What is Global Citizenship?

As we are about to begin the third decade of the twenty-first century, CS Global Partners looks at what it means to be a global citizen and if it is desirable to be one.


What Is A Citizen?

Before we answer this question, let us first attempt a definition of the word citizen. A citizen is certainly not the same as a subject, which implies a bond to a particular country or even to a monarchy over which the subject has little control or choice.

In contrast, citizenship has its roots in the French and American revolutions, where a new kind of person is part of a national uprising, which throws off the shackles of the past and earns enhanced protection and privileges from the state in exchange for carrying out certain duties and bearing an enhanced sense of responsibility.

The implication, therefore, is that a citizen has a level of empowerment, social status and belonging not enjoyed by a subject or even a national.

How to Put A Citizen in the Global Sphere?

However, to take the concept of a citizen and put that into the global sphere presents certain challenges. There is no legal relationship between a global citizen and a state and therefore the sense of empowerment and belonging to a certain nation is not as relevant, although some global citizens may feel a sense of belonging to their country of birth.

But the positive aspects of being a global citizen are expressed in several other ways. On a smaller scale, the European Union allows the complete free movement of its people within its borders. Any citizen of an EU country can live, work, pay taxes and vote in any other member state.

While the UK has opted out of this model in the form of Brexit, the EU model itself shows no sign of weakening and the UK’s reasons for leaving the EU’s single market remain confused and at the time of writing unresolved.

Another area of the world where we see a rise in global citizenship is the rising number of individuals with more than one passport. At one level this is exemplified by High Net Worth Individuals who buy citizenship from Citizenship by Investment (CBI) programmes available from a growing number of countries.

CBI began on the Caribbean island of St Kitts and Nevis in 1984 and is now offered by various Caribbean countries as well as some European ones, including Cyprus and Portugal.

But CBI aside, there are many other circumstances where individuals have more than one passport. Many economic migrants from developing countries to the US, Canada, Australia, and Europe retain their original passport, even if they eventually become citizens of their host country. These migrants are also a kind of global citizen.

The Rise of Global Activism

Increasingly protest movements are taking on a more global nature, especially where their participants see themselves as part of a global movement.  This began more than half a century ago with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), which began in the UK and grew into a pan European peace movement. More recently the Extinction Rebellion movement takes place across many different countries and continents but has exactly the same goal.

In terms of global activism, the internet has undoubtedly been a world-changing tool that has allowed this to flourish. Even in countries such as China, which has implemented fairly stringent controls over the web, the internet remains a formidable tool for international activism of any kind, which most national governments lack the will and the resources to control.

Global problems like universal human rights, environmental damage, and global warming, require global solutions and cannot be dealt with by individual states acting on their own.

Where is Home?

Until the arrival of the internet and cheap air travel, human beings were tied down by geography. Now many people in many different countries have decided that for whatever reason they no longer feel at ‘home’ ‘at home’ and often seek to change where ‘home’ is.

A global citizen may have more than one ‘home’ and may change which country they call ‘home’ at different periods throughout their life. A global citizen will feel comfortable in several different locals and will travel within various layers or boundaries in the world and still be able to make sense of what they find.

Wealth and Global Citizenship

However, an uncomfortable truth remains to be dealt with if we are to understand the concept of global citizenship and that is wealth. In order to become a global citizen, so that an individual can choose where in the world they want to work, live and play, they must have attained a certain level of wealth.

Not everyone has the wealth, education or will power to become a global citizen. This doesn’t just mean the subsistence farmer in Bolivia or Ethiopia but also the welder in Scunthorpe and the car factory worker in Tolyatti, Russia. These people will almost certainly always be national and not global citizens.

But wealth aside many of the emerging global citizens are becoming less attached to individual nation-states and more actively engaged in global activities, whether they be multinational business ventures or international protest movements such as environmentalism.

The National Versus the Global Citizen

And so, it seems likely that as we enter the third decade of the twenty-first century, two tracks of citizenship will emerge, national and global, with global being the more prestigious. A global citizen will almost always have more wealth, power and prestige than a national citizen.

Countries are already doing many things to attract global citizens. The UK’s Golden Visa scheme is an example of this. And, arguably, Brexit is also. Depending on what happens with Brexit, if the UK ends freedom of movement from the EU and implements a points-based immigration system, then this is an attempt to attract a better quality of immigrant in line with the growth of global citizenship.

Whatever happens over the coming decades, the influence of global citizens on the world’s politics and economics will be increasingly felt.