Search
  • Constitutional Discourse

Lilla Nóra KISS / Orsolya Johanna SZIEBIG: European Way of Life

Making an omelette without breaking the eggs?



Do we, 'the People of Europe' have a common lifestyle that establishes a bridge across us while respects our diversity? Is it possible to define a European Way of Life that is based on the diversity of values as a supranational incentive incorporating our differences while connects us?

The last six decades of European history – also representing the European integration's first six decades – could be examined from the point of view of a never-ending debate on where we are heading to. Let's simplify the question! Two main directions can be determined in general: the federalist supranational route vs the 'Concept of the Nations' Europe'. The arguments for pro and contra to both trends depends on the speakers' origin, age and other circumstances. The perpetual dialogue on the future of the European Union is strongly determined by the timing, the nation and the values we are going to defend. The current European Commission led by Ursula von der Leyen introduced the 'Promotion of the European Way of Life' as a priority of the next five years. However, the term 'European Way of Life' was not precisely defined, so everyone could understand whatever he wants under that. To interpret and understand the concept, we attempted to examine the relationship of the European identity and the European Citizens' rights in the light of our European Way of Life.

The European Union (EU) is unique among international organisations: it can be seen as a sui generis entity rather than a classical international organisation. Its uniqueness is that it forms a unit from the outside, but an extremely heterogeneous community from the inside. From the inside, we perceive differences among nations much better for the EU, than we do for our similarities. The foundation of our unity is based in part on our shared historical traditions, on the millennial unifying role and determinant of the Christian religion, and in part on respect for democracy.

The political position between states has never been genuinely unified. The differing views were organically related to the form and extent of cooperation and the countries involved. Proposals have also been made several times to move towards a federal Europe, but there has never been a political-social consensus for that concept. Regarding the degree of cooperation, there are many examples of differentiated integration in certain areas (e.g. Schengen, EMU) which proves the diverse intention on the cooperation among the Member States.


I. The European Way of Life v European Identity

Identity means (self)identity, the full definability of ourselves. Does our European origin belong to the definition of ourselves? In our view, we can attach common values to European identity. The mutual respect for democratic values is a core issue. By European identity, we focus on the citizens of the Member States who shares common socio-cultural values, historical traditions and heritage. They have also been called EU citizens since the Maastricht Treaty. As EU citizens, we have a status civitatis arising from the supranational level but based on our nationality and our state's membership status in the EU. The Member States can only restrict these rights ensured by the Treaties (free movements) on the grounds of public interest. The currently emerging public health crisis posed by COVID-19 is a significant example of these restrictions.[1] The creation of EU citizenship can be seen as one of the generators of a shared sense of identity, in the process of defining, promoting, and protecting the European way of life. What is a common European identity? A set of political values or purely the respect for our historical traditions and cultural heritage? It would be difficult to grasp one aspect at a time.

Unitas via Diversitas − That is, "united in diversity", which has been the motto of the EU since 2000. The motto is very eloquent: on the one hand, it refers to diversity between the Member States and its citizens, on the other hand, to shared values in addition to these differences, and the acceptance of these divergences. It emphasises united nature − and not unification − that is, the alliance between states along with shared values, respecting diversity.

It can be seen that Europe today faces several challenges, internal and external, environmental and health, which require cooperation, obedience, and respect for the views of its citizens, one of the means of which can be to promote a common European way of life. The European way of life is based on the EU's core values and can be grasped through the exercise of the rights deriving from EU citizenship. The EU's core values include "freedom, democracy, and legal security, which are an integral part of the European way of life", as set out in the 2017 Comprehensive Report on Citizenship of the Union. Thus, the key to promoting a European way of life can be found in the exercise of rights deriving from the EU citizenship status without hindrance. The European Commission has recognised the potential of identifying the common values of its citizens, which the new Commission program addresses in several respects. One of the key elements of the von der Leyen-led Commission's six-point program announced in 2019 is the initiative entitled 'Promoting our European way of life'. The aim is to strengthen the 'rule of law' on the European stage, through the development of equality, tolerance and social justice in a Union where the security of citizens is ensured by a rethought immigration and asylum policy and close cooperation with neighbouring countries.

