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.
The question of overlapping political allegiances as groups define their own identity within a larger whole is leading in Gibraltar's case to demands for "more Europe". French Polynesia on the contrary seeks a political break with Europe. If these conflicting aspirations are met, then the current discussions concerning the possible evolution of European citizenship into a set of uniform rights and duties will all the more distinguish metropolitan European citizens from their counterparts at the fringe of the EU.
The Rights of European Citizenship
The new citizenship of the Union created by the Treaty on European Union (TEU) applies to those who are full citizens of a member state (Article 8-8e). According to this, citizenship means the right to hold the common format European passport, to live and work anywhere on EU territory and to vote in and stand for local and European Parliament elections in other member states. The TEU's article 8B(2) says that:
Every citizen of the Union residing in a member state of which he is not a national shall have the right to vote and stand as a candidate in elections to the European Parliament in the member state in which he resides, under the same conditions as nationals of that state.
For some years the European Community, now the European Union, has been defining a European citizenship based on an entitlement to commonly accepted democratic rights.(4) The EU would then sign the Convention on Human Rights as a legal entity, and an individual would be able to seek redress in the European Court of Justice. Since this is so far not possible, alleged infringements of human rights must go before the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
In recent years there has been discussion as to whether to confer EU citizenship on third country nationals living in member states.(5) This would mean a decoupling of European citizenship and member state nationality, so that European political rights would be based on geographical and residential criteria alone. Behind this lies the notion that human rights are indivisible, that political and civil rights are a necessary component of universal human rights, and that consequently a democratic state should not prevent some of its permanent residents from taking part in political decisions affecting them.
If geographical criteria are accepted as determining who may participate in European and perhaps even national elections, then might this not exacerbate the sense of injustice experienced by Gibraltar EU nationals, excluded owing to their geographical location? Further, might not such moves strengthen the arguments of those in communities outside the EU such as the French Polynesians, who do not regard European political rights as an advantage?
Participation in European Elections at the Periphery
The right to stand for or participate in elections to the European Parliament is not uniformly permitted in member state dependencies, nor, where it is permitted, is it universally welcomed. It is worth first briefly outlining the complex situation regarding European Parliament voting rights at the fringes of the EU before highlighting our two chosen areas, Gibraltar and French Polynesia.
Some member state island jurisdictions and overseas dependencies are both integral to the mother country and legally part of EU territory. They lie off continental Europe (Madeira, the Azores and the Canaries); in South America (French Guyana); on or near the coast of Africa (Ceuta and Meilla, Reunion); and in the Caribbean (Guadeloupe and Martinique). Workers from these places may migrate anywhere in the Union, while all nationals may vote like their mainland compatriots for members of the European Parliament.
The citizens of the French Overseas Territories or TOM (New Caledonia, French Polynesia and Wallis and Futuna) share the right to the common format European passport with those of the French Overseas Departments (DOM) and the two Territorial Collectivities (TCs), Saint Pierre et Miquelon near Newfoundland and Mayotte off East Africa. All French nationals …
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Publication information: Article title: Problems of European Union Citizenship Rights at the Periphery. Contributors: Muller, Karis - Author. Journal title: The Australian Journal of Politics and History. Volume: 45. Issue: 1 Publication date: March 1999. Page number: 35. © 1999 University of Queensland Press. COPYRIGHT 1999 Gale Group.