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Analysis

EU citizenship gives us a voice in Brussels – and much more

by Joel Baccas | 03.05.2019

UK citizens voting in European elections on May 23 was a thick red line for EU leaders during the Brexit brinkmanship of last month. Why? Because as long as the UK stays in the EU, UK citizens are also EU citizens – with all the rights that entails. One of those rights is having democratically elected representatives in the European Parliament.

Our rights are spelled out in treaties such as the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). Article 20 gives us the right to vote and stand as candidates in elections to the European Parliament. And Article 22 lets any EU citizen vote for MEPs in the EU country in which they live, even if they don’t hold the nationality of that country.

If you’re an EU citizen living in the UK and want to vote here, your last chance to register via post is today. You can learn more about the three simple steps here.

Article 20 of the TFEU gives us lots of other rights too. EU citizens can vote and stand in local municipal elections wherever they live in the EU. They also have the right to consular protection in any member state under the same conditions as nationals of that country.

It also gives us the freedom to live, work, study and retire in any of the other 27 EU countries. Free movement of EU citizens into the UK was particularly controversial during the 2016 referendum. But it cuts both ways. Think of this: as an EU citizen, a kid who has just left school without any qualifications has the same right to find work in Madrid, for example, as a top-flight footballer. It’s a social leveller, increasing opportunities for all and reducing inequality.

All of these rights are underpinned by Article 18 of the TFEU, which prohibits any discrimination on the grounds of nationality so that citizens of all EU countries must be treated equally wherever they are in the bloc.

This can be demonstrated perfectly in a legal case called Gravier v City of Liege, where a French student who went to study in Belgium was met with additional fees. This was challenged by the student and the court agreed. An imposition of a fee on students who are nationals of another member state while the same fee is not imposed on students of the host member state constitutes discrimination on the grounds of nationality.

Even before we’ve left the EU, we see the prime minister trying to unpick this equality. Expect EU countries to reciprocate, and the opportunities of our young people diminished because they will not be considered EU citizens anymore.

Our EU citizenship comes from our UK citizenship, and the fact that the UK is an EU member state. Article 20 of the TFEU is clear: EU citizenship “shall be additional to and not replace” national citizenship. It’s an extra layer of protection.

But we risk this extra layer of rights slipping away after Brexit, depending on what terms emerge in any final Brexit deal. Certainly free movement and having a say in European politics look set for the chop. Now people can see the rights we will lose by leaving the EU, the people have a right to a final say on whether we leave at all.

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Edited by Luke Lythgoe