Citizenship of the European Union (EU) is afforded to qualifying citizens of European Union member states. It was given to the citizens of member states by the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, at the same time as the European Community was gaining its own legal identity. The treaty established a direct legal relationship between that new legal identity and its citizens by establishing a directly elected European Parliament and the ability for citizens to bring cases directly to the ECJ, and has been in force since 1993. European Union citizenship is additional to national citizenship. EU citizenship affords rights, freedoms and legal protections to all of its citizens.
European Union citizens have the right to free movement, settlement and employment across the EU. EU citizens are free to trade and transport goods, services and capital through EU borders, as in a national market, with no restrictions on capital movements or fees. Citizens have the right to vote in and run as a candidate in local elections in the country where they live, European elections and European Citizens' Initiative.
Citizenship of the EU confers the right to consular protection by embassies of other EU member states when a person's country of citizenship is not represented by an embassy or consulate in the country in which they require protection. EU citizens have the right to address the European Parliament, European Ombudsman, and EU agencies directly, in any of the Treaty languages, provided the issue raised is within that institution's competence.
EU citizens enjoy the legal protections of EU law, including the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and acts and directives regarding, for example, protection of personal data, rights of victims of crime, preventing and combating trafficking in human beings, equal pay, protection from discrimination in employment on grounds of religion or belief, sexual orientation and age. The EU has an office of European Ombudsman whom EU citizens can approach directly.
Given the substantial number of Europeans who left Europe for other continents in the 1800s and 1900s, and the extension of citizenship by descent, or jus sanguinis, by some European countries to an unlimited number of generations of those emigrants' descendants, there are potentially many tens of millions or even hundreds of millions of persons currently outside Europe who have a claim to citizenship in an EU member state and, by extension, to EU citizenship. If these individuals were to overcome the bureaucratic hurdles of certifying their citizenship, they would have freedom of movement to live anywhere in the EU, under the 1992 European Court of Justice decision Micheletti v Cantabria.
- 1 History
- 2 Stated rights
- 3 Acquisition
- 4 Loss of EU citizenship due to member state withdrawal
- 5 Danish opt-out
- 6 Popularity
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
EU citizenship was first introduced by the Maastricht Treaty, and was extended by the Treaty of Amsterdam. Prior to the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, the European Communities treaties provided guarantees for the free movement of economically active persons, but not, generally, for others. The 1951 Treaty of Paris establishing the European Coal and Steel Community established a right to free movement for workers in these industries and the 1957 Treaty of Rome provided for the free movement of workers and services.
However, the treaty provisions were interpreted by the European Court of Justice not as having a narrow economic purpose, but rather a wider social and economic purpose. In Levin, the Court found that the "freedom to take up employment was important, not just as a means towards the creation of a single market for the benefit of the member state economies, but as a right for the worker to raise her or his standard of living". Under the ECJ caselaw, the rights of free movement of workers applies regardless of the worker's purpose in taking up employment abroad, to both part-time and full-time work, and whether or not the worker required additional financial assistance from the member state into which he moves. Since the ECJ has held that a recipient of service has free movement rights under the treaty and this criterion is easily fulfilled, effectively every national of an EU country within another member state, whether economically active or not, had a right under Article 12 of the European Community Treaty to non-discrimination even prior to the Maastricht Treaty.
In the case of Martinez Sala, the European Court of Justice held that the citizenship provisions provided substantive equal treatment rights alongside those already granted by union law. The case of Baumbast  later established that the right to equal treatment applies equally to both economically active and inactive citizens. Despite these broad interpretations, the landmark case of Dano  combined the criteria of freedom to move and equal treatment, citing them as inter-dependant, subsequently limiting the scope of Martinez Sala.
