Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

British citizenship vs European citizenship

A point that arose in the comments to the National identity vs European identity post the other day was that of citizenship, commenter Anoldun noting that

“We were informed we were now “Europeans” when the Treaty of Maastricht was ratified, but the people had nothing to do with wanting to be EU Citizens. They were not asked if they wanted this extra ‘identity’, they did not apply for any such forms to make them citizen’s of Europe and did not even ask for or want them. None of the Commonwealth Countries that fight and die with the British, have British identities or been made British citizens, if THEY wanted to become so they would have to fill forms in etc and if we wanted to give them different identities there would be much form filling and asking of questions. No such things took place when we were made EU Citizens, asked for Passports or have to have an Identity card to prove who we are. I have absolutely no sense of belonging to “Europe” Nosemonkey and certainly none with the EU.”

Citizenship is, of course, effectively a legal codification of a certain form of identity, usually based around the notion of a nation state. EU citizenship is unusual in this regard, to be sure – because despite having certain characteristics of a state, the EU is not one. (For more on the EU as a state, and the perennial fear that it may become a superstate, please see my series of posts on the subject from earlier this year: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.)

Citizenship as imposition

Citizen SmithThe complaint that EU citizenship has been forced upon us without our say is understandable, but if you think about it for a moment it’s also illogical. After all, the vast majority of us have had no say in what nationality we are, our citizenship having been determined by where we were born (or, in some cases, by that of our parents). I had no more say in being British than I did in being male, or having blond hair and green eyes.

The sudden creation of a new layer of citizenship over and above a national/state one is not a new idea, of course. It happened in the United States back after the American Revolution (the comparison that those who fear an EU superstate are likely to fear), but also rather more recently, with the British Nationality Act 1948. This oft-forgotten Act of Parliament made *every single person* in the British Empire a British citizen, whether they wanted to be or not – and considering this was the year after Indian independence, and shortly before the Empire disintegrated, it’s a safe bet that many had little interest in British citizenship, and if anything would have taken this as a patronising insult.

When it comes to EU citizenship, you may not identify yourself as European; you may not want to be European; but if you are a citizen of an EU member state then you are an EU citizen whether you like it or not – just as (in most cases) you are a citizen of that state whether you like it or not.

British citizen or British subject?

It’s also worth noting that the very concept of citizenship is continental European in origin (in the modern sense mostly via the French Revolution, though the idea does pre-date it) – and a very recent introduction to Britain. It’s a word that entered English via the Old French citeain, itself derived from the Latin civitatem.

Indeed, until the aforementioned 1948 British Nationality Act, there was no such thing as a British citizen – we were all merely subjects of the crown.

This, in effect, meant that we – as British subjects – had obligations to the state, but few rights.

This is because, contrary to popular belief in the power of the likes of Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights, the one constant in British constitutional law over the last three centuries has been that no parliament can bind another. This includes binding future parliaments by legislation granting rights to the people – because, again contrary to popular belief, in Britain the people have never been sovereign – first sovereignty lay with the crown, now it lies with parliament.

This means that the “right” of the people of Britain to vote, to a fair trial – even to life – are all down to the whim of parliament, and can be withdrawn at any time. (For more on this, see this post on the nature of sovereignty, this post on the nature of the English/British constitution and how “rights” fit into it, and this Wikipedia article on the concept of parliamentary sovereignty.)

The benefits of EU citizenship

In contrast, EU citizenship has conferred rights with no obligations.

With the introduction of EU citizenship, for the first time in Britain’s history, British citizens/subjects have the right to vote, to free movement, and so on, rather than just the privilege – we are no longer dependant upon the whim of parliament.

In return, the EU asks nothing of us. We are not directly taxed by the EU, nor does the EU directly pass any laws that we have to obey – all go via the governments of the member states, all of whom can challenge every stage of the process. Nothing the EU does is done without the approval of the (elected) governments of the member states – and therefore our obligations remain to the member states we are citizens of, and not to the EU as an entity. This may sound like pedantry, but in a legal sense it is a vital distinction.

It is the ongoing power that the British parliament has to abolish any and all freedoms it so desires that is one of the key reasons why I became in favour of some form of supranational body that could, for the first time in the country’s history*, serve to guarantee the freedoms that we have all come to assume are our right.

