Citizenship of the European Union (EU) was introduced by the Maastricht Treaty (signed in 1992, in force since 1993). European citizenship is supplementary to national citizenship and affords rights such as the right to vote in European elections, the right to free movement, settlement and employment across the EU, and the right to consular protection from other EU states’ embassies.
Historically, the main benefits of being a citizen of an EU state has been that of free movement. However with the creation of EU citizenship, certain political rights came into being. The Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union provides for citizens to be “directly represented at Union level in the European Parliament“, and “to participate in the democratic life of the Union” (Treaty on the European Union, Title II, Article 10). Specifically, the following rights are afforded;
- Political rights
- Voting in European elections: a right to vote and stand in elections to the European Parliament, in any EU member state (Article 22)
- Voting in municipal elections: a right to vote and stand in local elections in an EU state other than their own, under the same conditions as the nationals of that state (Article 22)
- Accessing European government documents: a right to access to European Parliament, Council, and Commission documents (Article 15).
- Petitioning Parliament and the Ombudsman: the right to petition the European Parliament and the right to apply to the European Ombudsman in order to bring to his attention any cases of poor administration by the EU institutions and bodies, with the exception of the legal bodies (Article 24)
- Linguistic rights: the right to apply to the EU institutions in one of the official languages and to receive a reply in that same language (Article 24).
- Rights of free movement
- Right to free movement and residence: a right of free movement and residence throughout the Union and the right to work in any position (including national civil services with the exception of those posts in the public sector that involve the exercise of powers conferred by public law and the safeguard of general interests of the State or local authorities (Article 21) for which however there is no one single definition);
- Freedom from discrimination on nationality: a right not to be discriminated against on grounds of nationality within the scope of application of the Treaty (Article 18);
- Rights abroad
- Right to consular protection: a right to protection by the diplomatic or consular authorities of other Member States when in a non-EU Member State, if there are no diplomatic or consular authorities from the citizen’s own state (Article 23): this is due to the fact that not all member states maintain embassies in every country in the world (16 countries have only one embassy from an EU state).
Free movement rights
- Article 21 Freedom to move and reside
Every citizen of the Union shall have the right to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States, subject to the limitations and conditions laid down in this Treaty and by the measures adopted to give it effect.
The European Court of Justice has remarked that,
EU Citizenship is destined to be the fundamental status of nationals of the Member States
The ECJ has held that this Article confers a directly effective right upon citizens to reside in another Member State. Before the case of Baumbast, it was widely assumed that non-economically active citizens had no rights to residence deriving directly from the EU Treaty, only from directives created under the Treaty. In Baumbast, however, the ECJ held that (the then) Article 18 of the EC Treaty granted a generally applicable right to residency, which is limited by secondary legislation, but only where that secondary legislation is proportionate. Member States can distinguish between nationals and Union citizens but only if the provisions satisfy the test of proportionality. Migrant EU citizens have a “legitimate expectation of a limited degree of financial solidarity… having regard to their degree of integration into the host society” Length of time is a particularly important factor when considering the degree of integration.
The ECJ’s case law on citizenship has been criticised for subjecting an increasing number of national rules to the proportionality assessment.
- Article 45 Freedom of movement to work
1. Freedom of movement for workers shall be secured within the Union.
2. Such freedom of movement shall entail the abolition of any discrimination based on nationality between workers of the Member States as regards employment, remuneration and other conditions of work and employment.
State employment reserved exclusively for nationals varies between member states. For example, training as a barrister in Britain and Ireland is not reserved for nationals, while the corresponding French course qualifies one as a ‘juge’ and hence can only be taken by French citizens. However, it is broadly limited to those roles that exercise a significant degree of public authority, such as judges, police, the military, diplomats, senior civil servants or politicians. Note that not all Member States choose to restrict all of these posts to nationals.
It is not unusual, however, for new member states to have to undergo transitional regimes during which their nationals only enjoy restricted access to the labour markets in other member states. This most recently occurred on the 2004 and 2007 enlargements. In the 2004 enlargement three “old” member states—Ireland, Sweden and the United Kingdom—decided to allow unrestricted access to their labour markets. And as of December 2009, all but two member states—Austria and Germany—had completely dropped controls. These restrictions expired on 1 May 2011.
All pre-2004 member states, bar Finland and Sweden, imposed restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian citizens following the 2007 enlargement, as did two member states that joined in 2004: Malta and Hungary. These restrictions will expire on 1 January 2014.
- Citizens’ Rights Directive
Much of the existing secondary legislation and case law was consolidated in Directive 2004/38/EC on the right to move and reside freely within the EU.
The Treaty of Accession 2005 of Romania and Bulgaria to the European Union stipulates that the right to freedom of movement for workers from these two most recent EU members may be limited by member states for the seven years following those countries’ accession, i.e. until the end of 2013. Many Member States have, however, already withdrawn their restrictions. The remainder will have to be lifted permanently from 1 January 2014.
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