Historically, the main benefit of being a citizen of an EU country has been that of free movement. The free movement also applies to the citizens of European Economic Area countries and Switzerland. However, with the creation of EU citizenship, certain political rights came into being. The Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union provides for citizens to be "directly represented at Union level in the European Parliament" and "to participate in the democratic life of the Union" (Treaty on the European Union, Title II, Article 10). Specifically, the following rights are afforded:
- Political rights
- Voting in European elections: a right to vote and stand in elections to the European Parliament, in any EU member state (Article 22)
- Voting in municipal elections: a right to vote and stand in local elections in an EU state other than their own, under the same conditions as the nationals of that state (Article 22)
- Accessing European government documents: a right to access to European Parliament, Council, and Commission documents (Article 15).
- Petitioning Parliament and the Ombudsman: the right to petition the European Parliament and the right to apply to the European Ombudsman in order to bring to his attention any cases of poor administration by the EU institutions and bodies, with the exception of the legal bodies (Article 24)
- Language rights: the right to apply to the EU institutions in one of the official languages and to receive a reply in that same language (Article 24).
- Rights of free movement
- Right to free movement and residence: a right of free movement and residence throughout the Union and the right to work in any position (including national civil services with the exception of those posts in the public sector that involve the exercise of powers conferred by public law and the safeguard of general interests of the State or local authorities (Article 21) for which however there is no one single definition);
- Freedom from discrimination on nationality: a right not to be discriminated against on grounds of nationality within the scope of application of the Treaty (Article 18);
- Rights abroad
- Right to consular protection: a right to protection by the diplomatic or consular authorities of other Member States when in a non-EU Member State, if there are no diplomatic or consular authorities from the citizen's own state (Article 23): this is due to the fact that not all member states maintain embassies in every country in the world (14 countries have only one embassy from an EU state).
Free movement rights
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- Article 21 Freedom to move and reside
Every citizen of the Union shall have the right to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States, subject to the limitations and conditions laid down in this Treaty and by the measures adopted to give it effect.
The European Court of Justice has remarked that,
EU Citizenship is destined to be the fundamental status of nationals of the Member States
The ECJ has held that this Article confers a directly effective right upon citizens to reside in another Member State. Before the case of Baumbast, it was widely assumed that non-economically active citizens had no rights to residence deriving directly from the EU Treaty, only from directives created under the Treaty. In Baumbast, however, the ECJ held that (the then) Article 18 of the EC Treaty granted a generally applicable right to residency, which is limited by secondary legislation, but only where that secondary legislation is proportionate. Member States can distinguish between nationals and Union citizens but only if the provisions satisfy the test of proportionality. Migrant EU citizens have a "legitimate expectation of a limited degree of financial solidarity... having regard to their degree of integration into the host society" Length of time is a particularly important factor when considering the degree of integration.
The ECJ's case law on citizenship has been criticised for subjecting an increasing number of national rules to the proportionality assessment.
- Article 45 Freedom of movement to work
1. Freedom of movement for workers shall be secured within the Union.
2. Such freedom of movement shall entail the abolition of any discrimination based on nationality between workers of the Member States as regards employment, remuneration and other conditions of work and employment.
State employment reserved exclusively for nationals varies between member states. For example, training as a barrister in Britain and Ireland is not reserved for nationals, while the corresponding French course qualifies one as a 'juge' and hence can only be taken by French citizens. However, it is broadly limited to those roles that exercise a significant degree of public authority, such as judges, police, the military, diplomats, senior civil servants or politicians. Note that not all Member States choose to restrict all of these posts to nationals.
Much of the existing secondary legislation and case law was consolidated in the Citizens' Rights Directive 2004/38/EC on the right to move and reside freely within the EU.
New member states may undergo transitional regimes for Freedom of movement for workers, during which their nationals only enjoy restricted access to labour markets in other member states. EU member states are permitted to keep restrictions on citizens of the newly acceded countries for a maximum of seven years after accession. For the EFTA states (Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway and Switzerland), the maximum is nine years.
