Albeit organized at the member state level, EU referenda nonetheless constitute a rare medium whereby citizens of the European Union are put in direct contact with the project of European integration. As such, referenda offer exceptionally pertinent clues as to the meaning and content of EU citizenship. That is to say, EU referenda and the reactions they engender provide exceptionally good starting points for reflection on the various, often contradictory and situation-specific registers of EU citizenship – specifying the traits distinguishing an ‘ideal’, or ‘model’, EU citizen – that EU institutions, political leaders, intellectuals and other influential forces and voices decide to make use of, or not make use of, in different contexts. In this sense, elite reactions to referenda on EU treaties and the like can be said to concretize the larger meaning and significance of EU citizenship – its social purpose and the types of contradictions, struggles and power relations that influence and shape the current politics of ‘European citizenship’. Such a wider tangibility of EU citizenship often gets lost in today’s intellectual debate on EU citizenship. In spite of its ever-growing vastness, much of this debate still suffers from a tendency to demote the key issues of power and social purpose pertaining to EU citizenship in favour of a dry legalist-institutionalist approach, on the one side, and a spirited post-nationalist approach on the other, praising EU citizenship as heralding a new era of cosmopolitan democracy in Europe. As I seek to evince in this essay, a glimpse at the messy world of EU referenda should snap us out of both the tidy world of institutional forms and the wishful world of cosmopolitan dreaming and instead attend to the huge stakes and hefty contradictions that are involved in the struggles over EU citizenship. In other words, let’s take some time to speak to the urgency involved in the current politics of European citizenship.
Maastricht: Shaker Publishing , 2009, 1. 19-32 p.