EU slow to back citizenship campaign


European Union citizens seem unconcerned that the rights bestowed on them by their EU membership can be stripped away by their government and fellow citizens.

A petition asking the European Commission to propose ways in which “means to avoid risk of collective loss of EU citizenship and rights, and assure all EU citizens that, once attained, such status is permanent and their rights acquired” started collecting signatures in late August. It must collect one million signatures by 27 July 2019 to force a response from the Commission, but as of 5 November it had been signed by fewer than 100,000 people.

The Permanent European Union Citizenship petition was set up by people in the UK. One of its motivations is the loss of rights British citizens will experience as a result of Brexit.

“Union citizenship [is] a ‘fundamental status’ of nationals of [EU] member states,” the petition says. “Brexit will strip millions of EU citizens of this status and their vote in European elections.”

Unsurprisingly, the petition has received strong support from British citizens. It sailed past its UK-specific target of 54,750 signatures in just over a week, with almost 78,000 UK signatures as of 5 November.

But people in the other 27 EU countries have been much slower to respond. At the time of writing, Romania was the only other country to have achieved more than 10 per cent of its national target – and only just, on 11 per cent.

Next closest were Belgium, Ireland and the Netherlands, which had all reached 9 per cent of their targets.

Most of the 27 countries, however, had barely any signatures at all. Least interested were Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Croatia, Lithuania, Latvia and Slovenia, which each had just 1 per cent of the signatures they need. In last place was Latvia, where just 48 people had signed out of the 6,000 needed (0.8%).

Support across the EU has remained low even though the petition has been backed by some fairly high-profile figures. These include Guy Verhofstadt, a Belgian MEP and former Belgian prime minister who leads the European Parliament’s Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe political group.

Only seven EU member states have to reach their individual targets for the Commission to be forced to respond to the petition, along with the 1 million overall signatures needed. The petition has received the backing of the Brussels-based ECIT Foundation, which describes itself as a think tank focused on citizenship. In a letter on its Facebook page, the foundation called for more public support.

“If Brexit happens [on] 29 March 2019, 65 million people in the UK will suffer mass citizenship deprivation on an unprecedented scale. If this can happen to one group of European citizens today, it can happen to other groups of individuals tomorrow,” the foundation’s letter says.

“The freedom to learn, live, love and work anywhere in Europe is the core of the dream we follow for ourselves and our children. What else can curb the threats to the rule of law, democracy and Europe’s future stemming from the rising tide of nationalism and xenophobia? To silently acquiesce to the mass loss of EU citizenship allows those forces to continue attacking the European dimension of our identity.

Rather than a shrinking European citizenry with Brexit, we want an open and expanding one based as much on residence as on nationality.”

Words: Craig Nicholson

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