There’s probably not a soul alive who has talked to me about the initiative and not said:
“Hmm…. that’s a long one”
… I can’t say that I’m used to hearing that. But seriously, I was trying to pack the whole idea into something brief and accurate ( i.e. “short and sweet”). The irony (and frustration) of it all is that I could go on a rant about a simple choice of words: “in spite of” and not “regardless” or “despite“. Sure, the latter two are “shorter” and that’s why some would say they’re ‘sweeter’, but how else was I supposed to encompass my personal vendetta against nationalism?
“In Spite of jus soli and jus sanguinis” quite literally exhibits my spite for nationalism into just a few words. So I understand that there seem to be a number of complicated words there, but I would defend the fact that this version is incredibly “short and sweet” compared to saying “United in Diversity despite the senseless, arbitrary and discriminatory/elitist way in which all of us humans are segregated into imaginary teams whose separation is decreed by laws of land and blood which then allow fictional sub-categories of ‘us’ to create stereotypes and wage military and economic wars in the name of political imagination.”
Despite the difference of opinion that we might have on that title, I think I did pretty well in summarizing everything, including the serious underlying shade that I was throwing.
Anyway, now that we’ve gotten past the title, let’s recall that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
(Although, granted, a different name for this rose might actually have made it easier to digest)
As I said in the previous post, it all started on January 27, 2017, when I submitted the petition to register my European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) with the above title after 7 awesome friends allowed me the opportunity to file it under their name. It’s not easy to convince other friends to sign up for something when you can’t even tell them “My name will be on there too, so just blame it all on me if things go south”. After the submission, we had no idea if we would receive a positive response or a negative one. What I did tell a few friends is that we weren’t waiting for “good or bad news”, but rather we were waiting to see if the European Commission’s response would mean that we have to do things the hard way or the harder way.
‘Thankfully’, their response meant we were taking the hard way.
On March 27, 2017, our initiative would be officially registered. It wasn’t an entirely quiet registration either, considering that MEP Charles Goerens and Lead Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier commented on it a few days after registration. If you actually looked at that prior link (although I should warn you that it’s in French), you’ll notice that there was also another initiative called “Retaining European Citizenship” that was accepted at the same time. Truth be told, there was actually a third initiative registered, and that one came before mine. But I had plenty of discussions with the organizers of the other 2 initiatives, and it was evident that their legal basis was nowhere near as promising, so I felt the need to continue with my idea. Let me be clear that all of us had the same motivation and wanted a similar outcome, which is what motivated me to contact them and try to consolidate our efforts, but after speaking thoroughly with the organizers, it became clear that they had not spent months researching the legal ins and outs of their idea, and their initiatives had no specific legal goal or path to get there (aside from the political aspiration). Personally, I had already learned the hard way in 2014 that one capital letter can undo your entire legal argument so I was not going to take a chance with something as important as international citizenship. That’s why I couldn’t simply hope or pray that the other initiatives would be enough to “appeal to politicians’ good nature and inspire them to find the legal means to achieve our goal of protecting EU Citizenship”. I had the specific goal, I’d researched the legal means, and I couldn’t afford to let ‘politics’ handle the situation.
Conferences and Reports
Soon after the registration, I was invited to two conferences in Brussels: one in April and one in June. Since one of my closest friends from Kansas would be visiting Europe for the first time during those months, I figured it would give us an excuse to travel together for a bit (as if we needed one…).
One funny note here is that the photo that you see on the right is from a third event in April that I wasn’t invited to. You see, our ECI had been registered too late for us to be invited to the ECI Day 2017 which is held every year by the European Economic and Social Committee. But I decided to attend the conference anyway. Once I was there, I figured I’d just go all out and I managed to get the organizers to include me into the panel of ECI organizers, even though my name is nowhere on the program. In the end it turned out to be a good opportunity to practice public speaking and to promote the initiative from its very early stages.
In the second conference I was invited to play a more major role. The conference was a roundtable called “Brexit and Citizens’ Rights: Where Do We Go From Here?” and I was invited to be part of a panel that included politicians, academics, and members of NGOs. You can look up my name on the event report to see my comments and you can even watch a video of my short[ish] speech that I gave (though the angle and quality aren’t optimal). This event was quite helpful in establishing contact with MEPs Jill Evans and Richard Corbett as well as with academic Volker Roeben who was researching the very issue that our initiative was aimed at (i.e. maintaining EU citizenship despite Brexit). This trip to Brussels also helped me get in touch with the head of a foundation focused on EU Citizenship, and that encounter led to a third unexpected conference and a summer in Brussels.