EU citizenship being layered on top of national citizenship finally guarantees all British citizens the right to appeal to a court that lies beyond the British government’s jurisdiction, whereas before we were stuck with the House of Lords as the highest court of appeal – a House of Lords and a justice system presided over by the Lord Chancellor, a member of the same government against whose abuses we would have been appealing.

Because the trouble with the concept of sovereignty is that is implies *absolute freedom of action*. In a state where the people are sovereign – as in the US with its “We the people” opening to the Constitution and specific clarification of the people’s rights in the 9th Amendment – this means that the people are (legally) secure from governmental abuses of power. In a state like Britain, where parliament is sovereign, it means that the people have no guarantees about anything – no rights, only privileges, and no legal recourse if those privileges are withdrawn. (The same problem faced parliament in the 17th century – they wanted certain guaranteed rights, but the monarch was sovereign. The problem was only solved by a series of bloody civil wars, the constitutional shift finalised by a foreign invasion.)

The concept of EU citizenship rectifies that historical/legal/constitutional anomaly – this time without a drop of blood shed.

* The UN’s Universal Declaration on Human Rights (1948) and the Council of Europe’s European Convention on Human Rights (1950) were steps in the right direction, but the former is not legally binding, and the latter’s failings are made clear by the fact that the likes of Russia and Georgia are signatories, despite routinely breaching their citizens’ declared rights under the Convention.


  1. Interesting again Nosemonkey but not quite as straightforward .
    The 1948 Act was mainly passed because Ireland did not join the Allies in the Second World War and the Magna Carta wa a contract between the Barons and the Sovereign, which eventually led to the Parliament.
    For the practicalities though, it`s like saying Britian should be taken over by any country/power if it confers a better status for us here . Would you think we would be better served by being the 52nd state of America because of its constitution?
    Although the Magna Carta contains various superfluous lines now, such as where weirs can be built and money owing to “the Jews” it does have that important clause 39; basically the Habeous Corpus. This seems to have fallen by the wayside , and one of the reasons, as you see in Dover, is because we are part of the EU. Is this “advantage ” of citizenship of the EU something we see often; the EU being a problem and then needing to solve that problem and the resultant action being shown as an advantage of being in the EU ?

  2. Robin“Would you think we would be better served by being the 52nd state of America because of its constitution?”

    Actually, bar the 2nd Amendment’s introduction of the right to bear arms (something I fear could cause a significant increase to Britain’s crime/murder rate), yes – we would be better off. Due to the size of its population, Britain would become the most powerful and influential state in the Union – and due to Britain generally being politically rather more to the left than the US, British accession to the United States would also be likely to drag the US more towards the political centre-ground, which (due to my own centrist leanings) could prove beneficial to the entire world.

    I’m not sure where you get the idea that the decline of habeas corpus is thanks to the EU, however. It’s an explicit provision of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights (Article 47). The reason it has been partially suspended in Britain at the moment is precisely because the British parliament remains sovereign, and opted out of that particular section of the Charter in the name of fighting terrorism.

    Nor is this the first time that habeas corpus has been suspended in England/Britain – notably on several occasions during wartime, but also by William Pitt in 1793 (following the French Revolution and fears of a domino-effect in Britain), by Lord Liverpool in 1817 (to clamp down on parliamentary reformers), and by Ted Heath in 1971 (to clamp down on Irish republicans after the start of The Troubles). Habeas corpus was suspended throughout both World Wars – my great-great-grandfather (along with thousands of other Germans resident in Britain) being interned on the Isle of Man for the duration, with various citizens of the Axis powers (along with British fascists like Sir Oswald Mosley) also being interned during WWII.

  3. Forgive my asininity, but what is the 51st State of America?

  4. There isn’t one. 50 States, 100 Senators. 50 stars on the flag. Very tidy. It’s a bizarre fixation of many Brits that there are 51 or 52 States. Many believe that Washington, DC or Puerto Rico are States. They are not.

    But maybe Robin has a candidate for 51st State in mind…?

  5. Iraq? They broke it, they bought it.

  6. Intresting piece….strange how any discussion about consitutions and governance ends up on the USA….I think that we could do a far better job without becoming the 51st state or whatever, though it would mean getting permission from General & Daily Mail and News Corporation first.

  7. Essentially EU citizenship is a bonus citizenship, conferring some rights even to those who “repudiate” it.

    The political rights are still underdeveloped, though, in the current pre-democratic European Union.

