MEP Maintains Associate EU Citizenship to be a Realistic Ambition

  • 6th February 2017, Nick Gibbs

In November 2016 we reported on the proposals by Luxembourg MEP Charles Goerens to create an associate EU citizenship, allowing people from any state that opted to leave the union to retain their EU rights and privileges.

As more information has become available as to the British Government’s intentions regarding their Brexit position and process, Goerens has continued to fly the euro-flag of the idea that will be seen by many expats as something between a vital lifeline and a security blanket, depending on the ultimate outcome of the Brexit negotiations.

In essence the idea presented is that any British national (or in future any other national if their country left the EU), could choose to take on an EU citizenship whilst retaining their British passport. Under the associate citizenship they would retain all the rights of movement, employment, healthcare and property ownership etc they currently hold as a British Member of the EU. They would also be able to vote in European elections.

MEP Maintains Associate EU Citizenship to be a Realistic Ambition
MEP Maintains Associate EU Citizenship to be a Realistic Ambition

Speaking in an interview with the Independent, Goerens says he is increasingly hopeful that the plan could be accepted – though before we get too excited it is important to remember that Theresa May’s government team can veto the scheme, and there are many hard-line Brexiteers who will push hard for her to do so.

Here we print our original article from November, and then the recent interview with the Independent newspaper.

A petition calling for support of Goerens proposals currently has 175,000 signatures. A link to the petition is given at the foot of the article.

EU to Consider ’Opt-In’ Citizenship for Brexit Brits

  • The European Parliament is set to consider a proposal to allow British citizens to keep their European Union citizenship after the UK leaves the EU.
  • The plan is the brainchild of Liberal Luxemborg MEP Charles Goeren. It is to be tabled as an amendment before a parliamentary committee. If successful it would allow citizens of former member states the right to ‘opt-in’ to retain “associate citizenship” of the EU.

The move will be seen as a potential lifeline by British citizens who have made lives around the EU, the highest number of which are in Spain. Crucially, associate citizens would keep the right to free movement around the EU. They would also retain voting rights in European elections, affording those who decided to opt in political representation in Brussels.

The plan will be heard as ‘Amendment 882’ before the European Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee, which is working on a wider brief to report on “Possible evolutions of and adjustments to the current institutional set-up of the European Union”.

Goeren’s amendment calls for “European associate citizenship for those who feel and wish to be part of the European project but are nationals of a former Member State; offers these associate citizens the rights of freedom of movement and to reside on its territory as well as being represented in the Parliament through a vote in the European elections on the European lists”.

MEP Maintains Associate EU Citizenship to be a Realistic Ambition
MEP Charles Goerens

Though the British Government has given very little detail as to exectly what it wants for Britain’s post-Brexit future, Prime Minister Theresa May has made clear that she would like to restrict freedom of movement from EU countries to the UK, a policy that wouldin all probability be reciprocated by the EU against British citizens.

The logical conclusion is that that British citizens would stand to lose the automatic right to live and work in the EU after Brexit.

Pro-Brexit campaigners in Britain were outraged at the prospect stating it was ‘divisive’ and a ‘betrayal’ to the democratic process.

Jayne Adye, director of the Get Britain Out campaign described the proposal as divisive and said it was “totally unacceptable” for British people to retain the advantages of EU membership.

Speaking to the Independent she said “This is an outrage. The EU is now attempting to divide the great British public at the exact moment we need unity. 17.4 million people voted to Leave the EU on 23 June and as a result the UK as a whole will get Brexit.

“Brexit means laws which impact the people of the UK will be created by accountable politicians in Westminster. It is totally unacceptable for certain citizens in the UK to subject themselves to laws which are created by politicians who are not accountable the British people as a whole. Discriminating against people based on their political views shows there are no depths the EU will not sink to.”

Britain voted to leave the EU on June 23rd 2016, but has not yet started the exit negotiation process. The Government is currently embroiled in a legal wrangle over whether it can trigger negotiations using Royal Prerogative, without consulting Parliament.

Article and Interview by Tom Batchelor in The Independent Online

  • Britons must be offered ‘associate EU citizenship’ whatever the outcome of May’s Brexit negotiations, says MEP
  • Retaining partial membership of the EU would allow UK nationals to travel and work freely inside the bloc

Britons could be offered “associate citizenship” of the European Union after Brexit even if Theresa May blocks the plan, the MEP who drafted the proposal has said.

“Associate citizenship” remains a “realistic” ambition and Brussels should make it available to UK nationals even if the British Government vetoes the plan during negotiations, Charles Goerens said.

Commenting in the wake of the Government’s Brexit White Paper, he said he was increasingly hopeful that his proposal would be offered to the UK once it quits the bloc.

In November, The Independent revealed that a plan for “associate citizenship”, proposed by Mr Goerens, was being considered by the European Parliament.

MEP Maintains Associate EU Citizenship to be a Realistic Ambition

It would allow UK nationals who applied for EU citizenship to work anywhere inside the union as well as giving them a vote in European Parliament elections – while retaining their British passport.

The Luxembourg MEP said there was no real opposition to the policy from his fellow lawmakers in Brussels and Strasbourg, who will be given the final say on the Brexit deal in a vote at the European parliament.

And he said the EU’s negotiators should make it a red line in future discussions, adding that eventual treaty change was in the interests of those on both sides of the Channel.

The proposal has offered hope to many who fear Britain is closing itself off from Europe and the opportunities it provides.

Mr Goerens said the Prime Minister’s remarks were “very positive” and showed she understood there was a “real problem” for Britons living both in the UK and Europe.

“Theresa May’s proposal is a step in the right direction,” he told The Independent in a phone interview from Brussels.

“The White paper was a clear signal that I was not totally unrealistic by launching the idea of European ‘associate citizenship’.

“It is for technical reasons that she wasn’t more outspoken on this issue.

“She sent a clear signal that she has understood that there is a real problem. Let’s not be too pessimistic about that.”

“European ‘associate citizenship’ is still on the agenda of the European Parliament,” he continued.

“You can say on the one hand that it is not a solution that would be in line with today’s legislation, with European law, but on the other hand if there is a political will we can overcome the obstacles to it.

“We can have treaty change, we can have political process on the conviction that European citizenship, or ‘associate citizenship’, is in everybody’s interest.”

If the proposal is included in the final Brexit deal that MEPs will vote on at the end of the two year negotiating period, Mr Goerens said he was confident it would be passed.

“As far as I see, there is no real opposition unless you talk to the right-wing parties represented in the European parliament, and some fanatic Brexiteers,” he said.

“It is up to politicians to react and to take initiative. It is up to us to move the lines, we are not only the observers, we are the actors.

MEP Maintains Associate EU Citizenship to be a Realistic Ambition

“The European Parliament will have the last say on the arrangement between the European Commission and the UK, we have a good opportunity to make clear our views on what should be the outcome of this process, and one of the outcomes is the status of people most negatively affected by Brexit.”

Opposition to the plan may come in the form of hard-line Eurosceptics, who claim associate membership of the EU would dilute Brexit and create a two-tier system that would undermine British citizenship.

Those concerns may be enough to convince Ms May to veto the proposal from Mr Goerens and his colleagues in the European Parliament.

But the MEP said ‘associate citizenship’ should be offered to Britons regardless of any reciprocal offer or concession made by the UK.

He said: “Even if there were no move made in this direction by the United Kingdom, in my view we should even unilaterally offer the European associate citizenship to UK citizens because it would be in everybody’s interest to act in this way.

“It is still achievable because once Brexit is concluded people will be stripped of all their rights linked to European citizenship. We must launch this process in a pragmatic way, but why should it not be practical?”