GLOBALCIT Review Symposium of Struggles for Belonging: Citizenship in Europe, 1900-2020 by Dieter Gosewinkel


Historic Constellations of Citizenship in Europe and an Uncertain Future

Rainer Bauböck European University Institute

Dieter Gosewinkel’s book provides the best and most comprehensive history of citizenship in Europe written so far. The book’s emphasis is on national citizenship as a legal status and bundle of rights, but it demonstrates how the changes in public citizenship policies have been shaped by “struggles for belonging” (as the title suggests) and – most importantly – by the relations between Europe’s states. The book avoids the twin traps of a presenting a single grand narrative of European history since 1900 and of a mere compilation of parallel national histories. Instead, Gosewinkel tells the story of citizenship in Europe through the prism of the history of six countries that sheds light on both fundamental divergencies and interconnections.

Constellations instead of national models

The set of six countries selected by Gosewinkel (Germany, France, Britain, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Russia) overcomes the common bias towards a purely ‘Western’ typology of contemporary citizenship (post-imperial and multicultural in Britain, republican and assimilationist in France and post-ethnic in reunified Germany). Gosewinkel questions the East-West divide and shows how citizenship policies travelled across the continent and were deeply shaped by rivalries and relations between states. The book thoroughly undermines thus the idea of historically stable national models and especially of a dichotomy between an ‘ethnic’ descent and a ‘civic’ territorial principle, which he argues is “wide off the mark” (p. 57). He demonstrates this inter alia by comparing UK and French approaches to colonial subjecthood and French and German citizenship reforms in response to immigration. 

What is most distinctive about Gosewinkel’s approach is his focus on “changes in political and social constellations and interests [that] explain citizenship policy in nation-states … with greater accuracy than the cultural idioms of the nation” (p. 424). Having myself attempted to introduce the idea of “citizenship constellations” into the comparative study of citizenship law in the social sciences (Bauböck 2010), I wholly welcome Gosewinkel’s more expansive use of the concept. It pays not only attention to relations between states that generate mutual impact and imitation of citizenship policies but covers also domestic constellations of social forces and cross-border relations between societies. Political scientists might still want to add to this the importance of politics and political actors, which introduces a lot of contingency into the history of citizenship policies and generates deviations from previously established paths. This does not only refer to regime changes through transitions between democracy and autocratic rule that play a big role in Gosewinkel’s account but also to periodic changes of governments and party coalitions in power in democratic states. For example, the German constellation changed with reunification in 1990 and this paved the way for modest reforms of its citizenship in the 1990s, but the major change with the historic introduction of a conditional ius soli came only in 1999 after the formation of a government between the Social Democrats and the Greens.

Transformative forces

Whereas, in the social sciences, the field of citizenship studies has become almost a subfield of migration studies, migration plays a minor role in Gosewinkel’s narrative. The dominant forces in his account are instead: colonialism; the exclusion and emancipation struggles of internal minorities (Jews) and women; the breakup of multinational empires and subsequent attempts by nation-states to include extraterritorial kin minorities; war; the rise and demise of authoritarian regimes; and the human rights revolution after 1945. In this account, the blurring of the boundary between citizens and aliens, which has been so much discussed in migration and citizenship studies by scholars like Yasemin Soysal (1994) or Christian Joppke (2010), appears almost as a side effect of the constitutionalisation and Europeanisation of human rights, not as a result of immigrants’ struggles for recognition.

I think Gosewinkel is broadly correct on this point, but I would like to add two caveats. One historic change in citizenship policies on a global scale in which migration was the dominant transformative force concerns the change of attitudes of migrant sending states. The use of citizenship as an instrument for diaspora building and harnessing the resources of migrant origin diasporas is a fundamentally new phenomenon since the last quarter of the 20th century that has supported global trends towards the toleration of dual citizenship and the granting of voting rights to non-resident citizens. My second remark is that immigration has played a dominant role in the so-called ‘civic turn’ in citizenship reforms since the 2000s, which was pioneered by the Netherlands but quickly copied by most Western European states. This turn created some modest openings for conditional ius soli but has mainly led to new models of ‘earned citizenship’, operationalised through language, integration and citizenship tests. 

Citizenship rights

The book opens with a discussion of the classic typology of civil, political and social rights introduced by T.H. Marshall (Marshall 1949/1965). This triad provides also an analytical grid for the sections on citizenship rights within the historical period chapters. Gosewinkel’s story is broadly that civil rights have become largely human rights, social rights have become attached to residence and employment and disconnected from citizenship status while being defined within national welfare regimes, whereas political rights remain most strongly attached to national – and in the EU partially to supranational – citizenship.

