The original Spanish proposals on Union Citizenship revisited

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In a letter dated 4 May 1990, the President of the Spanish government, Felipe Gonzalez Marquez, proposed to add Union Citizenship to the negotiation of the Maastricht Treaty. For him, it was about transforming an essentially economic space into one where the citizen would be the key actor. The European Union should rest on three big pillars, economic and monetary union, common citizenship and common foreign and security policy.[1] In a follow up note,[2] it is made clear that the idea, whilst basing European Citizenship on specific free movement rights, was to relate its development to this wider framework because “a genuine Union will logically require full-scale European Citizenship.” In turn, the shape of that Union and therefore of European Citizenship would depend on the outcome of the negotiations still to begin for the new Treaty, eventually signed at Maastricht.

It comes as no surprise therefore to find out that the original intentions of the Spanish government were more ambitious than the actual outcome in the current Treaty articles, which fail to relate Union Citizenship to this broader context. It is though surprising that most commentators appear to have overlooked the ambition, even though it may seem vague and rhetorical.

Four objectives of the Spanish delegations were either lost or became incessantly watered down in the negotiations.

  • Firstly, “the concept and content of citizenship are conceived of as having an evolving dimension.” The idea therefore was that whilst “basic special” rights could already be defined and agreed, the door should be open for development as the Union developed. Thus, for example, whilst not making the proposal at this stage over and above participation in local and European elections “the ultimate aim of the right to political participation would have to be full electoral participation by the European citizen at his place of residence.” In the original proposals, the evolutionary clause is the first article, whereas in the actual text agreed, it comes at the end. This is unlikely to be a purely formal change.[3] Indeed, since then, no use has been made of the evolutionary clause — Article 25 TEFU — which allows new European rights to be added albeit under a difficult decision-making process requiring unanimity in the Council of Ministers. Thirty years on, would it not be worth recalling the original intentions and at least try to use this article, especially since Treaty reform appears some way off?
  • Secondly, whilst accepting that a modest start had to be made, the Spanish government wanted to make it clear that even at this stage Union Citizenship was much more. Whilst recognizing a distinction between citizenship and universal rights, the idea was to introduce a commitment “to respect fundamental rights…and “lay down the conditions under which citizens of the Union and those who do not have such status may avail themselves of the rights guaranteed.” With the Lisbon Treaty and the legally binding Charter of Fundamental Rights, the European Union is now closer to such an objective. The original text also sought to commit the Union in implementing its policies to support the objective “that every citizen shall have the right to enjoy equal opportunities and to develop his abilities to the full in his customary environment.”[4]
  • Thirdly, it follows from the idea that citizenship should evolve, that it is “an element which should inform all the policies of the Union.” “The concept developed by the Spanish delegation is dynamic, starting with the recognition of certain basic rights which result from the Treaties (including specific rights that might be introduced through the present revision of the Treaties) and rights that would be introduced in parallel with the transfer to the Community of new policies on e.g. social relations, health, education, culture, diplomatic protection in third countries etc.” The formulation of specific rights in the Treaty could, it was proposed, be introduced over time and it “might also be envisaged to establish a charter on rights of the citizen which would constitute a “catalogue” of rights to be implemented through legal texts at a later stage.” The idea of a statute on European Citizenship was therefore there from the start.
  • Fourthly, it is worth stressing that Union Citizenship was seen at the time as one among a number of other policy areas to be added to the Maastricht Treaty. The Spanish proposals are based on the idea that some link should be made among the new policy areas so that citizenship, health, education, culture, youth would make up a citizens’ Europe. This would counterbalance the central objective of the Treaty – economic and monetary union. This project was however weakened in the course of the negotiations because the competences were watered down and the powers of the EU limited to supporting Member State action, excluding European law-making.

The foundations for a more “full-scale European Citizenship” proposed and not accepted are worth recalling because they are as valid today, if not more so, than towards the end of the last century. They also lend weight to the proposal for a Statute on European Citizenship. It is worth recalling the original Spanish proposals on Union Citizenship on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of Maastricht, because despite an extensive literature, they are all too easily overlooked. They came as a surprise with other countries mystified and wondering what the Spanish government really wanted and how much it might cost. The answer was that there was not a hidden agenda. Apparently, it took just three weeks to negotiate the Treaty text. This was done in a secretive intergovernmental conference from which at least some documents can be obtained thanks to the EU regulation on access to documents.

Tony Venables, ECIT Founder

[1] SN 2614/90. I am grateful to the Council Secretariat in response to a request under the access to documents system for sending the original documents referred to here

[2] The road to European Citizenship SN 3940/90 and SN 4811/90 (non-paper)

[3] The texts are revealing, but negotiations on Treaty change are held in an intergovernmental conference behind closed doors. We do not therefore know the whole story.

[4] The Spanish government was asked by other governments “why citizenship” – as if any proposal had to reflect a specific national economic interest, which would be traded in the negotiations. There was none but maybe this interesting suggestion refers to regional inequalities and the need to encourage greater economic and social cohesion, a key Spanish objective


Background documentation

The Spanish proposals to add Union Citizenship to the Maastricht Treaty