Following the 2004 enlargement, three "old" member states—Ireland, Sweden and the United Kingdom—decided to allow unrestricted access to their labour markets. By December 2009, all but two member states—Austria and Germany—had completely dropped controls. These restrictions too expired on 1 May 2011.
Following the 2007 enlargement, all pre-2004 member states except Finland and Sweden imposed restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian citizens, as did two member states that joined in 2004: Malta and Hungary. As of November 2012, all but 8 EU countries have dropped restrictions entirely. These restrictions too expired on 1 January 2014. Norway opened its labour market in June 2012, while Switzerland kept restrictions in place until 2016.
Following the 2013 enlargement, some countries implemented restrictions on Croatian nationals following the country's EU accession on 1 July 2013. As of May 2019, all EU countries except Austria have dropped restrictions entirely.
There is no common EU policy on the acquisition of European citizenship as it is supplementary to national citizenship. (EC citizenship was initially granted to all citizens of European Community member states in 1994 by the Maastricht treaty concluded between the member states of the European community under international law, this changed into citizenship of the European Union in 2007 when the European Community changed its legal identity to be the European Union. Many more people became EU citizens when each new EU member state was added and, at each point, all the existing member states ratified the adjustments to the treaties to allow the creation of those extra citizenship rights for the individual. European citizenship is also generally granted at the same time as national citizenship is granted; likewise it is removed at the point of removal of national citizenship). Article 20 (1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union states that:
"Citizenship of the Union is hereby established. Every person holding the nationality of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union. Citizenship of the Union shall be additional to and not replace national citizenship."
While nationals of Member States are citizens of the union, "It is for each Member State, having due regard to Union law, to lay down the conditions for the acquisition and loss of nationality." As a result, there is a great variety in rules and practices with regard to the acquisition and loss of citizenship in EU member states.
Exceptions for overseas territories
In practice this means that a member state may withhold EU citizenship from certain groups of citizens, most commonly in overseas territories of member states outside the EU.
- British citizens, as defined by Part I of the British Nationality Act 1981.
- British subjects, within the meaning of Part IV of the British Nationality Act 1981, but only if they also possess the 'right of abode' under UK immigration law.
- British overseas territories citizens who derive their citizenship by a connection to Gibraltar.
This declaration therefore excludes from EU citizenship various historic categories of British citizenship generally associated with former British colonies, such as British Overseas Citizens, British Nationals (Overseas), British Protected Persons and any British subject who does not have the 'right of abode' under British immigration law.
In 2002, with the passing of the British Overseas Territories Act 2002, EU citizenship was extended to almost all British overseas territories citizens when they were automatically granted full British citizenship (with the exception of those with an association to the British sovereign base areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia on the Island of Cyprus). This has effectively granted them full EU citizenship rights, including free movement rights, although only residents of Gibraltar have the right to vote in European Parliament elections. In contrast, British citizens in the Crown Dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man have always been considered to be EU citizens but, unlike residents of the British overseas territories, are prohibited from exercising EU free movement rights under the terms of the UK Accession Treaty if they have no other connection with the UK (e.g. they have lived in the UK for five years, were born in the UK, or have parents or grandparents born in the UK) and have no EU voting rights. (see Guernsey passport, Isle of Man passport, Jersey passport).
Another example are the residents of Faroe Islands of Denmark who, though in possession of full Danish citizenship, are outside the EU and are explicitly excluded from EU citizenship under the terms of the Danish Accession Treaty. This is in contrast to residents of the Danish territory of Greenland who, whilst also outside the EU as a result of the 1984 Greenland Treaty, do receive EU citizenship as this was not specifically excluded by the terms of that treaty (see Faroe Islands and the European Union; Greenland and the European Union).
