Citizenship in the twenty-first century : the French case - Catherine Wihtol de Wenden - France

mercredi, 20 mai 2009


Catherine Wihtol de Wenden, Director of research at CNRS (Paris), Professor at Sciences-Po in Paris and specialst of international migrations. Among its most recent books : La beurgeoisie (with RémyLeveau), Paris, CNRS Editions, new issue 2007, Les couleurs du drapeau (with Christophe Bertossi). French army facing with discriminations. Paris, Robert Laffont, 2007, Sortir des banlieues (with Sophie Body-Gendrot). Paris, Autrement, 2007.


The Globalization of migrations which occurred at the end of the twentieth century has led to an evolution of the concept of citizenship in France. This one was formerly confined to the nation State, linking the citizen to exclusive rights and duties towards his state of belonging. With increasing mobilities and double affiliations of some of the settled ones, new forms of citizenship are appearing.





The new citizenship includes plural allegiances and policies in welcome and departure countries which build links with their members. In the meantime, discourses and policies on integration have led second generations to rebuild their identities, with some gaps between nationality and citizenship.


This paper will be focussed on the French case, which lies on the difference introduced between nationality and citizenship and the impact of Europe. The three levels, legal status, civic identity and civic practice will be dealt with, referring to this main distinction.




I - A socio-historical background


The distinction between citizenship and nationality appeared with the French revolution. Citizenship has preceded nationality which was not in this period a really big concern because most people did not move and there was not a feeling of belonging to a nation. The revolutionary citizen of 1789 is namely a man who shares the ideals of the revolution (freedom, equality of rights, right to property, who participates to assemblies and political clubs). It refers to Greek democracy and Roman republic: the citizen is the man who is entirely dedicated to public values, a hero of wisdom and probity (Saint-Just). Citizenship refers to the ideas of the enlightenments: social contract (Rousseau), freedom of conscience (Voltaire), separation of public powers between executive, legislative and judiciary ones (Montesquieu). It has a philosophical content, defined in the Declaration of human rights of 1789 ("Déclaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen").



Citizens without being nationals

During this revolutionary period, it was not necessary to be a national to become a citizen: participation was more important than nationality. Some foreigners alike Anarcharsis Clootz or Thomas Paine were active members at the assemblies and they were so granted the "quality" of citizens. The Constitution of 1793 even recognises the granting of citizenship for civic services given to the State (feeding and taking care of a child, helping an old person...). This accent put on civic values again comes back during the "Commune of Paris" in 1871 when foreigners where granted citizenship. One could be citizen without being a national : an argument which will be used for granting local political rights to foreigners during the campaigns of the eighties.



Nationals but not citizens

Inversely, there has been many historical cases where nationals were not citizens : women until 1944, young people (the age passed from 21 years to 18 years in 1974), army who was deprived of voting rights during the third republic (it was named the "big dumb"), some disabled persons alike the mad ones and those whose civic rights have been brought back by a decision a justice ("déchéance des droits civiques"). We need also to add the colonial status: indigenous people did not have access to citizenship and there was a hierarchy of forms of citizenship according to the status of the territory of birth and the level of education. In Algeria, a French colony, the full access to citizenship occurred very late, in 1947 while the Jewish of Algeria mostly from Spanish origin obtained the status of French citizens at the end of the nineteenth century (loi Crémieux).


Immigration and Europe have changed the terms of the debate: with immigration, a distinction has been introduced between the legal status (namely for second generations who are nationals and citizens but who are not always considered as such), civic identity (relation to public sphere: from political alienation to political allegiances) and civic practice (participation with or without being a national). With Europe, the hierarchisation of statuses between Europeans and non Europeans has led to various forms of membership (from illegals to denizens). The internationalisation of the exercise of citizenship has introduced the concept of transnational citizenship, beyond State citizenship, with diasporic forms of political belonging in departures and welcome countries, political rights of foreigners and access to double citizenship. In France, the naturalisation procedure requires more and more an early made integration while in the past, integration was considered as a consequence and not a condition for naturalisation.


Finally, we can add that citizenship is paradoxically a recent theme in France, in spite of its revolutionary roots. Nobody referred to citizenship during the "past glorious years" of 1945 -1975 ("Les trente glorieuses") because class structure in the society was considered as more accurate to explain French political life. The emergence of National Front, the strengthening of identity around French values with some populist accent, along with Europe and globalisation have led to come back to the content of citizenship in its relationship with nationality.




I I- Legal status


Legal status refers to nationality, defined by the law while citizenship is a philosophical concept defined in the declaration of Human rights of 1789.



