North American Citizenship

Possibilities and Limits

Jennifer M. Welsh, with commentary by Dorval Brunelle January 19th, 2005

Jennifer M. Welsh, (Oxford University), critically assesses the notion that NAFTA can be deepened without developing North American citizenship. She argues that even a small move to deepen North American integration could raise questions of legitimacy. Welsh attributes the risk of a legitimacy gap to two trends in the twenty-first century: “the normative push to couple market making with some form of political participation and the greater need to regulate the movement of individuals in the wake of new security threats.”

In thinking about a potential North American citizenship, Welsh says we can learn two key lessons from our European counterparts. First, North American citizenship would not necessarily require a strong or unified North American identity. And second, policy-makers must acknowledge that integration cannot be neatly divided into economic and political categories. Based on these lessons, Welsh argues that for integration to go beyond the parameters of NAFTA, “greater effort [is] needed to establish a North American common good and a common set of expectations among the peoples of the continent.” This would legitimize the deepening interdependence beyond its perceived economic impact.

To enhance legitimacy she proposes three options: (1) have national parliaments more involved in NAFTA decision-making processes; (2) provide greater transparency and more options for public participation in NAFTA; (3) follow the EU’s lead and enhance the rule of law on the North American continent beyond adjudication procedures.