What receives less emphasis is the evolution of free movement as a core element of civil rights. International mobility has soared due to globalisation and European integration after 1989. EU citizenship and toleration of dual citizenship have boosted free movement within Europe and beyond, but this remains largely a citizenship-based right (on the immigration side) instead of a human right, as Gosewinkel’s account would suggest.

What is the future of mobility and free movement? The polycrisis of neoliberal economic globalisation, the pandemic, the climate crisis and the return of war and aggressive geopolitics in Europe point towards a reduction of mobility and increase of forced migration flows. Gosewinkel emphasises how already in the past internal free movement in the European Union has gone hand in hand with external closure. But this familiar story may need to be further updated by analyses of the new regimes that enhance the selectivity of borders through fortifications like fences and walls, sorting mechanisms like smart digital borders, and shifting borders where states exercise control over movement inside as well as far beyond their geographical borders (Shachar 2020; Mau 2022). We don’t know yet how this will affect the strong connection between immigration control, cross-border mobility rights and citizenship.

Citizenship as a weapon

Gosewinkel’s book is not only about citizenship rights that emancipate individuals from subjecthood but covers also the dark side of citizenship: its potential to be used as a weapon, which is also the topic of a GLOBALCIT forum debate. The strongest contemporary example for this is Vladimir Putin’s aggressive policies of “passportisation” of Russian minorities in other post-Soviet states with the initial aim of destabilising democratic transitions but – as his war against Ukraine demonstrates – the ultimate goal of reclaiming lost territory for a greater Russian empire.

Dieter Gosewinkel’s book was published in the year before the invasion of Ukraine but includes a convincing account of how regime changes in Russia have also affected its citizenship policies. Gosewinkel rebuts the increasingly common view that the current imperialist expansive policies are somehow ingrained in Russian history from its very beginnings or even the outcrop of a specific national culture. Instead of an unbroken continuity, the book emphasises the ambivalence between civic and ethnic conceptions of Russian identity and the radical changes between the Soviet era, the brief and unfinished period of democratic transition and the neo-imperial and autocratic Putin era. Putin’s regime put a new emphasis on the ethnicisation of Russian citizenship to “mark legal links with Russian co-nationals abroad” (p. 424). The Compatriot Act of 1999 provided Putin with a tool for a geostrategic turn. Instead of promoting remigration of Russians from the post-Soviet states in the near abroad, his policy “no longer … serve[d] solely to obtain the loyalty of co-nationals in other states but also to annex the territory of a foreign state in violation of international law” (p. 380).

A fifth period?

As historians covering long time spans must inevitably do, Gosewinkel structures his book into distinct time periods. There are four of these: 1900 – WWI; 1918 – 1945; 1945 – 1989; and 1989 – 2020. While politicians and journalists love to highlight the importance of what they do by labelling the present as a ‘Zeitenwende’ (historic turn), serious historians know that this can only be known in retrospect. However, it seems difficult to consider the present as still falling within the same historical period starting with the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 that opened the path to a new wave of democratic transitions and economic hyperglobalisation. Wherever future historians will put the turning point – already in 2001 with the ‘war against terror’ in the aftermath of 9/11, or in 2008/9 with the global financial crisis, or even later with the increasingly dramatic manifestations of the global climate disaster, we live in a time when the context within which citizenship had evolved into more liberal manifestations has dramatically changed. The backsliding of democracy in an increasing number of states and attacks on multilateralism in the international arena provide a darker or at least more challenging background. How resilient will the partial deterritorialisation and denationalisation of citizenship be in this period? If governments renationalise economies to make them more resilient, will citizenship be renationalised too? If liberal democracies in Europe turn into electoral democracies or autocracies, how will this affect the diffusion of common citizenship standards in the European constellation? Might citizenship regimes also become more dissimilar in terms of rights of minorities and women?

While the EU has adopted new instruments to respond to the crises of the present, including a more assertive defence of the rule of law in member states drifting towards authoritarianism, it has so far not attempted to modify its citizenship in terms of the rights associated with it. There has been a long-term trend towards a gradual judicialisation of EU citizenship through judgements of the Luxembourg court, but not yet a new constitutional moment for changing its basic architecture. In the last paragraphs of his book, Gosewinkel considers a potential transformation of the EU into a “truly political entity capable of making policy and decisions” with a citizenship of its own that “would preserve the fundamental function of citizenship: to constitute membership through the law to protect free and equal individuals” (p. 436). Is this meant as a description of the potential of EU citizenship as a supranational membership derived from member-state nationality or as a possible transition from confederation to federation? If so, what could trigger it and what would be the role of member state citizenship in such a federation?

It is the privilege of the historian to raise big questions about the future without predicting or prescribing answers. Dieter Gosewinkel’s rich account of the evolution of citizenship in the long European 20th century still provides a guide by teaching us to avoid the simplistic dichotomies and ideal types that so often prevail in the literature on citizenship in the social sciences.