What are my rights as a European

Conversation with Detlev Claussen
Anyone who wants to be a European can become a European

As part of the European project “Freiraum”, we interviewed the sociologist and essayist Detlev Claussen.

From Elisa Costa

Young people in southern Europe want to know specifically how they should overcome prejudices and deal with their economic disadvantage in order to be recognized as European citizens.

First of all, it must be said that European rights apply to all Europeans and that nothing can restrict them. How you add content to that is another matter entirely. That is a question of concrete policy. I believe that it is very important that young people should be aware that, as European citizens, they have a right to a good education. That is always a requirement for national politics as well. I recently read that the training situation in Italy is particularly catastrophic. But I don't want to generalize, we also have problems in Germany: There, too, the investment in education is far too low and a big problem for us is that the multiethnic is simply not taken seriously enough and that you need a lot more assistance. First of all, it is a question of personnel and planning.
Integration is scary because we fear that integration will limit many of our rights as citizens. In your opinion, are there any rights that we can give up if the overall goal is to live together or to create a new multi-ethnic society?
That is either very easy or very difficult to answer. I would say that it is very important that citizenship rights are clear and transparent. This means that it must be clear to everyone how to acquire citizenship, what must be done to achieve it, how to acquire citizenship. This is partly very nebulous, partly very authoritarian by the reception authorities. This is not an easy problem because we are currently experiencing a wave of migration around the world, especially in Europe. It has become even more urgent to clearly regulate access to citizenship and to achieve more social flexibility. We mustn't hide the fact that this causes high costs, but we also have to think about it: Where do we live as Europeans right now? Not only Italy, but all of Europe borders the Mediterranean Sea and the Mediterranean Sea is also a coast of Germany. This is often not seen at all in Germany, but it is clear that we have to say: Italy, Greece, Spain have large, long coasts and we cannot leave these coastal countries alone for this. In other words, this is a global European problem. I can certainly see the problems with Central and Eastern Europe, which do not see this at all. But that is a question of the political debate that absolutely must be conducted and we will not be able to hold out in Europe if we ignore crucial problems in the long term.
What defines the right to citizenship and membership in a community today? What does a young migrant have to do to create his own space in Europe? This discussion became very intense the other day after Mamoudon Gassama, a 22-year-old migrant from Mali, saved a child in mortal danger by climbing a four-story building. The French President Macron granted him citizenship and organized him a job with the Paris fire brigade.

Any form of moral courage from whomever should always be praised and supported, but there is something very paternalistic about combining the acquisition of citizenship with any special achievement. I don't really think that's nice, it has a bitter aftertaste. We have the problem with deportation in Germany and it is a real problem that people who belong to terrorist networks, for example, have it too easy to move around Europe. But that is a very serious measure that has to be regulated by the police. It has nothing to do with migration, except that mass migration is a way for people of this type to come to Europe. The fact that the admission process is not transparent and that we somehow have to rely on all these tricky stories from greedy smugglers is also a difficult police problem. The public needs to be aware of this.
The future of the EU is threatened by inequalities, hostility, polemics and a new national consciousness. Do you still believe in a European Union?
I would say it's not about the idea at all, but about the practice. I don't even doubt the idea, on the contrary. The practice has brought a lot. Life in Europe has gotten a lot better since we achieved European unification, but many political mistakes have been made in recent years. It is due to the collapse of real socialist societies, to the much too rapid expansion of the European Union. The introduction of the euro was also not well thought out. But we have to live with it now and somehow make the best of it. I also believe that a very important point of view for the future is that the interests of European citizens should be taken into account much more than the interests of big business. And we just have to say that openly, even if it sounds old-fashioned: there is no doubt that big capital has been the main beneficiary in Europe and that has no national face. That can be seen internationally and at all levels. For example, the fact that the poor Eastern European truck driver is being exploited is not an advantage for any European citizen, but a disadvantage. The fact that there are no more nurses in Romania, but that they are all with us, cannot be in our interest either. Something has to be done and we are back to the old point: the economy plays a much stronger role than fifty years ago, as does economic inequality, and here I really see a great need for action in Europe. If we do not get these economic problems under control, that is, through increased regulation, then Europe as a project will be unsustainable.
I get the impression that Americans see us as European citizens. So do the Asians and Africans. But we Europeans do not see ourselves as European citizens. You spoke of "European citizens". When can you say “I am a European citizen”?
That it works better with the Americans, so to speak, that the Americans see themselves as Americans, depends on the institutions. Although the American institutions are also being challenged by the populists. Trump is also a huge setback for America: He now wants to say who Americans are and then suddenly the migrants who come from Mexico will no longer be able to become Americans. This hunt for migrants who have lived in the US for 20-30 years can be combined with an interest in populist politics. Anyone who wants to be a European can become a European. It is a subjective right. But that also means that we must have such institutions as freedom of expression and freedom of religion. You have to acknowledge that, it's part of being European. And that is also part of citizenship law. You can be a citizen if you recognize not the values ​​but the legal norms of the institution, if you want to be a member of this society. Then integration is not a compulsion from above, from outside, but a voluntary decision. And then you can be European too.


Detlev Claussen at the Goethe-Institut Rome on May 31, 2018 | © Goethe-Institut Rome / Photo (detail): Francesco CicconiProf.em. and publicist, born in Hamburg in 1948. Studied philosophy, sociology, German and political science at the Johann-Wolfgang-Goethe-University in Frankfurt a.M., 1978 PhD. at the University of Hanover; 1985 habilitation at the University of Hanover; Teaching at the Universities of Göttingen, Duisburg and Marburg; from 1994 to 2011 chair for social theory, cultural and scientific sociology at the Institute for Sociology at the University of Hanover. He lives in Frankfurt am Main.

From 1966 until his self-dissolution he was a member of the Socialist German Student Union (SDS), from 1973 to 1990 member of the Socialist Office (SB) and member of the editorial board of the magazine Left.

Main areas of work: critical theory, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, nationalism, racism, migration movements, sociology of culture and science, social theory and psychoanalysis.

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