By Marco Gantenbein
Increasing numbers of people identify with international rather than national ties. Are they right to do so?
In a poll conducted last year for the BBC World Service, more than half of the 20,000 people surveyed across 18 countries indicated that they see themselves more as global citizens than as citizens of their specific country.
This is the first time in the 15 years since the poll was launched that the “global majority” lies with international rather than national identity, according to the polling company’s website.
The results of the poll in many ways reflect the reality of the world today. The internet, social media, and smart devices have created an interconnected virtual community in which citizens of one country can know exactly what is happening in almost every other country on the planet.
Moreover, the most urgent issues of our time – food and energy security, climate change, natural disasters, inequality, disease – transcend national, even regional, boundaries. On the whole, people are as concerned with the fate of ‘humanity’ at large as they are with the fate of their particular home county or community.
Citizens of nowhere?
Against this backdrop, British prime minister Theresa May’s comments at the Conservative Party’s annual conference in October last year sent ripples of frustration through the world.
“Today, too many people in positions of power behave as though they have more in common with international elites than with the people down the road, the people they employ, the people they pass on the street,” she said in her speech.
“If you believe you’re a citizen of the world,” she went on, “you’re a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what citizenship means.” In the media backlash that followed, one commentator labelled May’s attitude “pure undisguised nationalism”.
Another commentator pointed to the BBC World Service poll, in which 47 percent of British nationals – almost half the surveyed population – had identified as global citizens. Surely May did not mean to imply that so many of her own people were “uniteds of nowhere”?
On the whole, there seems to be a tension between the nationalist sentiments being expressed by leaders in the UK – as well as in places like the US, Turkey, Russia, and Myanmar – and the way ordinary citizens understand themselves and their place in the world.
Does this tension mean that people who identify as part of a global community are going to have a harder time expressing their cosmopolitanism in the future, as their leaders clamp down on their freedom and their mobility? And will having a second nationality soon become an essential resource for individuals in this position?
Quality of life
These were some of the issues debated at the recent launch of the second edition of the Henley & Partners – Kochenov Quality of Nationality Index (QNI) in London. The index is the first of its kind to objectively rank all the nationalities in the world.
It evaluates both the internal and the external value of a nationality: that is, the quality of life and potential for growth that nationals can access inside their country of origin, and the diversity and quality of opportunities that they can pursue outside it.
In the latest edition of the QNI, Germany secured the top spot. The other nations featured in the top ten were Denmark, France, Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Austria, Italy, Netherlands, Switzerland, and Spain. The US, meanwhile, only came in at 29th place, falling within the Very High tier of nationalities – mainly because of the relatively low settlement freedom available to its citizens. The UK fell just outside the top ten, in 12th place, but it remained within the Extremely High Quality tier.
Beware turning inwards
The research suggests that, even if you presume no internal economic loss to the UK following its departure from the EU and focus only on the external aspects of citizenship, British nationality would enter a kind of ‘free fall’, dropping out of the Extremely High Quality tier to which it has historically belonged.
Its neighbours in the ranking would be transformed from the likes of Switzerland and Germany to the likes of Brazil and Romania. The nationality would experience the dramatic loss of value typically associated with countries in the midst of armed conflict or other forms of political turmoil – all as a result of leaving the EU.
At a time when more and more people are identifying as global citizens, and more and more governments are closing their borders, the effects of Brexit on British nationality will perhaps serve as an important reminder that global citizenship is an invaluable asset, not to be taken for granted.
Thank you for the article. I’d argue that contrary to what the research might suggest, people are getting ever more assertive of their identity, be it religious, linguistic or national, and it has a lot to do with the free flow of information beyond borders. I do not buy into the zeitgeist that nationalism is bad - indeed, as an expat in the UAE, we are reminded quite often where we belong in no uncertain terms! There is such a thing as ‘Home country’ and most people still identify as citizens of some place regardless of what they ‘feel’. For all the concern about humanity, not many are bothered traveling to LDCs and famine-prone countries tries save for some moral platitudes. I’d argue that the types of people who claim to be ‘citizens of everywhere’ are either those who can afford such a lifestyle, or those who are displaced from their home due to famine or war. That’s not the majority of the world. At least not 97%.