1 - The French definition of a national is a compromise between right of the blood and right of the soil

In Ancient Regime, in France alike in other European countries, the nationally right was built on the soil: the subject was attached to the earth of the lord and had this nationally from this territorial belonging. Napoleon Ist decided to shift the right of the soil by the right of the blood in the civil code of 1804 and made the same reforms in other European countries conquered by the Empire. Only the United Kingdom which was not invaded preserved its Ancient regime right of the soil and later introduced it in its colonies of settlement (United States, Canada, Australia). But nationality was not a real concern. It was difficult to go out of one's country but it was rather easy to enter in another country. Passports did not exist before the nineteenth century and the identity card was introduced in France in 1917 but it is not compulsory still now. The first time that nationals were differentiated from the foreigners in the French census was in 1851: most foreigners known before were activists of the revolutions of 1830 and 1848 registered by police.


The demographic decline which has appeared in France before its neighbours, since the end of the eighteenth century has introduced in the second part of the nineteenth century some concern during this period of economic rise: France needed labour force and soldiers. After years of debate on "denationalisation or depopulation", the law of 1889 introduced an important reform of the nationality code, introducing the right of the soil in the French civil code of Napoleon Ist who was based on the right of the blood. It was the beginning of a long compromise which led to an early equilibrium between the two sources of nationality. The nationality code was then reformed in 1927, 1945, 1973 with enlargements of the access by right of the soil, but few political debates in the public sphere. It was only in the 1990's that the question came back to the front scene, when the National Front and the Club de l'Horloge issued some books on " We should deserve to be French", "There are French only on the paper, in spite of themselves". On october1985, the rightist journal "Figaro magazine" entitled its issue "Will we be still French in thirty years?". In 1987, the French Government appointed a Commission of Wise people to debate around the reform of the nationality code with a hundred of hearings which concluded without deciding to change the law of 1973. The right wing was in favour of more right of the blood and the left of more right of the soil, stressing on the acquisition of a feeling of citizenship by participation to local life and socialisation by the territory. The coming back of the right to power in 1993 led to a first reform of the nationality code (law Pasqua-Méhaignerie), with a more difficult access to nationality for the young of foreign parents born in France. The law suppressed the automatic access of nationality for them at 18 years and the condemned could never become French if the sanction exceeded six month of prison. The access for sons of western Africans who were themselves French was also denied. Only Algerians can ask for the reintegration in French nationality when their parents or grand parents had acquired full citizenship. The left and the associations of Human rights strongly fought against this law. In 1998, when the left came back to power, a new law was adopted coming back to the law of 1973 (law Guigou), with the automatic access to French nationality for those born in France at 18 years if they have been living in France during five years before. The equilibrium between the right of the blood and the right of the soil was anew established. No new debate has been introduced on nationality since then.


Some distinctions have moved for the access to civic rights (election and eligibility) and for marriage. The first laws on nationality introduced a period during which the new nationals could not vote or could not be elected (five and ten years): there were active and passive citizens, suppressed in the law of 1973. For marriage, the length of time for the access to nationality has been extended during these last years, due to fears of so called "white marriages" concluded only to have access to French nationality.



2) Citizenship and local political rights

Nationality and Citizenship have not always been linked with integration. Assimilation, which has prevailed in France from the end of the nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth and which was an individual process has been progressively replaced by integration, a less demanding allegiance. Assimilation and integration policies have never included local political rights to incorporate foreign citizens. Even if citizenship of residence is a slogan followed by many associations of support, it is difficult in France to be citizen without being a national. But the principle of dissociation between nationality and citizenship has been introduced in the political and constitutional debate. It is only under the pressure of Europe that the French Constitution has been reformed to take into account the Maastricht treaty of 1992 which inserts European citizenship and grants local political rights and eligibility to all Europeans of the E.U. under the rule of reciprocal rights. Many proposals have been introduced on granting local political rights to extra-Europeans but none has reached the objective. The main arguments (public opinion, Constitutional reform) could be crossed if there would be a strong political will which is missing. The last proposal from the Green, the Communist and the Socialist parties in 2000 has failed. Most proposals of social cohesion (Urban policies, Equality of chances programs, anti-discrimination policies) are not centred on extending citizens' rights to foreign residents.




III- Civic identity and civic practice :


1) Membership

The concept of civic identity refers to political incorporation into the Nation. This one springs from the revolution: the definition of a collective identity built on a political project and shared values has no link with ethnic belonging in France. The nation is said to be born in Valmy when the troops of General Dumouriez and Kellermann shouted "Vive la nation" in 1992. The poet Goethe who attended the scene said that a new idea was born in Europe. The nation, a political invention after the former link between the subject and the king, has been then reinforced by the Empire, the wars against new enemies. But a collective "us" has been lately theorised during the end of the nineteenth century. At the eve of the Third republic, in 1871, the writer Ernest Renan, answering to a letter of the German philosopher Fichte who explained his notion of "german people" on ethnic and cultural links, replied: "What is a nation? Nation is a soul, a collective will to share together a collective and indivisible political grant of memory » ("La nation est une âme, un vouloir vivre collectif de partager un riche legs commun de souvenirs  »). Progressively, this republican, jacobinist view of the nation which founds civic identity in France has been threatened by nationalism which largely operates against the Nation. Rightist theoreticians alike Maurras or Barrès rooted the nation in a territory ("l'"hexagone", "la ligne bleue des Vosges" through which was the German enemy), cultural traditions ("values") and even references to a common blood. But the evolutive content of the nation remained very unclear because it both served to legitimate colonialism under the Third republic (in the name of shared values of progress) and to develop racist classifications of people excluding the Jewish and some other groups from belonging to the nation (development of the theme of the traitor, the bad citizen, alike in the Dreyfus affair but mostly between the two wars). During the Vichy period of 1940, some naturalised French of Jewish culture were deprived from their French nationality and prohibited to apply to civil service positions.