Summary of member states' nationality laws
This is a summary of nationality laws for each of the twenty-eight EU member states.
|Member State||Acquisition by birth||Acquisition by descent||Acquisition by marriage||Acquisition by naturalisation||Multiple nationality permitted|
Persons born in Austria:
Austrian nationality is acquired by descent under one of the following conditions:
| || ||Only allowed with special permission or if dual citizenship was obtained at birth (binational parents [one Austrian, one foreign] or birth in a jus-soli country such as USA and Canada)|
Persons born in Belgium who:
Belgian nationality is acquired by descent under one of the following conditions:
Persons born in Bulgaria who:
Bulgarian nationality is acquired by descent under one of the following conditions:
| || || |
|Croatia||Persons born in Croatia who: ||Croatian nationality is acquired by descent under one of the following conditions:|| || ||Yes, but persons seeking to become Croatian citizens by naturalisation are to renounce foreign citizenship unless applying by 'privileged naturalisation' (e.g. descendants of Croatian emigrants). Citizens with multiple citizenships are treated as exclusively Croatian citizens by law.|
Persons born in Cyprus who:
Cypriot nationality is acquired by descent under one of the following conditions:
| || ||Yes|
|Czech Republic|| |
Persons born in the Czech Republic:
Persons who have at least one parent with Czech citizenship (at the time of the person's birth). Whether a person is born in the Czech Republic or elsewhere is irrelevant.
|No|| ||Yes, effective January 1, 2014|
Persons born in Denmark who:
| || || ||Yes, effective September 1, 2015|
Persons born in Estonia who:
| || |
No (unless married to an Estonian citizen before 26 February 1992)
| || |
Estonia does not recognize multiple citizenship. However, Estonian citizens by descent cannot be deprived of their Estonian citizenship, and are de facto allowed to have multiple citizenship.
Persons born in Finland who:
(Possibility to obtain citizenship by declaration exists for inborn aliens who have lived a major part of their childhood in Finland.)
Finnish nationality is acquired by descent from a Finnish mother, and from a Finnish father under one of the following conditions:
| || ||Yes|
At birth, persons born in France who:
French nationality is acquired by descent under one of the following conditions:
Persons born in Germany, if at least one parent has resided in Germany for at least 8 years and holds a permanent residence permit
|German nationality is acquired by descent under one of the following conditions: || || || |
Persons born in Greece who:
Greek nationality is acquired by descent under one of the following conditions:
| || ||Yes|
Persons born in Hungary who:
Hungarian nationality is acquired by descent under one of the following conditions:
| || ||Yes|
Persons born in Ireland:
Irish nationality is acquired by descent under one of the following conditions:
| || ||Yes|
Persons born in Italy who:
Italian nationality is acquired by descent under one of the following conditions:
| || ||Yes|
Persons born in Latvia who:
Latvian nationality is acquired by descent under one of the following conditions:
|No|| ||Starting from October the 1st, 2013 hereby listed persons are eligible to have dual citizenship with Latvia: |
Persons born in Lithuania who:
Lithuanian nationality is acquired by descent under one of the following conditions:
| || ||No, unless:|
Persons born in Luxembourg who:
| || ||Yes|
|Malta|| || |
Maltese nationality is acquired by descent under the following condition:
| || ||Yes|
Persons born in Netherlands who:
Dutch nationality is acquired by descent under one of the following conditions:
| ||After 5 years uninterrupted residence, with continuous registration in the municipal register || |
Persons over 18 with multiple nationalities must live in the Netherlands or the EU for at least one year out of every ten years, or receive a Dutch passport or a nationality certificate every ten years.