This final unexpected conference was more of a paid internship culminating with 3 days of conferences, workshops and a public debate. Back when the initiative was first registered, I had received an email from the founder of the ECIT Foundation, which is the person that I met in Brussels on my June trip. He invited me to spend July and August in Brussels in order to help him organize the Summer University on European Citizenship. This invitation [and the time that I spent in Brussels] allowed to me meet awesome friends and get in touch with more people who were interested in European Citizenship, some of which included organizations like New Europeans, European Movement International, European Alternatives, the bEUcitizen project, and individuals such as Alberto Alemanno, Niccolò Milanese, Hanneke van Eijken, and Dora Kostakopoulou. If you’re that interested on the names and people, you can see the rest of the program here. This was a rather revealing and invaluable experience, and not something that I had imagined when I decided to pursue the initiative. I got to help organize a conference, be part of the opening panel, I held a 1.5hr workshop, and it also allowed us to support the initiative alongside the ECIT petition to the European Parliament. However, to a certain extent this was also close to the end of the journey for pushing the initiative, but that’s a story that will come with the next post.
As with any journey, there were certainly some sweet and some sour spots. Let’s begin with the sour parts:
- Complete lack of understanding about citizenship and available democratic resources: It didn’t take long to realize that most people [including educated friends and acquaintances with Master’s degrees] lacked basic knowledge about the EU citizenship that they already held as well as the legal and democratic instruments available to them. Even people who meant well and were receptive to my initiative would try to discuss ‘how to create EU citizenship’ as if it didn’t already exist, or they would suggest a change.org petition not knowing how weak it is in comparison with the potential [though not reality] of ECIs. Aside from the bureaucratic obstacles and despite the relative weakness of ECIs, an online petition pales in comparison to an ECI.
- Delay in the online system for signatures – This was definitely a huge lesson and detriment to the initiative. Although we were registered on 27 March, we were unable to collect online signatures until the end of May. Part of this was because of the enormous amount of time that it took for the bureaucratic process to go through Brussels and Luxembourg, but if I am being honest with myself and others then I have to admit that I was also at fault for not getting this done earlier. There was too much paperwork, loads of technical language, and the few IT people who offered to help us never showed, but nevertheless I should have done more.
- Lack of money – Here we have the biggest downfall for the initiative and the reason why I had to stop actually pushing it forward. I had read reports that you need about €1 per signature, which translates into €1,000,000 to acquire one million signatures. I thought that this could be overcome with good strategy and action alongside today’s digital world, but I was certainly wrong about this. I underestimated the money that would be needed just to print and send things as well as the little amount that people care to help when they are not getting money for it (many offered, few followed through). At one point some volunteers suggested creating an actual legal entity and bank account to collect money, but I am well aware of the way money can corrupt people and there’s always an incentive to add “expenditures on behalf of the initiative” when people simply want to treat themselves to a nice dinner. Perhaps I should have gone ahead and taken this risk, but given my temporary legal status in the EU and the fact that this initiative wasn’t under my name, I couldn’t take the chance of being screwed over by someone with more legal rights than me or someone who could accidentally smear the name of my friends who the initiative was filed under.
- Politics – It should be no surprise to people who know me that politics was one of my biggest enemies here. People in the UK [who stood the most to gain from this] would often try to boil things down to party politics, torries, lib dems, and a plethora of tribal mentality that I [obviously] can’t stand. And those from other EU countries would seem to ignore the relevance of this towards their own EU citizenship or the lives of the people involved. I’d often be asked to answer the “what’s in it for me?” question or be forced to address the issue of “it’s their problem, those Brits voted for this”. I’m not going to express what I really think about all of this, so let’s just leave it at the fact that I still have a lot to learn about ‘politics’ and about the ‘importance’ of valuing tribe mentality and votes over people’s lives and human rights.
