During the night of the 31st January, the European Union stands to lose over 60 million citizens. But at European Alternatives our conception of citizenship is born of action and activism for our common future beyond borders, and this cannot so easily be taken away.
By: Niccolò Milanese, director at European Alternatives
During the night of the 31st January, the European Union stands to lose over 60 million citizens, and potentially several future generations of their descendants.
Asides from understanding why people voted the way they did in the UK referendum in 2016 and recent elections, asides from the negotiations about what the future relationship will look like, an amputation of this size in its citizenry should make any political community pause in its own right. Particularly in a world in which the stripping or downgrading of citizenship and its rights is more and more common, as a way either of targeting minorities or disciplining critical voices, the stripping of EU citizenship from a large group in a continent which claims to base itself on democracy and human rights should be a matter of primary concern.
But for the moment, it is rather taken as a matter of course, an inevitable consequence of a majority decision in a member-state to leave, as anodyne as quietly removing the Union Jack from outside the institutions and putting it into the house of European History. This is not just about the arrangements made for EU citizens continuing to live in the UK, or UK citizens living in the EU, even if those groups are particularly vulnerable and have received some – if insufficient – attention. It is rather about the meaning, value and inviolability of European citizenship as such, who can decide to take it away from others and on what terms.
The removal of European citizenship will undoubtedly be challenged in the courts, even if the courts alone are unlikely to overturn this without some degree of organised political mobilization. Difficult questions about how European citizenship can work if it were disassociated from state membership would have to be addressed: how can citizenship rights and obligations can be balanced? How is EU citizenship acquired? But the European Union does not shy away from difficult questions or ambitious thinking when it comes to trade negotiations, why should it when it comes to citizens’ rights? And moreover, these questions already are pertinent for people living in Europe sometimes for decades without having any European nationality.
At European Alternatives our understanding of citizenship, just like our understanding of the place of British people in Europe, cannot so easily be contained by legal texts, words on a passport or institutional arrangements.
When European Alternatives chose to organise its first activities in 2007 in London, to open its first office in the East End, and over the subsequent years to be active in many cities of the UK, we did so thinking of the insurgent internationalist citizenship that has characterized so much political activity taking place in those lands. Amongst those subaltern histories are the feminist, worker, anti-slavery and anticolonial movements which were founded in some of the venues we organised in; the history of free-thinkers, revolutionaries and of governments in exile; the history of the Anglo-French Union proposed by Jean Monnet in a daring attempt to unite military forces at a moment of existential crisis during the Second world war, enabling support to the Resistance and a precursor to the EU; the inspiration that Altiero Spinelli, Ursula Hirschmann and Ernesto Rossi took from the British Federalists like Beveridge and Robbins whilst imprisoned by Mussolini on Ventotene to draft their Manifesto for a Free and United Europe.
These transnational histories and many more, absent from mainstream media and national political discourse, only partly overlap with what the European Union has become and the way it positions itself in the world, and that is why it is so important that this radical heritage is not detached from the European project but continues to agitate inside and across it. The future of the European Union is uncertain and contested, not inevitable or unchangeable.
And despite the recent setbacks, this transnational history of common struggle is not finished: the UK continues to cultivate leading political initiatives and mobilisations with connections across the world.
And now it has one of the most radical and progressive young pro-European movements in the continent – with our partners at Another Europe is Possible a core part of it – and an emerging civil rights movement which is beginning to make the connections between the vulnerabilities of the Windrush generation, the European citizens and the wider population to hostile environments, misrule and misadministration. Each of these struggles is essential to the future of Europe, to Europe’s model of solidarity across differences, and to Europe’s global outlook.
At European Alternatives we are committed to redouble our connections in the UK, and build empowerment and emancipation across borders, new or old. We are sad to see our friends with British citizenship risk losing some formal rights this evening, and outraged at how easily this has been allowed to take place, but we are confident that tomorrow we can work together to transform that loss into a transformative political agency. This is our understanding of the deeper meaning of European citizenship beyond the nation state, and it is something that cannot be taken away.