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(EU) Citizenship

European passport
When Austria became a member of the EU in 1995, the new EU passport took the place of the old Austrian passport.

Citizenship is among the topics that in recent years have come more and more into the public eye. In Europe, two phenomena in particular have colored debate on this topic and at the same time, have given it a new twist, namely, continuous migration and the political transformation of the European Union.

Both these developments have thrust into the foreground questions of belonging on the one hand and of exclusion on the other, what one might call "we/you" questions. As far as Europe is concerned, it is significant that while member-states have to come up with ever more competencies and demonstrate ever greater scope of action, Europe itself has yet to come together as an entity in the heads of its citizens, and some kind of "European we-feeling" has yet to arise. Efforts at building European identity are indeed manifested in the union-citizenship, established by the Maastricht Treaty 1992. This does not however eliminate national citizenship but merely supplements it.

At the same time European societies have long since become immigration societies who draw a considerable distinction between (EU) citizens and "foreigners" in matters of access to rights, duties and opportunities. Such distinction decisively influences the day-to-day lives of migrants from non-EU-states.

→ Bauböck, Rainer, How migration transforms citizenship: international, multinational and transnational perspectives

The question of citizenship thus touches on one of the central issues of modern democracies, in matters of inclusion and exclusion and also in the rights and duties that derive from such matters. According to the migration expert Patrick Weil - citizenship is close to sovereign territory in its centrality to the definition of the nation-state; if sovereign territory establishes the geographical boundaries of state-sovereignty, then citizenship defines its population. (cf. Patrick Weil: Zugang zur Staatsbürgerschaft. Ein Vergleich von 25 Staatsangehörigkietesgesetzen [Access to Citizenship. A Comparison of 25 Citizenship Laws], in: Christoph Conrad/Jürgen Kocka (ed.): Staatsbürgerschaft in Europa. Historische Erfahrungen und aktuelle Debatten [Citizenship in Europe. Historical Experiences and Current Debates], edition Kürber-Stiftung, Hamburg, 2001, pp. 92-111.)

The various European states have distinct traditions in this regard. In any given country, citizenship may be granted on the basis of birth in a particular country (ius soli) or of blood relationship (ius sanguinis); marital status and past, present or future domiciles can also play significant roles. Such are the factors that establish the conditions under which citizenship is granted or can be acquired. The acquisition of state-citizenship is governed by the laws of each state, so that very different systems now exist in the Europe which is trying to unify itself. This presents great difficulties for a unified European citizenship.

State-citizenship laws also involve concepts of gender relations which, as feminist research has shown, have long disadvantaged women. A long road had to be traversed before a woman could become independent under Austrian citizenship law and could cease being just the appendage of a man, bound up as this concept was with restricted social, political and economic possibilities. Thus only since 1983 has it been possible for married women in Austria to pass their citizenship on to their children. Before that the children automatically received that of the husband.

In feminist research the question of access to rights and the development of identity is also a central focus of examination. In such examination - as Ute Gerhart argues - the knowledge gained from historical research and the political practice introduced by the women's movements in Europe should be considered in the current debate on transnational European citizenships and the organisation of citizens' rights. For Gerhart, however, the crucial touchstone for an "active" citizenship status, is the way asylum seekers and migrants out of the non-EU countries are dealt with. Like many others, she warns against a "Fortress Europe" that is, against an excessively high grade of exclusivity in defining status in the new community (cf. Ute Gerhart: Bürgerrechte und Geschlecht. Herausforderung für ein soziales Europa [Citizens' Rights and Gender. Challenge for a Social Europe] in: Christoph Conrad / Jürgen Kocka (ed): Staatsbürgerschaft in Europa. Historische Erfahrungen und aktuelle Debatten [Citizenship in Europe. Historical Experiences and Current Debates], edition Kürber-Stiftung, Hamburg 2001, pp. 63- 91.)

Maria Wirth
(Last update: 03/2007)

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