Problems of European Union Citizenship Rights at the Periphery

By Muller, Karis | The Australian Journal of Politics and History, March 1999 | Go to article overview

Problems of European Union Citizenship Rights at the Periphery


Muller, Karis, The Australian Journal of Politics and History


European Union member states have different nationality laws. Those with overseas dependencies control access there to European Parliament (EU) voting rights. Gibraltar and French Polynesia are two dependencies in which the existing situation is contested. Gibraltar's British citizens live on EU territory and therefore resent their exclusion from European elections. French Polynesia on the other hand is outside the European Union. Its citizens regard voting for the EP as at best irrelevant; its leaders wish to create a category of French overseas citizenship exclusive of European voting rights. This article compares the two situations and suggests some possible solutions.

This article evaluates the particular concerns raised in certain areas at the periphery of the EU over the question of voting rights and the European Parliament.(1) These voting rights are supposed to be the mark of democratic participation. European citizenship, including voting rights for the European Parliament, denotes a privilege bestowed on those who have the full nationality of a member state. A state is a specific geographical area or areas, whose borders may wax and wane and at times be disputed, but which at a given time are generally fixed. The European Union on the other hand is difficult to locate spatially. According to then President of the Commission, Jacques Delors, legally one cannot speak of the borders of the EU, but only of the aggregate of the frontiers of member states.(2) Nor is the area of the EU identical to that of the member states. The edges of the EU shift according to the aspect of policy under consideration. For example the Treaties apply fully only to the geographically European territory of member states, not to all their dependencies. Again, the Treaty territory of the EU differs from EU customs territory, although the EU is commonly defined as a customs union. So too, citizenship rights draw a particular map.

A mapping of European citizenship raises some interesting issues that point to the need to clarify the relationship between rights and space, specifically the repercussions of European Parliament voting rights at the Union's periphery. Citizenship of the Union does not always imply the same rights and duties within the remnants of colonial empires as pertain in the member states, a situation that may be attributed to the anomalies created by the differing nationality laws of member states regarding their overseas dependencies. The so-called "citizenship deficit"(3) is the consequence of the history of colonialism, which has created a dissonance between the area to which the Treaties apply and the territory of member states.

This has consequences for both the reality and the perception of EU citizenship at the fringes of what was once imperial Europe. Here a multi-layered, differentiated citizenship creates uncertainties and tensions, putting pressure upon EC institutions both to homogenise EU citizenship entitlements and to fragment them. Two case studies form the main part of this paper, the Crown colony of Gibraltar, ceded to Great Britain in 1713, and the French Overseas Territory of French Polynesia, colonised as Oceania during the 1880s. In Gibraltar an individualistic, liberal interpretation of EU citizenship entitlements co-exists with a communitarian counter model in which the legal personality of a community demands to be recognised by the metropolitan power responsible. French Polynesia on the other hand serves to show how the liberal, universalistic model may appear as a threat to group identity. Both territories are self-governing but yet seek more autonomy, and both seek to redefine their relations with the EU. In both the question of EU citizenship undermines State power as local leaders cite the growing powers of EC institutions to request looser ties with their responsible State; both, finally, use the rhetoric of decolonisation to express their demands, although in neither case does the majority want independence. …

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