Citizenship and Brexit: for a European “right of option”

, by Hervé Moritz, Translated by Lorène Weber

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

Citizenship and Brexit: for a European “right of option”
Will the Brits have the right to choose to preserve their European citizenship? CC - Wikimedia Commons

Before the Autumn University of the European Movement in France (from 17 to 19 November 2017), which focused on European citizenship, one wonders about the fate of British citizens. During Brexit negotiations, as in the context of the aspirations for independence of some European regions, the guarantee for the citizens of these territories to keep their European citizenship is not ensured. The “right of option” is worth exploring, especially with the aim of emancipating this citizenship from its national confinement.

In 1871, when the Treaty of Frankfurt was signed, confirming the handover of Alsace-Lorraine by France to the German empire, the negotiators foresaw a “right of option” for the inhabitants of the region. The principle is simple: until 1873, the citizens of the annexed territories can choose to opt either for German nationality or for French nationality. Nevertheless, this option must go together with a change in the place of residence, otherwise it would be cancelled at the end of the period delimited by the Treaty.

With no parallel between this situation and the one of the Union today, the question of the option can be aroused for a European citizenship separated from the Member States’ one.

The option for the British citizens

For a couple of months, the British citizens who frequent or live in the European community’s area have been queuing up in the Member States’ administrations. Many of them choose to take the nationality of their country of residence to be ensured to keep their European citizenship and thus continue to be part of the common fate of 500 million EU citizens.

While Brexit negotiations are going on, the place of the expatriate British citizens, constrained to apply for a double nationality to keep their European citizenship, calls into question the link between nationality and European citizenship.

Every citizen of a Member State is a European citizen. But why should the Brits who live in another EU Member State, and want to keep their European citizenship, seek another nationality to remain EU citizens? Why should they apply for another nationality if they could simply keep the European citizenship they already benefit from?

The British citizens willing to pursue the epic of European construction should be able to do so without having to change their nationality. They should have the right to keep their European citizenship, renewing in this way their will to be part of this common destiny. Apart from the violence that the withdrawal of the EU citizenship could cause, the European Union must give this right to its citizens, and thus take back control of its citizenship.

The de facto creation of a residence citizenship

Indeed, giving the chance to the British citizens (or to any other group of citizens from an exiting State) living in the EU to opt for European citizenship is a way to guarantee that their rights as European citizens would be preserved in their country of residence (while keeping at the same time the citizenship of their country).

A Brit living in Brussels would be able to keep voting in local and European elections while benefiting at the same time from the protections that European citizenship guarantees in the common area or abroad. This disposition would create a de facto residence citizenship, assuring the preservation of the rights of European citizens from exiting States.

This residence citizenship would then be enlarged to the residents of the European area who would wish to apply for European citizenship, independently of a national citizenship, choosing to concur with a community of values and a common social project.

Creating a residence citizenship which would be emancipated from the link to a Member State’s citizenship would also contribute to making it more vivid among its own holders. Today, who can understand what being a European citizen brings or means if it remains bound to nationality? Let’s take European citizenship out of the national confinement, and let’s take advantage of the Brexit to begin the rebuilding process of European citizenship.

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