MEP 'will fight tooth and nail' to save associate citizenship for Britons plan

A RESOLUTION on Brexit being debated by the EU parliament this morning may not be enough to open the way for Britons to obtain voluntary ‘associate citizenship’ of the EU, says the originator of the idea – but he will “fight tooth and nail” to see it is not forgotten.

5 April 2017
MEP Charles Goerens was the originator of the idea of 'associate EU citizenship' for Britons who volunteer for it
By Oliver Rowland

Luxembourg MEP Goerens of the ALDE liberals and democrats group in the parliament said the resolution – if adopted today at noon – will “help keep the subject on the agenda” but a further one on the specific topic of Britons’ EU citizenship may be required if the plan is not to stall.

Today’s resolution advises the EU27 look at ways to help Britons worried about losing EU citizenship rights within the framework of what is possible in the EU treaties and “fully respecting principles of reciprocity, equity, symmetry and non-discrimination”. Another passage says EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU must be treated fairly and their interests must be given full priority in the negotiations.

Charles Goerens said: “I personally think there needs to be a change of the treaties however we have succeeded in the resolution, as it stands, to give a priority to citizens’ rights.

“I am going to make the most of that to keep the subject on the agenda – and it could be debated again in a specific resolution on this question.

“I have spoken with [lead Brexit negotiator for the parliament] Guy Verhofstadt about that and he completely agrees with that.”

He said however if today’s resolution was to be taken as the last word on the topic, this would be a “negative” result.

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“I’m not saying I’m disappointed with the resolution, but let’s aim today to keep this topic on the agenda, so as to find a more favourable moment to get the associate citizenship through.

“I must admit it’s not easy, but I have succeeded in having Mr Verhofstadt on my side, who will be accompanying the negotiations, and we have had extensive discussions in the UK and I believe that the British authorities at the highest level are very well aware that there are a lot of British people who want to keep their EU citizenship. There is a specific debate to be had on this.

“I think we can’t do it without changing the treaties and as they will in any case have to be reopened at the end of the [Brexit negotiation] process, because there will be adjustments to be made due to the UK leaving, this will be the moment for an intergovernmental conference when we can address this.

“So leave us the time, to progressively substantiate this idea of associate citizenship.”

He added: “It’s not that the MEPs want to refuse associate citizenship, but a lot say to us it must be based on reciprocity. I didn’t want to complicate the matter. I would go further and would be ready to give it unilaterally to British citizens.”

Mr Goerens agreed that in any case it is difficult to define what ‘reciprocity’ might entail in this case.  

“It’s true it might be seen as complicated if we have to change EU primary law [the treaties], but let’s have the courage to launch a political process with vision, for this country with 48% of people who are attached to European values and want to keep the rights they have now.

“I plead the cause of these people, because there are many people in EU countries whose political views are completely opposed to European values but we have no legal way of removing their EU citizenship. On the other hand we have millions of British people who want to keep this European citizenship.

“If we can’t take it away from those who are against the EU, let us at least have the courage to find some political arguments to promote the cause of convinced Europeans who risk being stripped of their citizenship.

“It’s a controversial argument, but I will fight tooth and nail to progress this.”

He said that the associate citizenship idea could also help cut through some of the complications likely to surround Britons’ post-Brexit rights.

“At the moment we have 500million EU citizens, with one single standard for free movement of people. After the Brexit we’ll have a situation that’s extremely complicated, if not to say absurd.

“There will be a special regime that the UK will have to agree with Spain for its citizens in Gibraltar; there will be another for people living on the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

“We’ll have to clarify the situation for British people living in the EU and find a solution for Europeans in the UK. We’ll have one status for those who have been living in Europe or the UK for more than five years and one for those living there less than five years. So five or six different standards.  

“I think that goes to show that simply abandoning EU citizenship is idiotic.”

Mr Goerens concurred that at present there may be a lack of legal certainty over the automatic ‘permanent residence’ right attained under EU law by EU citizens after five years in another EU country in a case, like Brexit, where the person (such as a Briton in France) then ceases to be an EU citizen.

 “It’s why prioritising the rights issue is so important. But the simplest thing is to leave EU citizenship rights to those who want them – and who declare they are attached to the fundamental values of the EU. A gentleman like Mr Farage, who spits on European values, could never obtain voluntary EU citizenship.

“I also say that the EU is based on 28 pillars that are its member states. They range from ones that are on solid foundations to others that are starting to crack. The 28th is going to disappear.

“So, there needs to be a grassroots movement and what’s very comforting is to see hundreds of thousands of British people showing their enthusiasm for Europe. It’s a political fact that can’t be ignored.

“We must fight on all fronts, here at the parliament, in the UK, in intellectual forums, and in the press.”

As for the today’s text, he said it is not going to be modified at this stage “because the authors have agreed among themselves to accept no further arguments so as to have a broad consensus on the text that is on the table now.”

Moving forward the parliament will have a back-seat in the negotiations, however Mr Goerens said Mr Verhofstadt is expecting plenty of informal contact. Furthermore he said it is important that the parliament sets out frameworks for its position – notably in today’s resolution – because the final deal cannot go forward without the parliament’s consent.

“The parliament therefore has a very important possibility of setting the trajectory for the negotiations and I think we have found the right strategy. There are no guarantees, but there are hopes.”

Apart from Mr Verhofstadt, who chairs Mr Goerens’ ALDE group, the resolution’s authors were Manfred Weber of the centre-right European People’s Party, Ginanni Pitella of the centre-left S&D, Greens co-chairs Philippe Lamberts and Ska Keller, and Danuta Hübner, chair of the parliament’s committee on constitutional affairs.

Previous articles: 

EU parliament to vote on resolution giving 'indirect backing' for associate EU citizenship for Britons 

EU parliament seeks to 'mitigate' loss of EU citizenship - but no explicit pledge on associate citizenship 

Fight is on to protect expat rights as UK presses article 50 trigger

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