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Sandro Mezzadra: Citizenship in motion

Etienne Balibar's recent interventions have stressed the strategic importance of including the history of colonial expansionism in any critical reflection on the question of European citizenship. This inclusion, not exclusive to academic debating, is a fundamental issue of everyday life in Europe due to the 'increasingly larger and legitimate presence, despite the suffered discriminations, of populations of colonial origins in the old metropolises'.

1. Lessons in Otherness?

Reflecting on colonial history then is ridden with 'new tensions and violence' whilst potentially writing what Balibar calls a 'lesson of otherness' into the fibre of European citizenship: the European recognition 'of otherness as an indispensable element of its own identity, its virtuality, its 'power'' (Balibar, L'Europe, l'Amérique, la guerre. p. 38)

Balibar's valuable considerations prompt a number of questions: what is new in this 'lesson of otherness?' In post-colonial studies otherness is widely recognised as an 'essential element' of European identity since the beginning of modernity. As Bhabha or Spivak taught us, a movement of contamination, transits and metissage contradictorily cohabit within colonial experience and anticipate the 'postcolonial' present.

In themselves, metissage and 'hybridisation' rather than exclusively referring to experiences of emancipation can also describe particularly brutal manners of exercising domination and articulating exploitation. Rather than the constitutive relation between otherness and European identity, the question then is the recognition of otherness that historically would entail a self-criticism for Europe. There is no trace of this self criticism and recognition in the manner in which political Europe relates to contemporary migration: neither in national legislations on the issue, nor in the directives of the Commission, nor on the articles on European citizenship in the project of a constitutional treaty discussed and not approved at the Brussels intergovernmental conference of last December. The only signal of a counter trend is the very presence of migrants in Europe. Shall we interpret this presence as that of a social movement that keeps challenging the policies that would make of Europe a 'fortress' and that thus creates the possibility for an 'other' European citizenship whilst also providing it with a material example? What are the resonance effects of this social movement on other social practices and other questions of citizenship that are equally cancelled out of the institutional configuration that European citizenship is contradictorily taking on? What are the constituent perspective opened up on this terrain for the movements present in Europe today, which in the context of a global movement of insubordination struggle against 'neoliberalism' and war? In my view, these are the issues worth questioning.

2. European borders

Regarding the war, whilst a discussion on the constitution of a new European police of borders ensues and the 'war against terrorism' opens an internal war trench of which migrants (in Europe as in the US) are the first victims, the struggle continues on the European borders. Human rights organisations calculate that in the last ten years almost four thousand refugees and migrants have lost their lives, drowned in seas and rivers, exploded on mine fields, suffocated in containers, whilst trying to cross those borders. It is hard to quantify the similar fate of those in the process of approaching European borders, crossing the Sahara for instance. What is this if not a war, and a much dirtier one in not being waged or conventional? Is indignation enough when faced with the reality of this war and with the cruelty of 'human traffickers' and 'new merchants of slaves '? Is it more opportune to underline that unlike traditional slaves the majority of women and men on rafts and broken fishing boats did not choose to be there? Around this issue we place the question of recognition: the recognition of contemporary movements of migration as social movements that are motivated, though faced with conditions of poverty and social and political devastation, by specific stances of freedom and demands for citizenship. What happens on the European borders is far from being of 'marginal' importance. The very notion of border- the practices of its government as much as its 'localisation' -seems to have deeply changed during 'globalisation'. On the one hand, borders are projected to the outside and stretch their shadow hundreds of miles further from the geographical lines that delineate an area such as Europe (or the US or Australia). Tony Blair's latest proposal to institute Transit Processing Centres, This is a metaphor for real detention centres in key conflict areas such as Asia and Africa, where to assess asylum seeking applications of potential refugees. It is the last instance of a process that for the last fifteen years has permitted an increasingly invasive intervention of national and European authorities in the policies of borders control and migration movements in strategically placed Third World countries. On the other hand, borders are continuously decomposed and recomposed; they project their shadow onto the heart of 'cities' and no longer simply signal its external perimeter. Detention centres for migrant awaiting expulsion are placed all over Europe. They can no longer be seen as an anomaly' but as a founding institution for an emerging European citizenship. They are only the most visible forms of a complex process through which the European apartheid that Balibar has relentlessly denounced in the last few years is taking shape. The word apartheid must be taken literally, because what needs to be put at the centre of the theoretical and political debate is 'the process of constitution of a population made inferior (in rights and thus in dignity) that is the object of violent forms of 'security' control and coerced into permanently living 'at the border', neither wholly inside nor outside'. (É. Balibar, Noi cittadini d'Europa? p. 139). European policies on migration, despite their rhetoric, do not aim to hermetically seal European borders. Their objective, and their effect, is the establishment of a system of dams and eventually the production of an active process of inclusion of migrant labour by means of its criminalisation (it. clandestinizzazione). If we look at the legislation of single European countries on this matter, that have been shaped under the pressure of European dictates, the first data that neatly emerges is that by regulating the condition of migrants these laws have directly intervened on the regulation of the labour market. The Italian Bossi-Fini law that binds the residency permit to the possession of a regular work contract is a fully European law in this respect and mirrors the general trend that introduces real dispositif of personal coercion into the labour market whilst rendering the presence of so called illegal immigrants a structural fact of contemporary European society. Between 'illegal immigrants' and citizens, in what the official agency of European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia in Vienna defined in its 2001 report 'the ethnic-racial division of labour in Europe' (http://eumc.eu.int/), there is a whole series of intermediaries that correspond to the various existing typologies of residence permits. On May the first this year ten new European countries will join Europe, but their workers will not: for a period of two to seven years the entry into Europe and the acquisition of European citizenship will not grant them the right to freedom of movement within the EU territory, as the latter will be regulated and restrained by national and community policies (http://www.iue.it/LAW/Events/WSWorkshopNov2003/Rigo_paper.pdf).

