Presentation of a Paper on Brexit and EU Citizenship at a Conference in Austria

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In the past few years the concept of citizenship has for a variety of reasons regained fashion amongst national, European and international lawyers. In the UK the renewed interest in the notion of citizenship is partially explained by the effect of Brexit on the status of EU citizens in the UK (and UK nationals in the EU). Last year a wide range of events, which Christian Dadomo and Dr Noëlle Quénivet attended, were organised in Bristol to discuss citizenship (see here and here) and so when they saw a call for papers for a conference on citizenship at the University of Graz (Austria) they jumped onto the opportunity to present their work abroad and thankfully their paper entitled ‘Assessing EU Citizenship under the Myopic Lens of Brexit’ was accepted.

The conference ‘Transformation of Citizenship’, held on 20 and 21 November 2018, was organised by the Institute for International Law and International Relations in conjunction with the European Training and Research Centre for Human Rights and Democracy of the University of Graz (Uni-ETC) within the context of the project ‘Transnational Governance of Irregular Migration and the Transformation of Citizenship’.  It brought together a vast array of scholars from all around the world to discuss issues such as the sale of passports, global citizenship, statelessness, foreign terrorist fighters, solidarity, etc. Two panels were dedicated to Union Citizenship, thus highlighting the importance and relevance of the topic.

Christian and Noelle started their paper by reminding the participants that the CJEU had defined EU citizenship as a fundamental status that enables nationals of Member States to enjoy the same treatment in law and that since then scholars had been debating the legal value of such status. Christian and Noelle argued that Brexit brings to the surface again discussions about the legal value or more generally the worth of EU citizenship in contrast to (State) nationality. In their opinion, there are two ways of looking at EU citizenship. There is first a minimalist approach that focuses on the legal status and the rights with which individuals are endowed. It is the more palpable, almost every day life appearance of EU citizenship for EU citizens having exercised their right to free movement. Yet, attachment and loyalty to the EU cannot be fostered by a limited focus on citizens’ status and rights alone and so there is also a broader and more dynamic approach to EU citizenship that looks at the symbolism of EU citizenship and more specifically at the solidarity between EU citizens that should create some form of identity. It is more aspirational and inscribes itself in a vision of the EU as a polity in which a European civitas exists and thrives.

At first sight, Brexit undergirds this minimalist approach to EU citizenship in as much as many discussions centred upon the rights of the EU citizens in the UK (though less on the UK nationals in the EU27). The focus of attention was initially about the fate of these EU citizens in the UK and the rights they would lose as a result of Brexit. Both EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals in the EU realised the value of their EU citizenship. After all, you only appreciate what you had once you have lost it! For example, UK nationals both in the EU and more interestingly in the UK (even those who have never exercised their right to free movement) have applied for the nationality of an EU Member State to keep their EU citizenship.

However, the wider, aspirational approach towards EU citizenship is no less visible in Brexit for there have been demonstrations in favour of the EU in a State whose nationals have always been sceptical towards the EU, support in the European Parliament for ‘associate’ EU citizenship and a European Citizenship Initiative launched in July 2018 with the objective of keeping EU citizenship for UK nationals in the EU27. Therefore, it is possible to state that Brexit has revealed that EU citizenship goes beyond this minimalist approach that focuses solely on rights to a vision of EU citizenship as something that has a wider appeal and is based on solidarity along the French motto of ‘liberté, égalité et fraternité’.

More fundamentally, the European Union has enabled a shift in the way non-nationals are viewed: from foreigners to workers (homo economicus), to residents and to EU citizens. With Brexit the pendulum might go all the way back to viewing UK nationals in the EU who were EU citizens as foreigners and EU citizens in the UK as foreigners. Yet, the rhetoric of both the UK and the EU shows that they are adamant to reverting to square one. Consequently, it might be possible to state that Brexit has demonstrated that EU citizenship has subtly though fundamentally challenged the way EU citizens who have exercised their right to free movement are viewed. Though Brexit undeniably highlights the duality of EU citizenship, a status in its own right as well as a complementary over-layer that acts as a gate to rights that will be lost post-Brexit, it has revealed the intrinsic value of EU citizenship for EU citizens living in another EU Member State. As a result, Christian and Noelle argued that Brexit shows that EU citizenship is more than just a bundle of rights. EU citizenship has a transformative power in the sense that it is not just a ‘top up’ but has become part of a Union citizen’s legal heritage, especially in relation to long-term residents. And so, reverting to the status quo ante is nearly impossible.

What is more Brexit offers an opportunity to reinforce and complete EU citizenship and putting EU citizenship at the forefront of the European project. Like the French revolutionaries who created French citizenship on the tryptic ‘liberty, equality and fraternity’, the EU citizenship can equally be further developed on the tryptic ‘freedom of movement, equality treatment and solidarity’. Freedom of movement is fully developed, equal treatment can be completed by extending the so-called special (political) rights and notably the right to stand and vote in all national elections including referenda in their country of residence, and finally solidarity needs better promotion as it is only in its infancy.

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