  8. Nosemonkey,

    Habeous Corpus is naturally suspended during times of crisis, but our freedoms seem to be eroded today .
    You say that EU citizenship makes`no obligations on us. This though is classic EU. There`snothing in the book about it, but it`s there because it rules through the institutions that have always ruled us. So it may trumpet its advantages (the flags around various projects its funding )but can hide its disadvantages (the taxes we pay into it, via our own institutions ).
    As for obligations, turning this round a bit, we always thought that the state had an obligation to us because we are paying taxes to it. Again the EU seems to distort that, so any correspondence with a senior civil servant tells you that they feel no obligation to the nation that pays their wages. ( As an aside, I think their loyalty is to themselves and the system that perpetuates their sinecures ).

  9. The EU does not place any obligations on the citizen, and in fact stands against the British Government’s erosion of British citizens’ rights. The rights we have as EU citizen in fact protect us far more than those of our own elected government, for example forbidding governments (if implemented) from storing all telecommunication information, or publicising your internet aliases as it sees fit. The EU Institutions at least respect their citizens, unlike the UK (I was threatened with 28 day detention for looking “suspicious” at an airport, and a lot can happen in 28 days, notably loss of property, lodgings and employment, and I’m glad the European Institutions at least respect that where my government does not).
    I’d rather pay about £6 a year to be ruled by the EU Institutions, than the thousands you currently spend through taxes each year propping up the current British government, which not only fails to represent its people, but also seems to fail to undertake what is best for it. Given a choice, I know who I’d rather pay to run me, considering what they demand. And hell, given the recent expenses scandal, how do you get off suggesting that their loyalty is to themselves and not the European Union (and yes, they feel no obligation to the nation that pays their wages, but to the nations that pay their wages, every Union Member State); British politicians have, in recent months, shown their ability far surpasses that of most other European politicians and civil servants, bar the Italian PM, to use public office for little else other than private gain.

  10. Hunter,

    Well given the choice I sometimes wish they (the EU ) would run us as it would be more open and honest than the present system and would do away with our senior civil servants. The general public would know who to blame .But the EU wouldn`t want that opaqueness that keeps it inpower.
    The British government does fail to represent us. It could do better in the EU negotiations, but via the mandarins it represents the interest of the mandarins .
    Why did you look suspicous at an airport and why would they detain you for 28 days ?

  11. The language of conspiracy theory… again. Robin, it should be apparent to you that “the EU” is a viciously complex system staffed by officials and politicians with radically differing agendas and interests. It’s a set of rules by which Member States agree to behave in order to maximise what they perceive as common benefits. It is not a monolithic collection of national and European mandarins with a common agenda of power over the disenfranchised masses. This monolith, this conspiracy, simply does not exist.

    Note that this BY NO MEANS indicates that the EU is perfect, or even very good. There are some very serious problems with the way it is structured and run. But there is no evil plan.

  12. Having given the matter careful thought, on balance I would like to renounce my EU citizenship.

    Presumably there must be some formal procedure you have to go through, can anybody please advise me what this is? The web tells you how you can renounce US or UK citizenship, but I can’t seem to find out anything on the EU procedure for individuals.

  13. Never said the EU was an evil plan Insideur . It is a plan, and there are some very suspect strategies and tricks played to uphold it, but I know it`s not staffed by Mysterons ,the Joker Penguin and Riddler.
    That there is a conspiracy is mainly due to our own – the senior civil servants and most of the politicians and the BBC. The foreigners actually play a staighter game .It all boils down to the fact that we are unsuited to this project.

  14. Mark,

    You only have to renounce your primary national citizenship, but as a carefully thinking person you should act upon attaining the citizenship of a non-EU country (including potential accession states).

    You can get to know the formal procedures and real terms once you have sorted out the country you want to adopt.


    Why do you think that you and many of your compatriots are unsuited to the project of European integration, and why are many Europeans better suited?

  15. Mark,

    As Ralf states, you can renounce citizenship of all EU Member States and, thus, EU citizenship. Alternate options include African citizenship, Asian citizenship, North American citizenship, South American citizenship or taking over Antarctica and declaring yourself dictator. As I have already claimed Antarctica as a protectorate (of my Moon based Empire (to which I also lay claim)), I would of course consider that an act of war. As EU citizenship denotes a citizen of the EU, and bears no costs or obligations, while affording you certain rights, it is possible that the matter has not received careful thought. However, should you be determined, I would happily consider you a vassal of Antarctica and/or the Moon.

