SHARE
COPY LINK

SUE WILSON

OPINION: We shouldn’t expect special treatment from EU just because we’re British

Sue Wilson examines whether Associate EU citizenship could provide the much-needed lifeline Brits living in Europe are hoping for.

OPINION: We shouldn't expect special treatment from EU just because we're British
Photo: Deirdre Carney

British citizens living in EU 27 countries, understandably concerned about losing rights and freedoms after Brexit, are looking for alternative ways to protect themselves. Could an Associate EU citizenship provide a much-needed lifeline?

The idea of maintaining our rights via an associated EU membership for citizens is a popular option with Brits in the EU. It’s an idea that is being widely discussed, even in the European parliament, including by EU Brexit Coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt.

Those in favour suggest it should be made available to British citizens already resident in the EU, as we would be most affected by the loss of our EU citizenship rights. Nobody is suggesting, to my knowledge, that any such scheme would be open to Britons living in the UK.

Understandably, the idea has a great deal of appeal, and is being grasped by many as the answer to all their prayers. For those of us living in Europe, we fully expected when we committed to moving to Europe to having EU citizenship rights for life. We made the decision in good faith, never anticipating the threat of Brexit.

We probably couldn’t have detailed most of those membership rights at the time, but we’re certainly aware of them now, and no longer take them for granted. Never did we think that we would lose, for example, our freedom of movement, or that future generations would have fewer opportunities than we have enjoyed.

Freedom of movement is a benefit that only British citizens stand to lose. EU citizens living in the UK will remain citizens of their home countries and will, therefore, retain their EU citizenship rights. It is this fact alone that is encouraging many Brits to seek a change to the rules for our benefit, without the need for reciprocity. However, should we be granted EU citizenship, it could be argued that EU citizens should be granted British citizenship. I think I can say with a degree of certainty that the British government are never going to allow that to happen.

The idea of Associate Citizenship is not a new one. It was discussed in the European parliament in the early days of the UK/EU negotiations, and was also the subject of a failed court case brought before a European court in the Netherlands. Each time the subject has been discussed, it has been rejected and has proved unpopular with European leaders. Whilst the lawyer involved in the Dutch case, Jolyon Maugham, is currently resurrecting his earlier legal challenge, it’s unclear how this might succeed now, where it failed before.

The reasons the associate citizenship idea has been rejected in the past, and likely in the future, are similar to reasons cited during Brexit negotiations. During the early stages of the negotiations, former Prime Minister, Theresa May, hoped to secure similar terms and conditions for the UK after Brexit as the UK currently enjoys as an EU member.

It was rightly pointed out, frequently, that when you leave the club, you do not maintain the same privileges, or the use of facilities enjoyed by fee-paying members. The UK cannot have its cake and eat it. If we hold with that argument, then why should the rules be different for citizens than they are for the whole country?

With our EU citizenship so highly valued, many have suggested making a personal financial contribution could be an answer. British citizens have each paid a small fee through their taxes to enjoy the benefits of EU membership, and would be willing to do so in future.

Of course, those with sufficient funds can already protect themselves from the loss of rights due to Brexit. Cyprus offers a so-called “golden passport” that effectively allows investors to buy EU citizenship if they spend two million euros on a Cypriot property. Some Tory donors have already signed up to this scheme in order to protect themselves, despite having supported the removal of rights for the rest of us mere mortals.

For those of us with more modest means, there are still many thousands willing to dig deep to save their rights. It would seem like a reasonable option, but what of those without the means, even to make a small contribution? Brexit has been divisive enough already. Let’s not divide ourselves further by creating a two-tier system based on your bank balance.

Personally, I want to keep all my rights. I want to cling on to every single one of them and ensure that others have the same rights. I don’t expect special treatment for Brits in the EU, when EU citizens in the UK are being asked to re-apply for a status they already have, and with the risk of being rejected. I don’t expect to receive special treatment from the EU just because I’m British.  Nor do I expect to enjoy the same rights as a non-EU citizen that I currently enjoy as a fully paid-up member.

Would I like to? Yes, of course! Whilst I don’t believe Associate EU citizenship is the answer, or even possible, if it comes off, I’ll be only too happy to be proved wrong.

There is a better and fairer way. We may not be able to stop Brexit from happening at the end of this month, but the future UK/EU partnership arrangements have yet to be negotiated. We must campaign to get the best possible future relationship with the European Union. Who knows? We could even end up with a softer Brexit, membership of the single market and the customs union, and no negligible change to our rights.

