibility to the distinguished scholars in this specific field to contest or challenge the work of the author.

Dave Poitras
poitras@uni-trier.de
Sociology
Universität Trier