  16. Ah yeah, and Australasian citizenship. Still, I don’t enforce laws or taxes. Yet.

  17. Ralph Garn,

    We are unsuited to the project mainly because of the indolence, incompetence and stupidity of our civil servants .As has been shown even on the BBC, our contributions are going up 60%. Absolutely no need even to send half of what we shovel over there .
    The other people in the other states may be more suitable due to historical reasons. Some states of course are suitable because they get so much out of it .In all of them with perhaps the exception of Germany, I expect their political class to be putting in a proper days work on behalf of their compatriots who pay their wages


    Have you told the UK Government, the EU and theUN about your status ?

  18. Robin: They should know these things, it’s their job. Besides, as the Divine Right of Kings applies, if they don’t know already it’s because they aren’t listening.

  19. Hunter, Thanks very much for clearing things up.

    By the way I got a call from the Pope the other day, and let me tell you he’s a very worried man.

    Seems he was visiting the Moon, and while there you made him a member for life free of charge of every sex club and massage bar in the known universe.

    He says you gave him a very nice membership card too, covered with pictures of naked ladies. He was of course a bit worried about what people might think, but he says you put his mind at rest by saying he had absolutely no obligation to visit the clubs.

    However he then found out he couldn’t travel anywhere again without flashing his naked lady card, and the only way he could get rid of it was to resign as Pope.

    By what right do you run the Moon in this way? Its no right going round upsetting elderly Germans.

  20. Well, it’s just natural isn’t it. I mean, without sex, none of us would be here. Surely even the Pope can appreciate that. And as for massages, I’m sure even HH needs to relax now and again. As regards the travel, I have in fact implemented, as a result of the travel-card issue, an agreement called “The Nengschen Agreement”, which allows members of the universe to freely cross borders without naked lady cards, as well as allowing the Pope to transport nigh on unlimited supplies of Kashykkian cigars, Correlian whisky or other consumables from one galaxy to another that is far, far away. In addition to this, the Pope doesn’t have to keep the card, use it or do anything else with it, it is free, and also comes with a 10% discount at all major supermarkets, liquour outlets and libraries, and also protects you in the event of economic crisis, employment issues and human rights abuses. Whether the Pope chooses to use any of the options available on the Naked Lady Card (TM) is his choice.

    I run the Moon on the same rights as anyone runs any large swathe of territory; absolutely none other than the acquiescence of my adherents to the claims I make. This right is not enforced, as I am a benevolent dictator, with the wellbeing of my people (the population of the universe) at heart. However, my 27 Ministers Supreme (MS) do occassionally misinterpret my suggestions, or implement them in such a way that they are detrimental to the people under their command (much in the way that some Priests play with children). While of course many of my suggestions would, ideally, be adopted as self evident by the populace, some are of course (having been made by mere mortals), not perfect, and some are a little whacky (for example that black holes must now be renamed “Afro-Universal holes and must be rectangular in shape), while more are misrepresented and poorly implemented (One of the MS, Bob Ritain, is exceptional in this department). It also doesn’t help that my populace has so little faith in my Universal Empire; how do you seriously expect results when the vassals of three MS (B. Ritain, Paul And, and the Hon. Gary) elect right wing fruitcakes and nutters to the round table that will decide our future policies, not to mention a the presence of anti Universe individuals such as Figel Narage of the Popular Judean People’s Front (splitter!!!)? Not really what I had in mind when I started it, but it still seems to hold the fort, and we made it through the financial crisis without too much damage I suppose.

  21. Robin,

    Your lack of civility in misspelling my name is equaled by the level of your arguments. I am quite sure that British civil servants are geniuses in comparison.

  22. Ralph Grahn,

    Actually it was a mistake, not due to lack of civility. Please accept my apologies. Your name is a bit like my name, not exactly 100% English and easily mispelt by someone not paying too close attention to it.

    As for the civil servants, do you deal with them ?

  23. “…the “right” of the people of Britain to vote, to a fair trial – even to life – are all down to the whim of parliament, and can be withdrawn at any time.”

    And? So when has “parliament” withdrawn the right for people to vote? When has it withdrawn the right of someone to have a fair trial? When has it withdrawn the right to life?

    As for EUROland citizenship AND british citizenship, you can shove them both.