|Poland|| || |
Polish nationality is acquired by descent under one of the following conditions:
| || ||Yes but in Poland, Polish identification must be used and the dual citizen is treated legally as only Polish|
A person who is not descended from a Portuguese citizen becomes a Portuguese citizen at the moment of birth, by the effect of the law itself, if that person was born in Portugal and:
A person who is not descended from a Portuguese citizen and who is not covered by the conditions for automatic attribution of nationality by birth in Portugal set out above, has a right to declare that he or she wants to become a Portuguese citizen, and that person becomes a natural-born Portuguese citizen, with effects retroactive to the momement of birth, upon the registration of such declaration in the Portuguese Civil Registry (by application made by that person, once of age, or by a legal representative of that person, during minority), if that person was born in Portugal and:
Portuguese nationality is transmitted by descent under one of the following conditions:
Persons born in Romania who:
Romanian nationality is acquired by descent under one of the following conditions:
| || ||Yes|
Persons born in Slovakia:
Slovak nationality is acquired by descent under one of the following conditions:
| || ||Dual citizenship is only permitted to Slovak citizens who acquire a second citizenship by birth or through marriage; and to foreign nationals who apply for Slovak citizenship and meet the requirements of the Citizenship Act.|
A child born in Slovenia is a Slovenian citizen if either parent is a Slovenian citizen. Where the child is born outside Slovenia the child will be automatically Slovenian if:
A person born outside Slovenia with one Slovenian parent who is not Slovenian automatically may acquire Slovenian citizenship through:
Children adopted by Slovenian citizens may be granted Slovenian citizenship.
Slovenian nationality is acquired by descent under one of the following conditions:
| || || |
Persons born in Spain who:
| || || |
Persons born in Sweden who:
Swedish nationality is acquired by descent under one of the following conditions:
| || ||Yes|
|United Kingdom|| |
Persons born in United Kingdom who are "British by birth" (see separate article)
British nationality is acquired by descent under one of several conditions. See separate article section of "British by descent" for details.
Loss of EU citizenship due to member state withdrawal
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The general rule for losing EU citizenship is that European citizenship is lost if member state nationality is lost, but the automatic loss of EU citizenship as a result of a member state withdrawing from the EU is the subject of debate.
One school of legal thought indicates that the Maastricht treaty created the European Union as a legal entity, it then also created the status of EU citizen which gave an individual relationship between the EU and its citizens, and a status of EU citizen. Clemens Rieder suggests a case can be made that "[n]one of the Member States were forced to confer the status of EU citizenship on their citizens but once they have, according to this argument, they cannot simply withdraw this status.". In this situation, no EU citizen would involuntarily lose their citizenship due to their nation's withdrawal from the EU.
Another school of legal thought indicates that the Maastricht treaty created the European Union as a legal entity, but it does not have a direct legal relationship with its citizens and EU citizenship is not comparable with any other citizenships and is not additional to the member state citizenship. EU citizenship is only a special feature that member states can offer their citizens. The relationship between an EU citizen and the EU as an organization, is therefore only legally through the member state. In this situation, when the member country leaves, the ex-member country can no longer offer that special feature to its citizens, thus (for example with respect to Brexit) British citizens would no longer be EU citizens.[failed verification][need quotation to verify]
It is likely that only a court case before the European Court of Justice would be able to properly determine the correct legal position in this regard, as there is no definitive legal certainty in this area. As of 7 February 2018, the District Court of Amsterdam decided to refer the matter to the European Court of Justice, but the state of the Netherlands has appealed against this referral decision.
All citizens of Greenland are eligible for EU citizenship under its OCT status, even following Greenland's withdrawal from the then European Communities in 1985, because they remain eligible for Danish passports (which confer EU citizenship) or Greenlandic (which do not). Greenland, however, was not a member state of the EU and is not a sovereign nation state unlike, for example, the United Kingdom.
As a result of the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, the opinion of both the European and British governments has been that British citizens would lose their European citizenship and European citizens would lose their automatic right to stay in the UK. To account for the problems arising from this, a provisional agreement outlines the right of UK citizens to remain in the EU (and vice versa) where they are resident in the Union on the day of the UK's withdrawal. EU citizens may remain in the UK post-Brexit if and only if they apply to EU Settlement Scheme. The only exception to this is citizens who possess dual citizenship with an EU state. This eligibility includes the majority of British citizens from Northern Ireland, who are automatically entitled to Irish citizenship as part of the Good Friday Agreement.
