What is a European?

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Loic AzoulaiLoïc Azoulai holds the chair of European Law at the European University Institute. He is codirector of the Academy of European Law and of the Centre for Judicial Cooperation both hosted at the European University Institute.

The vast majority of people living in Europe perceive themselves as members of a national community. Most of them are well aware of having a common market, sharing a free movement area, living in relatively standardized societies, being subject to common legal norms and supranational institutions, sharing certain beliefs and commitments as well as risks and fears. That does not however mean that they would describe themselves as members of a ‘European community’ in the genuine sense of this expression.

Both the organisation of European elections and the ‘Constitutional moment’ of 2003-2004 proved ineffective in making a leap towards the establishment of a natural political  community. There is no such thing as ‘one people of Europe’. There seems to be no such thing as a sociological or political European subject. If one wants to make sense of this expression whilst avoiding the pitfalls of ideological projections, one may well turn to the law. Law is not a mere reflection of the social and the political context. It advances and invents through cases. At times, the consideration of concrete cases provides elements that open up new perspectives which may exceed the overarching conceptions to which social and political elites remain attached and upon which the legal system has been built.

This exploration has led so far to two main results. For the most part, the Europeanisation of the individual has a valuable but rather limited significance: it turns nationals of the Member States into members of another national community. As a Frenchman I am European by becoming a quasi-Italian as regards the main aspects of my social life (i.e. living in Florence). This is achieved through various kinds of legal mechanisms (conferral of rights, assignments of roles, regulation of family relationships, demarcation from non-Europeans). In rare cases, however, EU law goes beyond this and constitutes the subject into a genuine European which is supposed to live in material and moral conditions which refer to Europe as a whole. Ironically this figure has been forged by the European Court of Justice in a famous case involving a Colombian national residing illegally in Belgium. If there is a European individual, it exists in the consciousness of some judges. This audacious move has potentially revolutionary effects. However, there is also some evidence that the main institutional players (the national governments, the administrative and judicial authorities, the economic milieus) are not willing to support and relay this move.

These issues will be taken up at a conference on “The Category of the Person in EU Law” taking place at the EUI on 10 and 11 November 2014 which will involve lawyers as well as sociologists, political theorists and philosophers.

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