What's New in the EU: Citizenship in the European Union

More and more European citizens study, get married, live or work in a member state of which they are not nationals.

eu flag biz 88 (photo credit: )
eu flag biz 88
(photo credit: )
The European Commission last week adopted its fifth report on European Union citizenship. The report assesses the application of rights conferred on EU citizens by the treaty establishing the European Community during the period May 1, 2004, to June 30, 2007. Since the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992, also known as the Treaty of the European Union, one of the objectives of the EU is to strengthen the protection of the rights and interests of the nationals of its member states through the introduction of EU citizenship. European citizenship is enshrined in the Treaty of Maastricht (Articles 17-22). The treaty provides that every person holding the nationality of a member state shall be a citizen of the EU, and that EU citizenship complements but does not replace national citizenship (Article 17(1)). According to Declaration No. 2, annexed to the treaty, whether a person has the nationality of a member state is to be determined solely by reference to the nationality rules of the member state concerned; the European Court of Justice has confirmed that the acquisition or loss of nationality falls within the competence of the member states. Article 22 of the treaty requires the European Commission to report to the European Parliament, the European Council and the European Economic and Social Committee every three years on the application of the provisions of Part 2 of the treaty dealing with EU citizenship. The report asserts that the Commission has received a number of complaints, NGO reports, petitions and Parliament questions concerning problems in certain member states linked to the acquisition and loss of nationality. In particular, the Commission is said to be aware of questions related to persons belonging to the Russian-speaking minority in Estonia and Latvia who are considered to be "non-citizens," and to the situation of "erased persons" in Slovenia. Another issue concerns the extension of citizenship to nationals of another country on the basis, inter alia, of their membership of an ethnic community. In April 2006, the Commission adopted its third report on the application of the three directives on the right of residence of EU citizens who are students, economically inactive or retired, covering the period from 2003 to 2005. The most important development in this area was the entry into force, on April 30, 2006, of Directive 2004/38 on the right of citizens of the EU and their family members to move and reside freely within the territory of the member states. The directive codifies in one instrument the complex legislative corpus and the rich case-law of the European Court of Justice, and creates a single legal regime within the context of citizenship. The Commission has no power to deal with the question of the acquisition or loss of nationality. However, within its remit, the Commission has sought to contribute to solutions linked to this issue by promoting integration and by using the European Community instruments at its disposal, such as ensuring that member states strictly implement EC antidiscrimination legislation. More and more European citizens study, get married, live or work in a member state of which they are not nationals. As of January 1, 2006, there were approximately 8.2 million EU citizens who were exercising their right to reside in another member state. According to the 2007 Flash Eurobarometer public opinion survey on EU citizenship, Europeans are largely aware of their status as citizens of the EU but would like to be better informed about their rights. More than three-quarters of EU citizens have heard about the term "citizen of the European Union" and are aware that EU citizenship is acquired automatically by being a national of a member state. Ninety percent know that they are simultaneously EU citizens and member state nationals. Over the past five years, the reports note significant improvement in Europeans' general awareness of their status as citizens of the EU. Compared to 2002, approximately 8% more Europeans now claim to be familiar with the term "citizen of the EU" and to know what it entails, while 15% more respondents are aware that EU citizenship is acquired automatically by being a national of a member state. The report focuses on developments during the reporting period with regard to the legal core of citizens' rights, guaranteed by Articles 19 to 21 of the Treaty of Maastricht. In particular, the right to move and reside within the EU, the right to vote and stand as a candidate in European and municipal elections in the member state of residence, the right to diplomatic and consular protection in third countries, the right to petition the European Parliament and the right to apply to the Ombudsman. Furthermore, the report takes stock of advances in areas closely related to citizenship in the wider sense, such as equal treatment on grounds of nationality and the protection of fundamental rights. [email protected] Ari Syrquin is the head of the International Department at Joseph Shem-Tov Law Firm