Supranational Citizenship Building and the United Nations: Is the UN Engaged in a "Citizenization" Process?

By Auvachez, Elise | Global Governance, January-March 2009 | Go to article overview

Supranational Citizenship Building and the United Nations: Is the UN Engaged in a "Citizenization" Process?


Auvachez, Elise, Global Governance


The citizenship concept is not absent from UN discourse. However, the use of the term is limited to a conception of citizenship systematically associated to the state; terms such as supranational citizenship or UN citizenship are not part of the usual UN vocabulary. Does that mean that the UN is not "making citizenship" at all? The answer seems obviously positive. Considering the history of the European Union and work on European citizenship, this article demonstrates that such a response may be too hasty. Through the analysis of two institution-building processes--the creation of supranational criminal courts and the opening of UN policymaking processes--it is argued here that just as the European Union was making citizenship well before the Maastricht Treaty explicitly mentioned "European citizenship," the United Nations is beginning to engage a process of citizenizaship," KEYWORDS: United Nations, citizenship regime, International Criminal Court, policymaking processes, European Union.

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The terms supranational citizenship or UN citizenship are not part of United Nations vocabulary. The use of the concept in UN discourse is limited to a definition of citizenship bounded by state borders. (1) Must we therefore conclude that the UN is not "making citizenship" at all? The answer seems obviously to be yes. This response may, however, be too hasty. The history of the European Union (EU) and work on European citizenship suggest the need for empirical exploration. The aim of this article is to open the way for such an examination.

Attractive as the idea of supranational citizenship is to some, others consider it an illegitimate dilution of the citizenship concept. "World citizenship on this view does not exist in the modern world because the requisite conditions--culture, identity, institutions do not exist." (2) Skeptics insist that one of the main conditions for supranational citizenship is democracy. Without supranational democracy there can be no supranational citizenship. This article rejects this essentialist perspective and adopts the position that the relationship between democracy and citizenship is less conditional than mutually constitutive. (3) By addressing the issue of citizenship and the UN, it does not try to assess whether the UN is democratic or not, but sheds on the debate a different light--a "citizenship light"--that helps us to understand how the originally intergovernmental nature of the UN system has been progressively altered toward a new governing model. It indirectly contributes to the ongoing debate on global democracy and global governance. (4)

The conception of citizenship used here is broad and dynamic. Citizenship is defined as a double relation--among citizens and between citizens and a political entity characterized by rights, access to institutions, and belonging to a political community. (5) The analysis proceeds in three steps. First, it demonstrates that contemporary debates on supranational citizenship are too circumscribed, focusing too much on the locus of citizenship. The second part focuses, both empirically and theoretically, on the precedent provided by the EU and its supranational citizenship. Using the lessons of the EU's history, it develops an analytical conceptualization appropriate for the analysis of institutional change and citizenship building in the UN context. Finally, the analysis identifies the emergence of elements of a UN citizenship regime, one often neglected by mainstream theories of supranational citizenship. The analysis shows that just as the European Union was making citizenship well before 1993 when the Maastricht Treaty explicitly mentioned "European citizenship," the United Nations is beginning to engage a process of citizenization.

The Locus of Citizenship

Contemporary literature on supranational citizenship is dominated by a major issue: the locus of citizenship. (6) Arguing for the progressive "denationalization" of citizenship, the advocates of supranational citizenship most often place it in opposition to national citizenship. …

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Supranational Citizenship Building and the United Nations: Is the UN Engaged in a "Citizenization" Process?
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