The concept of a common European way of life could be grasped as follows in our view: The common European way of life is a value system, based on the EU citizenship, which can be grasped in the pursuit of common principles and the exercise of rights guaranteed to all EU citizens, limited only in exceptional cases and ensuring socio-economic convergence.

As mentioned above, the formation of "individual identity" and "self-identity" is the result of many factors: origin, family heritage, studies, the socio-economic environment will all influence how a person defines himself. Does this include, or can it include, a sense of belonging to a broader community? The answer is a resounding yes. Instead, the question is whether, for an EU citizen, the broader community can be the European Union as a whole? The European way of life is best captured in the exercise of rights under EU law, complemented by a sense of Europeanness, a conscious experience of belonging to the European community. The idea of belonging to a nation is never expected to be overridden by the idea of Europeanness, nor is it a fundamental objective of European integration. Thus, for the time being, the feeling of Europeanness is fulfilled in living a common European way of life, of which the exercise of mobility rights is an integral part.

There are significant economic and social differences between the Western European states that joined at the beginning of the integration and the Central and Eastern European countries that joined later after the regime changes. There are several conflicting scientific views on the division between the West and the East. Still, it can be said that there are significant differences between states in terms of either the civil sector, the foundations of society or the economy.[2]Although in principle, these differences do not affect the rights deriving from EU citizenship, they may affect the possibility of exercising them, in particular, due to the different economic backgrounds. At the same time, the potential political differences among the Member States may create obstacles to the development of a common European identity.

However, the realisation of European cooperation of a federal nature cannot be predicted today, as all efforts in this direction – it is enough to think of the failure of the Constitutional Treaty – have failed.[3] On the other hand, it cannot be ignored that the first steps of European integration after World War II were based on the idea of a federal Europe. In his famous Zurich speech on 19 September 1946, Churchill projected the creation of a regional alliance, the United States of Europe, modelled on the model of the United States of America.[4]

We could see that the European Way of Life and European identity are not equal but from the same branch. The European way of life necessarily contains several points of our identity (both national and European). The European way of life could be described as a value-pack of being European. Being European means several things in a very diverse manner. However, the common denominator is that we – as the People of Europe – all have the possibility to enjoy our acquired rights of EU citizenship, to respect the peaceful heritage of cultural, social and religious diversity the EU provides us. That is the ground from where a common way of life arises. The question of where it grows to depends on our attitude towards that.


II. What Common European Way of Life means to us from a historical point of view?

European identity is a complex term and has several dimensions. In the communication of the European Union, the dimensions are the following: "multiple social identities and biographical identity, transnational relationships, collective action, standardisation and regulation, cultural production, intercultural translation, inclusion/exclusion, structural conditions and opportunity structures and the public sphere and state-regulated institutions." These characteristics are in line with the approach of the present article and the authors' understanding of the European way of life.

The EU's predecessors aimed primarily at establishing economic cooperation, which served both long-term peace in a fragile post-world war Europe and the development of the Member States of the European Economic Community, all as external factors in the Cold War. The question arises whether the founding states also thought of nations beyond the Iron Curtain at the beginning of cooperation. Did they want to involve us in the continental collaboration in the long term, or did they also draw the eastern borders of social Europe by separating Berlin? We are proud that the European peace project has proved successful in the last seven decades, thanks to which the European integration project also won the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize. Here, two factors should not be overlooked. One is the NATO's establishment in 1949, among with the founders of the ECSC and EURATOM - except for the USSR. We were all there. The other is the concept of Europe in a social and geographical sense. In terms of the idea of peace, which areas belong to Europe? The issue is interesting because there was a war between six states in southern Europe between 1991 and 2001. That was the Yugoslav civil war. Did Europe, strictly speaking, include the six states in the Balkans, (involving Slovenia and Croatia as well which are now members of the EU)? Or, is it a conclusion that Europe is what the states of the integration currently accept as Europe? Thus, in a narrower sense, Europe was considered to exist until Berlin at the beginning of European integration.

