Marginalised people enact EU citizenship to expand and deepen it

New research shows how the actions of groups and individuals on the margins of the European Union, just as much as those of formal EU institutions, have an impact on EU identity and its policies on citizenship.

The ENACT (Enacting European Citizenship) research project focuses on ‘acts of citizenship’ which can shape the legal status of citizenship, such as at the European Court of Justice, or politically challenge its scope and content, such as actions by young people in Turkey.

ENACT brings together researchers from five EU Member States (the UK, Belgium, the Netherlands, Hungary and Latvia) and one candidate country (Turkey) to explore in depth how European citizenship is claimed, disputed, built and enacted.

The main focus of ENACT’s research was:

  • Acts and enacting as a way of looking at European citizenship.
  • Enacting EU citizenship in Turkey.
  • Deprivation of citizenship in the EU.
  • Mobility, sex workers and European citizenship.
  • Law and politics in enactment of EU citizenship.

The ENACT project defines ‘actors’ in this sense as individuals, groups or institutions, and their acts may either constitute claims or refusals to claim EU citizenship. These acts generate new symbols of ‘belonging’ which differ from the traditional symbols such as voting, social security and military service. How actors express themselves by means of acts is as crucial as how they express themselves by means of opinion, attitude surveys and perceptions. Because the European Court of Justice emphasises the fundamental character of EU citizenship, it functions as a site of possible recourse against Member States’ own laws on nationality.

The researchers cite as an example of ‘actors’ the Kurdish people, who by their actions seek to shape policies on EU relations with Turkey. They do this by means of litigation in the European Court of Human Rights, contacts with officials, and campaigns directed at officials, politicians and the general public. In their case, acts that seek to define EU citizenship are not being performed by formal citizens of Europe. Therefore, not only can non-EU citizens have an impact on EU citizenship, but the EU should also recognise this by creating mechanisms that enable them to interact directly with the EU in addition to the European Court of Human Rights.

ENACT investigated other cases that pose particular dilemmas for policy makers who are responsible for defining the content and scope of EU citizenship. These include people whose cross-border mobility challenges existing concepts of EU citizenship. Such people include very different groups, such as the Roma and sex workers, who although they may be EU citizens, have demonstrated recently across Europe to draw attention to the discrimination they experience over housing, education and jobs, and to their rights of freedom of movement and to work. Regarding the mobility of groups, such as sex workers and - in different ways - the Roma or Sinti people, policy makers must recognise that free movement policies bring with them unintended consequences in terms of new and challenging claims to citizenship rights.

The project also studied the policies of EU Member States, particularly France and the UK, where there has been a recent toughening of legislation on deprivation of national citizenship, linking this with the fight against terrorism. The researchers point out that the loss of national citizenship brings with it also a loss of EU citizenship. National laws on what actions can lead to a loss of citizenship are as important as laws on its acquisition, as both reveal the interaction of state, society and citizen.

The ENACT research on citizenship was conducted by means of qualitative techniques such as ethnographic fieldwork, in-depth interviews and discourse analysis of government documents. Work on the deprivation of citizenship in the EU was carried out through socio-legal analysis, and accounts of cross-border mobility were obtained by various combinations of ethnographic, interpretive, and discourse analysis.

The key message of this research is that claims to EU citizenship, and the rights that citizenship brings with it, are enacted in a range of unexpected and unconventional ways, as well as through the courts and other formal settings. The concept of EU citizenship contains tensions, which will invariably play out in policy terms. A significant challenge is the necessity to create mechanisms to enable non-EU citizens, who enact citizenship indirectly, to claim EU citizenship within the EU law. The most significant challenge to European citizenship by EU citizens who experience discrimination is the necessity to prevent the emergence of a tiered notion of citizenship.

ENACT – Enacting European Citizenship (duration: 1/1/2008 – 31/12/2010) was a Specific Targeted Research Project funded under the 7th Framework Programme for Research of the European Union, Thematic Priority 5 – The citizen in the European Union.


Contact: Engin Isin,