European Citizens' Initiatives to challenge Brexit
As a result of the Brexit referendum, there were three European Citizens' Initiatives that were registered which sought to protect the rights and/or status of British EU citizens. Out of these three initiatives, the one with the strongest legal argument was registered on 27 March 2017 and officially named "EU Citizenship for Europeans: United in Diversity in Spite of jus soli and jus sanguinis". It is clear that the initiative abides by the first school of thought mentioned above because the annex that was submitted with the initiative clearly makes reference to Rieder's work. In an article titled "Extending [full] EU citizenship to UK nationals ESPECIALLY after Brexit" and published with the online magazine Politics Means Politics, the creator of the Initiative argues that UK nationals must keep their EU citizenship by detaching citizenship of the European Union from Member State nationality. Perhaps the most convincing and authoritative source that is cited in the article is the acting President of the European Court of Justice, Koen Lenaerts who published an article where he explains how the Court analyzes and decides cases dealing with citizenship of the European Union. Both Lenaerts and the creator of the Initiative refer to rulings by the European Court of Justice which state that:
- “Citizenship of the Union is intended to be the fundamental status of nationals of the Member States” (inter alia: Grzelczyk, paragraph 31; Baumbast and R, paragraph 82; Garcia Avello, paragraph 22; Zhu and Chen, parag. 25; Rottmann, parag. 43; Zambrano, parag. 41, etc.)
- “Article 20 TFEU precludes national measures that have the effect of depriving citizens of the Union of the genuine enjoyment of the substance of the rights conferred by virtue of their status as citizens of the Union” (Inter alia: Rottmann, parag. 42; Zambrano, parag. 42; McCarthy, parag 47; Dereci, parag. 66; O and Others, parag. 45; CS, parag. 26; Chavez-Vilchez and Others, parag. 61, etc.)
Based on the argument presented by "EU Citizenship for Europeans" and its creator, Brexit is a textbook definition of a Member State depriving a European citizen of his or her rights as EU citizens, and therefore a legal act is necessary in order to protect not just rights but the status of EU citizen itself. Despite variances in interpretation of some points of law raised by the Initiative, the European Commission's decision to register the initiative confirms the strength and merit of the initiative's legal argument.
A proposal made first by Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament's Brexit negotiator, to help cover the rights of UK citizens post-Brexit would see UK citizens able to opt-out of the loss of EU citizenship as a result of the general clauses of the withdrawal agreement. This would allow visa-free working on the basis of their continuing rights as EU citizens. This, he termed, "associate citizenship". This has been discussed with the UK's negotiator David Davis. However, it was made clear by the UK government that there would be no role for EU institutions concerning its citizens, effectively removing the proposal as a possibility.
Denmark obtained four opt-outs from the Maastricht Treaty following the treaty's initial rejection in a 1992 referendum. The opt-outs are outlined in the Edinburgh Agreement and concern the EMU (as above), the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) and the citizenship of the European Union. The citizenship opt-out stated that European citizenship did not replace national citizenship; this opt-out was rendered meaningless when the Amsterdam Treaty adopted the same wording for all members. The policy of recent Danish governments has been to hold referendums to abolish these opt-outs, including formally abolishing the citizenship opt-out which is still technically active even if redundant.
- Europe for Citizens
- European citizens' consultations
- European Citizens' Initiative
- Four Freedoms (European Union)
- National identity cards in the European Economic Area
- Passport of the European Union
- Visa requirements for the European Union citizens
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- Case 186/87 Ian William Cowan v Trésor public.
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- Antigua and Barbuda (UK), Barbados (UK), Belize (UK), Central African Republic (France), Comoros (France), Gambia (UK), Guyana (UK), Liberia (Germany), Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (UK), San Marino (Italy), São Tomé and Príncipe (Portugal), Solomon Islands (UK), Timor-Leste (Portugal), Vanuatu (France)
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