Despite the sour spots, the learning experiences were certainly outweighed by some of the sweet little things that came with the initiative:
- Academics: aside from having spoken with Jan Klabbers when I first changed my thesis topic, the image above is a comment that was left on the initiative’s website by Willem Maas. When I first saw the comment [and not the name], I thought it was an amateur researcher trying to get noticed, but Maas is an academic of EU Citizenship whose work I actually referenced in my thesis. It was a very pleasant surprise to see that someone whose work I had learned from was now reaching out to me. What is more awesome is that he wasn’t even the only one in my thesis that I got to interact with. In the third conference that I mentioned, I sat on the opening panel with Hanneke van Eijken and Dora Kostakopoulou, which are also two women that I referenced in my thesis. So despite the fact that I am not a PhD expert (yet), it felt good to be on equal footing as people who I learned from, even for just a moment.
- Lawyers & Judges: academics weren’t the only ones that I managed to get in touch with. In one of my posts, I alluded to the fact that I managed a 12 minute phone call with Lenarts himself. Lenaerts is the President of the European Court of Justice who indirectly inspired this whole thing, and even though he was unable and willing to even hint towards how the court would approach such a problem (of Brexit and citizenship) because he’s an ating judge, it was quite cool to exchange emails with him and have a phone call. Additionally, when I was in Brussels I was also able to meet for an hour with the lawyer who fought and won the landmark Zambrano Case. The key to my legal argument rested on decisions from this case, so it was an unforgettable experience to spend one hour debating things with him and hearing him say things like “I actually don’t know, but that would be very interesting indeed.”
- Random radio interview: one hilarious surprise was when I asked a Spanish radio show to help us promote the initiative. I contacted them over Twitter and we sent one email before we scheduled a time to chat. But what I didn’t know was that the phone call we had arranged was not just to chit chat and ask each other questions about whether they could help, it was a phone interview that was broadcast shortly afterwards… So that’s how I ended up having a Spanish radio interview lol
- Appearing in official EU documents: it was quite cool to see that the EU thought our initiative was relevant enough to mention in p.7 of the EU’s Issues for First Phase of Negotiations. If the idea hadn’t been at least decent or original, perhaps they wouldn’t have said anything, but we were actually the only initiative that they singled out (just Ctrl+F “decoupling”).
- Thunderclap: in case you don’t know what this is, it’s essentially a Twitter tool that allows multiple accounts to send out a tweet at the same time in order to try to make certain hashtags trend. I had halfway tried to do one before, but this was one of the things that I tried out after I left Europe. It turned out better than I thought given that 657 people signed up for it, and it had a social outreach of 576,415 people. Sure, it didn’t lead to as many signatures, but these things never do and it was still a nice surprise to see how many people tried to support it.
- Collaborators: perhaps the one person who helped me out the most was a British woman named Liz Webster. She contacted me before the initiative was even registered, and she was a very passionate and active helper who I couldn’t have done this without. After some time she shifted focus to the Article 50 Challenge (because we both knew that a court case would be more decisive than an ECI), but I’m so glad that I made a new contact, and more importantly. a new friend. She was also the one who got me in touch with Jo Maugham QC, who had started the Dublin Case with similar motivations as my ECI. When we first spoke, he was more focused on trying to present a legal challenge against the triggering of Article 50. But he is now helping finance another case in Amsterdam that is focused on citizenship. He has used information that I gave him, based on comments by people who have met with him more often as well as the times that he has tweeted my article in September, and again in January when the news broke about the Amsterdam Case. In the original version of this article by him from March 1, he even used the same link as I do for the text of Article 20 TFEU, so it’s nice to know that even if the ECI was far from gathering one million signatures (it only reached 8,178), it still had an impact and influence on the discussion of human rights and international citizenship.
Final Note: I recently got back from a trip to Brussels to attend the ECI Day 2018 Conference (follow-up to the first conference that I mentioned above). The conference organizers were trying to find synergy between the people who proposed ECIs related to EU Citizenship, so they financed my trip to go all the way from Bolivia to Brussels and back. This is once again something I would have never expected when I started the initiative, so hey, maybe there will be more surprises in the future and this battle won’t be over just yet 😛 (p.s. If there’s anyone out there reading this who considers themselves a World Citizen and would like to imagine a world where this is a legal reality, don’t hesitate to get in touch. I might still have an idea or two 😉 )