In our ever more globalised era, global citizenship has evolved into an increasingly crucial concept. But despite its growing ubiquity, many still don’t know what it means. Here, we look at what being a global citizen involves, and just what its benefits are.
Before we look at global citizenship, it’s important that we first define what citizenship itself is on a broader level. Citizenship means being a member of a particular country, and it’s not as simple as being a resident, which allows you to live and work in a territory for a specified period of time. Rather, being a citizen is a lifelong legal bond with a country, conferring certain rights and duties that aren’t afforded to residents. These may include the freedom to vote, participate in politics, receive an education, plus responsibilities like tax and military service. Citizens can also apply for a passport from their country and pass their right to citizenship onto their children.
Until the arrival of the internet and cheap air travel, human beings were tied down by geography. Nowadays, many people around the world have decided that, for whatever reason, they no longer feel at ‘home’ in their country of birth and move elsewhere. As a result, they have more than one home, which may change multiple times throughout their life. They will feel comfortable in several different locales and can make sense of what they find, no matter where they are in the world.
The closest example of global citizenship in practice is probably the European Union, where any citizen of an EU country can freely live, work, pay taxes and vote in all other member states. As such, these individuals can be deemed European citizens, as well as citizens of their respective nations. Another kind of global citizenship applies to those who hold multiple passports. With economic migration on the rise, more people are tied to several countries at once and have dual nationality as a result. Consequently, the concept of being a citizen of just one state is becoming outdated for many.
And it’s not only those who are naturalised as citizens of another country or have familial or marital ties enjoying dual citizenship. In recent years, more and more high net worth individuals have bought a second passport through a citizenship by investment (CBI) scheme. The first citizenship by investment programme was launched on the Caribbean island of St Kitts and Nevis in 1984. Since then, many other Caribbean countries — including Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, and St Lucia — have followed suit. These schemes allow reputable individuals to become citizens in return for an investment, typically in government funds or real estate.
There is an uncomfortable truth which needs to be dealt with to fully understand the concept of global citizenship, and that is the impact of wealth. Becoming a global citizen and having the ability to choose where in the world you want to work and live requires a certain level of affluence is required. Sadly, not everyone has the money or education to become a global citizen, and this doesn’t just apply to a subsistence farmer in Bolivia or Ethiopia, but also a welder in the UK or a car factory worker in Russia. These people will almost certainly always be national citizens rather than global ones.
You don’t necessarily have to be wealthy to act as a global citizen. Another increasingly huge element of global citizenship is global activism, where participants see themselves as part of a worldwide movement. This began more than half a century ago with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which started in the UK and grew into a pan-European peace movement. More recently, the Extinction Rebellion organisation orchestrated protests across many different countries and continents, all with exactly the same goal.
The internet has undoubtedly been a game-changing tool for these global movements, enabling activists from across the world to communicate with one another easily and quickly. And while individual states certainly have to tackle the issues being fought for at home, problems that apply to everyone on the planet, such as universal human rights and global warming, require global solutions.
Overall, it seems the concept of global citizenship will become more prominent as time goes on. This is because, in all likelihood, people who cannot afford to physically travel across the world will keep working together to help change the planet for the better. Whether we all become global citizens remains to be seen, but whatever happens over the coming decades, the influence of these individuals on the world’s politics and economics will be increasingly felt.