In this case, two questions arise. Why the former socialist states were admitted and why another east-south expansion of integration is planned. Primary economic reasons, such as the goal of gaining a market or labour shortages in Western states, can undoubtedly be decisive domestic policy factors when nominating new states, in addition to the fact that political and cultural harmonisation in Europe may have emerged among the objectives. In turn, this concept may make the current political processes, the conflicts that give rise to the debates, perhaps primarily due to differences in mindset, more understandable. Similar intentions drive the nations of Europe, yet, due to their different ways of thinking and historical experiences, they find another solution to common problems. Migration is an excellent example of this. The Western half of Europe is struggling with labour shortages, and it needs human resources to maintain the social welfare system and labour market of ageing societies smoothly. In the Central-East region of Europe, states want to compensate for ageing with youth, protectionist family policies, and thus with solutions within their population, instead of assimilating and integrating new groups. The former can be a prompt solution to the current problems of society – firefighting – but in the long run, it results in irreversible social tendencies. The latter, in turn, can be a long-term tool for a given society without disrupting the relative homogeneity of that society.

These contradictions may all stem from the founding states' desire to provide solutions to pan-European problems along their own lines, but they did not see their Eastern counterparts as full partners in developing them. This is also indicated in the 'Peace Project' in which the preservation of the Western Peace and the outbreak of the 10-year long South Slavic war could fit into the same page.

For Hungary, the modern concept of Europeanisation started in the 1980s when still within the frames of the sometime Soviet system, the country got involved in the European discussion. At the economic sphere, Hungary had been balancing between the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance and the European Economic Community (EEC) and entered direct communication with the EEC in 1983.[5] Besides being a socialist country, Hungary became a contracting party to the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) in 1973. To understand how the Eastern European Countries, thus Hungary, interpret the European way of life or European identity, we have to understand the historical background of these states. For more than 40 years – from the Second World War until the end of 1980s – the Western and Eastern blocks were socially separated from each other in every possible way. The regime changes and the involvement to the European integration meant a reasonable way to "rejoin Europe" in a strong belieth that the nations are towards something better with the pledge of fruitful future cooperation. However, both parties realised, the process of European reunification is much more challenging than it seemed.[6]

Finally, in 2004 Hungary became a Member State (MSs) of the European Union and soon started to benefit from this new position. The Authors' of this article grown up in a generation that already experienced the advantages of EU membership. Regarding the Eurobarometer's data, nearly 80 per cent of the Hungarian population is for EU. Approximately 60% thinks that the membership is good and 78 % thinks that the country benefits from that. On the other side of the coin, Hungarians are very opinionated about national identity and the protection of cultural heritage. As a result, Hungarians can relate to European identity and accept a European Way of Life. Still, the national beliefs and feelings are remaining essential for them and the country. Are we European Hungarians or Hungarian Europeans? The question yet to answer.


III. Closing remarks

Where is the EU citizen on the colourful palette of citizenship, belonging to a nation and having an individual identity? The essence of a common European way of life can best be seen in the status of a citizen of the Union: "citizenship of the Union is the status of citizens of the Member States of the Union, with certain rights under EU law."[7] We have no other legal instrument to define belonging to Europe in the language of the law. The Treaty of Maastricht established the status of EU citizenship and the range of related rights was significantly expanded by raising the Charter of Fundamental Rights to a Treaty level.[8] Citizenship of the Union is not intended to replace citizenship, as citizenship is the closest legal bond between the state and the individual, which not only confers rights but also imposes civic obligations. At the contractual level, the TFEU also states: "Every citizen of the Member States is a citizen of the Union. Citizenship of the Union is complementary to, and not a substitute for, national citizenship." Citizenship of the Union is strictly a supplement to citizenship of the Member States and provides additional rights.[9] Thus, without citizenship of a Member State, we cannot speak of citizenship of the Union. With the creation of EU citizenship, citizens of the Member States have acquired a new legal status. Still, as long as its acquisition is linked to citizenship of the Member States at the contractual level, "supranational citizenship" cannot be created. On the other hand, a supranational status based on and respecting national factors, does exist. The case law has also made it possible for third-country nationals to exercise the right to free movement and residence, allowing the exercise of ancillary rights through their family ties to EU citizens.[10]

In our understanding, the European Way of Life could be grasped in our EU citizenship status. By enjoying our political and economic rights arising from the acquired status civitatis we could take effect on our values. For example, by supporting a European Citizens Initiative, e.g. the Minority Safepack or any other, we could prove our priorities and let our voices be heard. The further right worth to use is the voting suffrage at European Parliament elections.

