by Jo Shaw. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. 416pp. Hardback. £65.00/ $125.99. ISBN: 9780521860703. Paperback. £25.99/$52.99. ISBN: 9780521677943.

Reviewed by Colin L. Provost, School of Public Policy/Dept. of Political Science University College London. Email: c.provost [at]


As the global economy has blurred the boundaries between nations, new questions have arisen about what it means to be a citizen of a particular nation. As people migrate away from their home countries to work elsewhere, there are new debates regarding migrant access to citizenship in their host countries, particularly the scope of electoral rights in these host countries. In her new book, THE TRANSFORMATION OF CITIZENSHIP IN THE EUROPEAN UNION: ELECTORAL RIGHTS AND THE RESTRUCTURING OF POLITICAL SPACE, Professor Jo Shaw chronicles in meticulous detail the debates over citizenship that have emerged over the years in the EU, largely as a result of EU citizens’ right to move and work across borders within the EU. Drawing extensively on information gleaned from EU community treaties, legislation, reports and proposals, Shaw analyzes the development of migrants’ electoral rights (those of EU citizens and non EU citizens, who are referred to as “third country nationals”) as the primary metric of how citizenship has evolved in the European Union. The book will prove useful for anyone seeking a greater understanding of how electoral rights are affected by the EU single market. On the other hand, some readers, particularly political scientists, may become frustrated by the book’s historical, legal approach which lacks a cohesive theoretical argument.

Shaw organizes the book by dividing it into three main sections: a three-chapter introduction which outlines the book and states the main theories and arguments behind the citizenship debate, a seven-chapter empirical section on the evolution of migrants’ electoral rights in the European Union, and a one-chapter concluding section. In the introductory section, Shaw states that her main purpose is to “illuminate the relationships . . . between the contested concepts and practices of citizenship and membership, of nation and nationality, and of states and state-like polities, such as the European Union” (p.1). In order to accomplish these research goals, Shaw is not interested in employing normative arguments about electoral rights, nor does she aim to use social scientific methods to explain or predict variation in electoral rights regimes across the EU. Rather, she utilizes “constitutional ethnography,” a method that allows for detailed comprehension of the political and legal landscapes in question.

Shaw’s empirical chapters are divided into two sections, the first of which details the chronology of citizenship debates within the EU, while the second [*322] looks more closely at the actual contestation of electoral rights in EU member states. In the first section, chapters four and five show us how the debates on citizenship have progressed since the early days of the European Community, with the 1993 Treaty of Maastricht representing an important turning point for the EU. Shaw emphasizes that in the 1960s and 70s, the movements of workers across member state borders were still somewhat hindered by the ability of member states to exclude or deport nationals of other member states “on the grounds of public policy, public security and public health” (p.97). However, in time, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that member states must interpret this law narrowly. Additionally, the need to complete the single market before 1992 goaded the member states into adopting political reforms, such as expanded electoral rights, that would facilitate the EU common market. These reforms eventually culminated in the Treaty of Maastricht of 1993, which conferred local electoral rights on non-nationals in member states, as well as allowing non-nationals to stand for election in municipal elections.

However, as Shaw points out, since 1993, the realization of the potential of such rights has been hampered by different standards of implementation across member states, as well as general ignorance on the part of EU citizens as to the scope of their full voting rights. A related issue, which is a major theme of the book, is the fact that most EU member states do not offer electoral rights in national elections to non-nationals or third country nationals. Although the book does not seek to make normative arguments, there is an underlying tone indicating that the lack of national electoral rights for non-nationals and third country nationals is problematic. Shaw cites numerous authors who claim that extending such rights can only strengthen democratic principles. Moreover, she argues that there is no logical justification for restricting national electoral rights to non-nationals, if local electoral rights are permitted and economic integration is sought. With this idea in mind, Shaw frequently returns to the legal instruments that member states can use to expand citizenship rights for non-nationals, if they so choose – legal instruments such as the European Court of Justice Gibraltar and Aruba cases, referred to throughout the book.

The second set of empirical chapters amounts to mostly a descriptive examination of barriers to citizenship and national electoral rights that non-nationals face in EU member states. Chapter eight is a case study of immigration in Ireland, and chapter nine compares the restrictions on citizenship to non-nationals in Germany and Austria, focusing on the dynamics between political parties and levels of government in the quest for migrant electoral rights. Particularly interesting is the Austrian case in which the Viennese government proposed laws which would grant local electoral rights to third country nationals. The proposals were successfully challenged in the Federal Constitutional Court by members of Austria’s right wing parties, as the Court did not find any foundation in Austrian or EU law to grant electoral rights to non-EU citizens. Finally, chapter ten examines these issues in the context of new EU member states, such [*323] as the Baltic nations. The location of these nations calls into question the treatment of ethnic Russians living in the Baltics, and Shaw finds that, while Russians in Lithuania and Estonia enjoy access to citizenship, Latvia, which contains the largest ethnic Russian population of the three nations, completely bars third country nationals from participating in local elections.

As one reads through this treatise on the ideas and practices of EU citizenship, it is difficult not to be impressed by the astounding wealth of research that fuelled its development. Shaw does an excellent job of pulling together all the details for every case study, and telling a rich story about the law and politics of citizenship. Shaw is also, more or less, true to her aims of producing a body of research that is in the spirit of constitutional ethnography. That said, this reader found the book’s style a bit frustrating, as Shaw does not seem intent on indicating to what literatures in law and politics her findings contribute. Indeed, an ethnographic study is based on the idea that the extant literature is not sufficient to formulate hypotheses, but Shaw might have provided more of a theoretical backdrop in which to explain her findings in the conclusion. Furthermore, there is a bit of a contradiction here, as she claims not to be making normative arguments, yet much of the literature that is cited comes from normative political theory. Finally, the confusion is compounded in the first section by the fact that a full roadmap and statement of the research purpose is not presented until the end of chapter three, which is nearly 100 pages into the book. Regardless of these points, one can not ignore the richness of Shaw’s historical analyses, nor can one disregard the painstaking detail with which she draws together coherent narratives out of voluminous EU documentation. After all, one can always enjoy the factual detail of the book, while applying one’s own theoretical perspective.


SPAIN v. UNITED KINGDOM, ECJ, Case C-145/04 [2006]. (Gibraltar)

© Copyright 2009 by the author, Colin L. Provost.