2) Citizenship, an evolutive concept

Citizenship has rapidly moved during these last fifty years. During mid fifties, no one was interested in France by the old notion of citizenship. The political and social analysis of France was seen through the image of a class struggle between workers and owners and the political parties more or less fit with this view. The rediscovery of citizenship is rather new and can be placed in mid eighties. The left does not want to abandon Citizenship and Nation to the emerging extreme right. To the books of the rightist Club de l'Horloge, the socialist Club 89 in 1985 replies by a book on French identity, stressing on republican values (L'identité française). Immigration begins to influence the definition of citizenship which includes new values of socialisation by local residence, cultural pluralism and anti-discrimination (such as in the "Marche des beurs" in 1983). Islam also brings the new question on "can one be French and Muslim?" The incorporation of second and third generations into French nationality and citizenship leads some elites of the "beur" movement to vote and apply for local mandates at the municipal elections of 1989 and after. They create a political movement thanks to associations (SOS Racism, France Plus) which address to all political parties their claims and suggest that they have become a political force, what did not do the Portuguese, Italians, Spanish and other European immigrants in France. Some of these leaders tend to reinforce their image of perfect French citizens, respectful of all the symbols of the republic: public school, secularism, civic identity ("Plus républicain que moi, tu meurs"). But many French do not consider they are French. An inverse trend among them consists in defining them as "true French, French by the roots, by the blood" (Français de souche), what Michel Wieviorka names "differentialist racism". Those French are mainly poor, unemployed and feel in competition with immigrants. The answer of some young discriminated and "visible" guys of inner cities consists in defining themselves as the true inhabitants of their territories, hinting that the "Gaulois" are not in their place. An ethnicisation of French identity appears.

Another shift of civic identities lies in the development of double nationality which also leads to double citizenship. Due to the second and third generations born in France and acquiring French citizenship thanks to the right of the soil, we have double nationals because most of them hold the nationality of their countries of origin or that of their parents, built on the right of the blood (in all countries of Islam). In some countries alike Morocco, the belonging to this nationality cannot be abandonned ("allegiance perpétuelle"). Most of them feel double citizens. While France tries to attract the vote of this new constituency, even the most reluctant countries of origin to recognise these young as new French have now understood that they can help their political intrusion and demands in the French affairs. So Algeria declared in early nineties: "You are also French. You might learn to use it", and Morocco who was very opposed to local political rights to Moroccans in the Netherlands is now very strongly in favour of the various forms of involvement of its nationals (associative life, trade unionism, transnational professional networks). Italy has recently given a revival to Italians abroad who can vote at all the Italian elections. Quasi-diasporas in immigration countries are now encouraged by diasporic policies led by counties of origin, playing on the multiple allegiances of their compatriots.

But discriminations may alter the evolution. In France, the overwhelming majority of young of foreign origin feel French and "play the game", as shown by all polls and qualitative studies. But they also feel that most French are not convinced that they are French, featuring a gap inside the French nation in contradiction with non ethnic republican values. "French alike the others" concluded a recent research on the young of Arab origin. One of them said in a field research, speaking of the French colleagues at work: "They will have progressed when they will have understood that we are French". This may bring behaviours of rejection, such as the invention of the features of the "indigenous of the republic", a movement built on post colonial approaches of identity or more aggressive reactions (delinquency, radical Islamism, political anomy). The gap between Europeans and non Europeans regarding to citizenship is widening, including differences of status but also failures of inclusion in the nation. Recently, in 2007, A Minister of "Immigration, Integration, national identity and development " has been created, headed by a near friend of president Sarkozy, Brice Hortefeux. It spread a large criticism on the association between immigration and national identity, hinting that national identity has to be ruled and that immigration could threaten it.






The twentieth century is challenged by mobility, which also questions citizenship. Many forms of transnational citizenship have appeared, with so many forms of double presence, at infra and supra-national level. It also changes the definition of belonging. The hierarchy of citizenship is also a concern, especially when the new nationals go on to be considered as "others". Can we keep a so strong segmented status of nationality, between nationals, Europeans, long term extra-European residents, short term non European migrants, asylum seekers and illegal in a true democratic area? Mobility also implies to define the rights of mobile citizens and to manage it, which weakens a little more the relation between the citizen and the State..



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