The Treaty of Lisbon sheds fresh light on the purposes of EU citizenship education. The hallmark of the 2007 Lisbon Treaty is that it construes the EU as a dual democracy. The EU is not merely a Union of democratic States, but also functions as a democracy of its own.[1] As the democratic systems of the member states and the Union are meant to strengthen and reinforce each other, EU and national citizenship education can be taught jointly as democratic citizenship education.

In limbo

During the initial stages of European integration, the end goal of the project was highly contested. Should the EC/EU become a federal state in analogy of the United States of America or should it respect the sovereignty of its member states and form a Europe of Nation-States? Passions run so high that they threatened to undermine the process they ought to serve. In the end, the two schools of thought agreed to disagree by describing the EC/EU as an organisation sui generis. An unintended consequence of this agreement to disagree was that it left EU citizenship education in limbo. In the absence of a common purpose, it proved hard to develop consistent criteria for EU citizenship education.

European democracy

By virtue of the Lisbon treaty, however, the EU has found its constitutional form as a democratic Union of democratic States. In hindsight, the outcome of the process of European integration could have been anticipated. From the outset, democracy has been a distinctive quality of the emerging European polity.[2] The European Council identified the Communities in 1973 as a ‘Union of democratic States’. The Declaration on European Identity triggered the democratisation of the new polity.[3] Although the EU was severely criticised for its democratic deficit at the time of the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, the new treaty contributed to the construction of a European democracy by introducing EU citizenship. Five years later, the Treaty of Amsterdam included democracy in the core values of the EU. The Charter of Fundamental Rights, which was proclaimed at the summit of Nice in 2000, served as the Magna Charta of the new citizens as it gave them a full political, civil, economic and social status. From then on EU citizens were entitled to say: Civis Europaeus Sum![4] After the rejection of the ill-fated Constitution for Europe, the Lisbon Treaty gave the EU its definitive form. It construes the EU as a dual democracy and requires the Union to meet similar standards of democracy and the rule of law as it demands its member states to respect. So, the EU has outgrown its original dilemma and established itself as a democratic Union of democratic States. In consequence, European democracy may be defined as the system of governance for a Union of democratic states, which also constitutes a democracy of its own.[5]

Democratic Citizenship Education

Brexit, the rise of populism and the deliberate spreading of misinformation have made the EU aware of the need to defend its democratic achievements. In its European Democracy Action Plan, which was launched in December 2020, the European Commission introduces a number of concrete measures for defending the democracies of the Union and its member states.[6] At this moment in time, however, the EU should not merely defend, but also promote its dual democracy. As the EU is the first democratic Union of democratic States in the world, it should familiarise its citizens with the new concept. As part of an overall effort to reach out to the citizens the European Commission should notably assume its responsibilities in the field of EU citizenship education. In doing so, it can base its activities squarely on articles 9 and 10 of the Lisbon Treaty. Article 9 stipulates that EU citizenship shall be additional to and not replace national citizenship, while article 10 (3) grants each citizen the right to participate in the democratic life of the Union. The consequence of article 9 for democratic citizenship education is that EU citizenship education is complementary to rather than competing with national citizenship education.[7] In the same way as EU citizenship is additional to national citizenship, EU citizenship education has to complement and not replace national citizenship education. Moreover, the logic consequence of article 10 (3) TEU is that junior citizens should be prepared for participation in the democratic life of the Union. Seen from this perspective, article 165 TFEU, which prescribes that ‘the Union shall contribute to the development of quality education by encouraging cooperation between Member States and, if necessary, by supporting and complementing their action’, should be interpreted extensively.[8] As the EU has an autonomous democracy, the Commission has an own and distinct obligation to promote EU citizenship education.[9]  Obviously, it should implement this responsibility in cooperation with the competent national authorities. As the concept of dual democracy, which underlies the construction of the Lisbon Treaty, requires that the democratic systems of the member states and the Union should reinforce each other, EU and national citizenship education should do so too! In this context, the specific task of the Commission is to develop a citizens’ narrative of the EU and to open up national histories to the story of Europe. The overall purpose must be to teach democratic citizenship education in the classroom and to prepare junior citizens for their contribution to the EU as a democratic Union of democratic States.[10]




[1] J. Hoeksma, The European Union: A democratic Union of democratic States, Oisterwijk 2021

[2] As exemplified by the 1941 Ventotene Manifesto,

[3] EC Bulletin 12-1973

[4] K. Lenaerts, ‘Civis Europaeus Sum’: from the Cross-border Link to the Status of Citizen of the Union, in Constitutionalising the EU judicial system, Cardonnel, Rosas & Wahl, Oxford 2012

[5] A summary of the debate is provided by R. Corbett, Democracy in the European Union, in: Kenealy, Peterson & Corbett: The European Union: How does it work?, Oxford 2015

[6] European Democracy Action Plan: making EU democracies stronger.

[7] L. van Middelaar, The Passage to Europe, Yale 2014

[8] K. Grimonprez, The European Union and Education for Democratic Citizenship: Legal Foundations for EU learning at school, Luxemburger Juristische Studien 2020

[9] J. Hoeksma, The Case BundesVerfassungsGericht versus the EU Court of Justice, Oisterwijk 2020

[10] The author is also the creator of the EU Democracy Game Eurocracy. The game forms a fair reflection of the Lisbon Treaty inasmuch as it portrays the EU as a Union of democratic States, which also constitutes a democracy of its own.