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European Union citizenship was formally introduced in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU or Maastricht Treaty) in 1992 and was further developed by subsequent EU Treaty amendments (Amsterdam and Lisbon).

EU Treaty provisions

Under Articles 20 – 24 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) and other Treaty Articles, EU citizens have the right to move and reside freely in other Member States, to vote and to stand as candidates in municipal and European Parliament (EP) elections, to petition the EP, to apply to the European Ombudsman, to claim in a third country the protection of the diplomatic and consular authorities of any other EU Member State, and the right to start a Citizens’ Initiative.

Impact of Brexit

When the UK leaves the EU in March 2019, UK citizens will no longer be EU citizens (unless they have dual nationality) and so will lose EU citizenship rights. In the withdrawal negotiations agreement was reached on many citizens’ rights provisions in a Joint Report of December 2017 and in a Draft Withdrawal Agreement published by the EU in March 2018. But these will not guarantee the existing automatic Treaty rights to the status of Union citizenship.

Could UK nationals keep their EU citizenship?

There are arguments about the feasibility of retaining EU citizenship, with the weight of opinion maintaining that it is not possible for UK citizens to keep their EU citizenship after the UK leaves the EU – notwithstanding that some of the practical aspects of citizenship are being negotiated for inclusion in the EU-UK withdrawal agreement.

Aside from agreement on citizens’ rights in the withdrawal negotiations, there has been a more visceral debate about identity as a European citizen, the extent to which EU citizenship is linked to national citizenship, and whether UK nationals could retain Union citizenship – or some form of it, such as an ‘associated’ EU citizenship – after Brexit.

Associate citizenship?

The EU and UK Parliaments have debated ‘associate’ citizenship and the UK Government has said it is prepared to listen to such suggestions. But so far there has been no indication of EU or UK efforts in the withdrawal negotiations to introduce such a status.

A form of ‘associate’ status does not exist at present and would probably require Treaty change, although some commentators believe it would not.

Public opinion on EU citizenship

Since the EU referendum in June 2016, public opinion polls of UK nationals living in the UK or exercising their free movement rights abroad indicate an increasing number who would like to keep their EU citizenship rights. There have also been campaigns, petitions in the EU and the UK and EU Citizens’ Initiatives calling for UK nationals to be able to keep their EU citizenship after Brexit.

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