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European Ideas on Interview with Rainer Bauböck: “More mobility and more democracy”

26th September 2012

(Foto ©Tomasz Tracz)

Rainer Bauböck holds a chair in social and political theory at the Department of Political and Social Sciences of the European University Institute. Together with co-director Jo Shaw, he coordinates the European Union Democracy Observatory on Citizenship, the most comprehensive data base and research platform on citizenship laws and policies in all EU member states and neighbouring countries. In this interview with Nadia Bonifačic (European Ideas Ambassador at the University of Cambridge), he speaks about mobility, democracy and the European Citizenship Initiative Fraternité2020.


European Ideas: You declared your support for Fraternité2020, one of 9 currently registered European Citizen’s Initiatives, which aims to collect one million signatures from at least a quarter of European states within one year starting from 19th October 2012. What is your rationale for supporting F2020?

RB: The right to free movement is the core of EU citizenship. Levels of intra-EU mobility have been rising since enlargement in 2004, but are still rather low. Mobile Europeans are concentrated among those with the lower and higher labour market skills. Exchange programs like Erasmus have been very successful in promoting mobility and European identity among the next generations of highly skilled Europeans. But there is little effort so far to offer similar opportunities to the broadly sedentary middle classes. If they do not see Europe as a space of opportunity for themselves, they will remain electoral constituencies for anti-European parties.

European Ideas: The European Commission has the obligation to issue a statement once the initiative is submitted and potentially put forward a legislative proposal in this area. The European Commission has made F2020 its very first ECI and is clearly supportive of the idea. What are your expectations of the reactions of other institutions and the member states?

RB: F2020 should have a very good chance to get positive responses from the other European institutions as well as from member state governments. There is a backlash against free movement in the EU in several member states who start to regard EU citizens as immigrants rather than free movers, but none of them will dare to openly oppose better opportunities abroad for their own citizens. The tricky part will be to turn lip service into substantial funding for programmes.

European Ideas: Fraternité2020 is completely in the spirit of young Europeans. Its original manifesto was written by the alumni of the annual Convention of Young European Citizens in Cluny and the current Citizen’s Committee comprises of 53 young enthusiasts who are spreading the word around Europe. How important is young people’s involvement in the future of Europe?

RB: What could be more important?

European identity

European Ideas: From a sociological or a political point of view, what is the significance of a European identity for the project of European integration?

RB: I prefer to speak about European identities in the plural. As confirmed by Eurobarometer surveys, it is perfectly possible to combine national and European identities. Moreover, we must also accept that people and even states relate to the European project in different ways, so that there is also no single political project of building Europe, but a plurality of views of what Europe is about. European identities are best promoted through open contestation about the European project. The current fiscal and economic crises conveys a strong message that we are all in this together but it does not guarantee that stronger integration will be the answer.

European Ideas: In what ways can mobility contribute to the development of “European identities”?

RB: Mobility and democracy are the two things that are needed to strengthen support for European integration. Freedom of movement in the EU has been a tool for “negative integration” by preventing states from regulating internal migration in the EU and forcing them to accept a far reaching harmonization of rights (e.g. with regard to non-discrimination and access to social welfare benefits). Negative integration is, however, not enough. Only when sufficient numbers make use of their free movement rights will European diversity become reflected inside each European society. Finally, mobility is not enough either, since there will be for a long time majorities of static populations who lack the incentives and resources for moving beyond national borders. This is why European citizenship cannot be built on the rights of free movers alone. We need stronger democratic participation by all EU citizens in order to overcome an emerging cleavage between mobile and immobile citizens.

European Ideas: Is an investment into mobility programmes an investment into creating a European citizenship?

RB: Yes, but only if it broadens access to mobility for those social layers who so far have not themselves experienced Europe as a space of rights and freedoms.

Democratic legitimacy

European Ideas: What does the introduction of ECI mean for the democratic legitimacy of the EU?

RB: The ECI is an instrument for strengthening democracy at the EU level. It is not a strong instrument and it is certainly not a sufficient one. Others will be needed, such as direct elections for the presidents of the Commission or Council. But, as a citizens’ initiative promoting mobility, Fraternité 2020 combines the two things that are needed to make the EU more legitimate in the eyes of its citizens: more mobility and more democracy.

European Ideas: How close are we to achieving a European Union of people and not states?

RB: Not close but I am also not sure that this is the goal. The EU is a union of states and ought to become also a union of citizens. It is, however, not a project to build a European superstate. Such a project has lacked legitimacy in the past. The current crisis will hopefully be resolved through deeper integration. But it should not be abused for building a union that would be geographically much narrower and that could no longer accommodate the plurality of ways in which states and citizens can be European.


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