A further differentiation is thus introduced, this time also formally, within European citizenship: its effects on the labour market can be clearly seen in the competition between African and Polish workers for 'deskilled' and seasonal jobs in agriculture in the south of Spain. As citizens of a country bidding to access the EU, the Poles are already in a relatively privileged position.

3. Which European citizenship?

The condition of migrants constitutes a privileged points from which to observe and investigate the trend towards selectively decomposing the figures of citizenship that, the moment when European citizenship starts assuming clear contours, is placed at its centre and deeply influences what we might call its material constitution. From this derive fundamental and inevitable issues: the closure of detention centres and the regularisation of sans papiers, two crucial elements for the united day of action for the rights of migrants decided at St. Denis on the 31st of January this year. Another crucial issue linked to this is the separation of residence permits from work contracts and of European citizenship from the citizenship of countries enjoying membership in the Union. The tendency to decomposing citizenship is far from concerning migrants only: the reintroduction of a principle of tutelage (that is, historically and conceptually, a principle opposed to that of citizenship) has persistently characterised neoliberalist policies. It inspired the demise of citizenship in matters of penal law and control and through the attempt to turn welfare into workfare; it gradually reduced the provision of services to citizens whilst subordinating it, for those who cannot acquire these services in the 'market', to paternalist logic. More generally, the principle of flexibility has been affirmed as the new key to labour relations and to the very right to work that was one of the main fields for the expansion of citizenship in the last century. This was done through concrete practices that have laid the ground for a reintroduction of devices of subordination and personal command in fields that in the past had been at least judicially invested by collective rights and guarantees. The changes mentioned were produced in Europe through a process actively carried out not only by the member countries, but also by European institutions such as the commission and the EU Court of Justice in Luxemburg. The point is not to refuse to see the potential for the constituent process opened in Europe that the consolidation of European citizenship entails for social movements. The latter's achievement of a European dimension is rather a goal that is urgently posed: we need to find political tools that allow for a productive interference of the practices of citizenship recently expressed by the movements in the current institutional processes. Within the theoretical debate there is a strong tendency to reflect on citizenship beyond its juridical codification and institutional profile and to account for the practices and demands through which social movements question that institutional profile.

It is on this gap that we need to work on. The issue is one of constitutional politics: our first aim cannot be a European constitution with its demos conceived according to the classical categories of European constitutionalism; we need to prevent the closure of this constituent process and keep opening it up when it seems to come to a stall, so that within it, through struggle and political action, all the elements of material constitution that have been accumulating throughout time can be continuously questioned.