The concept of the European Way of Life has emerged through a long way. It has a genuine link to European identity and values while it could be interpreted in several ways. In our view, the European Way of Life is an opportunity for Europe to find a common denominator via its' citizens by ensuring a Common Way of Life. If we are lucky, the European Way of Life may become a mutually acceptable pack of values for all, under which the omelette is done without breaking the eggs.

[1] Kiss, Lilla Nóra ‒ Sziebig, Orsolya Johanna (2020): Le mode de vie européen dans l’ombre du Covid-19: perspectives hongroises. In: Hélène, Pauliat; Séverine, Nadaud (Eds.): La crise de la COVID-19: comment maintenir l'action publique ? Limoges, France, LexisNexis, 261-267. pp. [2] Lehne, Stefan (2019): Europe’s East-West Divide: Myth or Reality? 11 April 2019. [3] The ideal of the federation also reappeared in a speech by Joschka Fischer, former German Foreign Minister, at Humbolt University (Berlin): Fischer, Joschka (2000): „From Confederacy to Federation - Thoughts on the finality of European integration”. 12 May 2000. [4] Churchill (1946): Winston Churchill, speech delivered at the University of Zurich, 19 September 1946. [5] Germuska, Pál (2019): Balancing between the COMECON and the EEC: Hungarian elite debates on European integration during the long 1970s. Cold War History, vol. 19. no. 3. 401-420. pp. [6] Rey, Violette (1993): Kelet-Európa után? (Transleted into Hungarian: BARTA Györgyi). Földrajzi Értesítő vol. XLII. no. 1-4. 244-252. pp. [7] Blutman László: Az Európai Unió joga a gyakorlatban. [The Euorpen Union’s Law in Practice] II. Edition. HVG Orac, Budapest, 2013. [8] Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (OJ C 326, 26.10.2012, p. 391–407) Title V. Citizens’ Rights. [9] This principle was strengthed in the Rudy Grezelczyk case is: [31] „Union citizenship is destined to be the fundamental status of nationals of the Member States, enabling those who find themselves in the same situation to enjoy the same treatment in law irrespective of their nationality, subject to such exceptions as are expressly provided for.” Rudy Grzelczyk v Centre public d'aide sociale d'Ottignies-Louvain-la-Neuve. ECLI:EU:C:2001:458, para 31. [10] This aspect was examined in the Zhu-Chen (ECLI:EU:C:2004:639), the Zambrano (ECLI:EU:C:2011:124) and theChakroun (ECLI:EU:C:2010:117) cases by the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Lilla Nóra KISS is a counselor on EU legal affairs at the Ministry of Justice. Formerly, she has been a researcher and lecturer at the University of Miskolc (Hungary), Institute of European and International Law for five years, where she taught European Union law. She obtained her Ph.D. degree in 2019. The dissertation's topic is the legal issues of the withdrawal of a Member State from the EU. Her research interests cover the legal dimensions of Brexit, the interpretation of the European Way of Life, and the Digital Single Market.

Orsolya Johanna SZIEBIG is a senior lecturer (adjunct) at the University of Szeged Faculty of Law and Political Sciences, Department of International and European Law. She graduated as a lawyer in 2014 at the same university and also holds an LL.M. in environmental law. She obtained a PhD in 2019. The dissertation’s title is: “The international legal frameworks of wildlife crime”. Her main research fields are international - European environmental law and ecocide, but she also publishes in other aspects such as the European Way of Life and access to environmental justice.

Recent Posts

See All