Maybe that’s a long shot, but it’s worth the battle. The closer the UK/EU relationship at the end of the transition period, the easier it will be for the next generation to take us back into the EU, where we belong!

By Sue Wilson – Chair of Bremain in Spain

Member comments

  1. If possible, I would recommend applying for normal citizenship in the EU country where you live.
    I can only speak as a Brit living in Germany (Weimar in Thuringia), but I didn’t find the application process particularly arduous, the officials who helped me were patient, courteous and friendly and the whole thing only cost around 250€ (I believe it’s over a 1000 pounds for the same process in the UK). Also, I wouldn’t say that my German is anywhere near flawless!

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

BREXIT

Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don’t want to return home

The majority of Britons who live in the EU, Norway, Iceland or Switzerland and are protected under the Brexit agreement feel European and intend to remain in Europe permanently, but many have concerns about travel problems, a new survey reveals.

Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don't want to return home

The research also shows that problems exist and “travel is where most issues relating to the new status currently occur”. For instance, border officials are still stamping passports of UK citizens with residence rights under the EU UK withdrawal agreement, even though they shouldn’t.

“There is constant confusion around passport stamping. I was ‘stamped in’ to France on a short trip… but could not find anyway to be ‘stamped out’ again. I think I can only spend 90 days in other EU countries, but have no idea how anyone can check or enforce that – until someone decides to try. It’s a mess,” was one of the answers left in an open question.

“Every time I go through a Schengen border control, I need to provide both my passport and Aufenthaltstitel card [resident permit in Germany] and watch to check that they don’t stamp my passport. As I am currently travelling a lot that’s been 20-odd times this year…” another respondent said.

The survey was carried out by Professor Tanja Bueltmann, historian of migration and diaspora at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, between October and November 2022. About 1,139 UK citizens replied.

Of these, 80 per cent found acquiring their new status easy or very easy, 60.7 per cent feel their rights are secure, while 39.3 per cent have concerns about their status going forward.

Staying permanently

More than three quarters (76.6 per cent) of respondents said they plan to live permanently in the EU or the other countries of the European Economic Area and Switzerland. In fact, 65.7 per cent said that Brexit has increased the likelihood of this choice.

For some, the decision is linked to the difficulty to bring non-British family members to the UK under new, stricter immigration rules.

“My German wife and I decided we no longer wanted to live in UK post Brexit referendum. In particular, we were affected by the impact of immigration law […] We cannot now return to UK on retirement as I cannot sponsor her on my pension. We knew it was a one-way journey. Fortunately, I could revive an application for German citizenship,” was a testimony.

“My husband is a US citizen and getting him a visa for the UK was near impossible due to my low income as a freelance journalist. We realized under EU law, moving to an EU country was easier. We settled on Austria as we had both lived there before… we could speak some German, and we like the mountains,” said another respondent.

Professor Bueltmann noted that the loss of free movement rights in the EU could be a factor too in the decision of many to stay where they are.

Citizenship and representation

Among those who decided to stay, 38.2 per cent are either applying or planning to apply for a citizenship and 28.6 per cent are thinking about it.

A key finding of the research, Bueltmann said, is that the vast majority of British citizens do not feel politically represented. Some 60 per cent of respondents said they feel unrepresented and another 30 per cent not well represented.

Another issue is that less than half (47.5 per cent) trust the government of their country of residence, while a larger proportion (62 per cent) trust the European Union. Almost all (95.6 per cent) said they do not trust the UK government.

Feeling European

The survey highlights the Brexit impacts on people’s identity too. 82.6 per cent of respondents said they see themselves as European, a higher proportion than those identifying as British (68.9 per cent).

“Brexit has really left me unsure of what my identity is. I don’t feel British, and I certainly don’t identify with the mindset of a lot of British people who live there. Yet, I am not Danish either. So, I don’t really know anymore!” said one of the participants in the survey.

Professor Bueltmann said the survey “demonstrates that Brexit impacts continue to evolve: this didn’t just stop because the transition period was over or a deadline for an application had been reached. Consequently, Brexit continues to shape the lives and experiences of British citizens in the EU/EEA and Switzerland in substantial, sometimes life-altering, ways.”

Considering the results of the study, Professor Bueltmann recommends policy makers in the EU and the UK to address the issue of lack of representation, for instance creating a joint UK-EU citizens’ stakeholder forum.

The report also recommends the UK government to rebuild trust with British citizens in the EU introducing voting rights for life and changing immigration rules to allow British-European families to return more easily. 

This article was prepared in cooperation with Europe Street News.

SHOW COMMENTS