EU Citizenship: A Brief History

The Background

The first practical steps towards EU citizenship were taken in the 1970s (Maas 2007). Following the Paris Summit in October 1972, it was suggested that a European identity would be needed to deepen integration. More precisely, for the committee chairman, Xavier Ortoli, the lack of a European identity was one of the weaknesses of the European Community.1 Following the summits in Copenhagen in 1973 and in Paris the following year, the issue of integration became more pressing. At the Copenhagen summit a document on European identity was drafted, in which, mostly in general terms, emphasis was laid on common cultural heritage. The political aim of strengthening integration between member states started taking shape during the next summit in Paris. It was suggested that the involvement in the integration process of the citizens of the member states could enhance a future European identity. From here came the idea of having a common status civitatis.

To be precise, at least since the 1960s, the idea of a European citizenship had been proposed on different occasions, albeit in a rather indefinite manner. For example, the vice president of the Commission Lionello Levi Sandri had argued for prioritising the free movement of persons over the free movement of goods as it would be a first step towards European citizenship. It was only in the course of the 1970s, in particular in the wake of the Paris Summit, that deepened integration started being spelled out in terms of citizenship. It resulted in the 1974 report on special rights by the Belgian Leo Tindemans. In this report it was recommended that certain rights should be attributed to the ‘ressortissants’ of the member states, that is, their nationals. They included the right to vote and stand in elections for the European Parliament and the establishment of a European passport, which would lead to the so-called passport policy.2 This report, however, did not claim the rights in question to be of European citizens, but to be necessary for a ‘Europe of citizens.’3 Tindemans handed in the report on the 29th of December 1975 and the Commission started to look into the so-called question of special rights.4

Nevertheless, with the protection of special rights, a legal problem arose, given that European citizens would enjoy rights both in their state of origin and in their state of residence. European citizens, in other words, would not be subjected to the principle of naturalisation, then commonly applied, according to which one would lose one’s original citizenship in case of naturalisation abroad. According to the Commission, in fact, there was a risk of reversed discrimination that would have resulted in EU citizens being more protected than the citizens of the host state. The result, unsurprisingly, was that the special rights policy had a rather limited impact.

Tindemans’ ideas were later revived by the European Parliament that presented a series of resolutions on European integration, considering the possibility of ascribing special rights to citizens of member states. Mario Scelba presented a report entitled Granting special rights to the citizenship of the community before the Parliament in Strasbourg on the 16th of November 1977. Many practical implications were put on hold. Yet, universal suffrage was introduced in the election of the European Parliament in 1979, putting into a new light the phenomenon for which David Marquand coined the famous expression ‘democratic deficit’ (Marquand 1979). It was held that the institution of universal suffrage constituted an embryonic form of citizenship.

The still rather imprecise idea of European citizenship came to the fore again in February 1984, when, in preparation of the Fontainebleau intergovernmental conference, the European Parliament presented a draft Treaty on the European Union, in which explicit mention of European citizenship was made in terms similar to those later adopted. During the Fontainebleau summit on the 25th and 26th of June 1984, two committees were established: the ad hoc committee on ‘The Europe of Citizens’ directed by Pietro Adonnino and another committee on ‘Institutional Affairs’ directed by James Dooge. The Adonnino Committee drafted two reports that focused on the objectives to be achieved respectively in the short and in the long run. They were presented to the European Council in Brussels in March 1985 and in Milan in June of the same year. The Adonnino report left no great signs on the Single European Act, an amending treaty signed in Luxembourg on the 17th of February 1986. Its preamble only makes a vague reference to European citizenship (Sebastien 1993).

It was only later, at the summit in Madrid on the 25th and 26th of June 1989, that the political will to introduce European citizenship became tangible. The heads of state gathered in the Spanish capital stressed how the European Community had failed to realise ‘the Europe of citizens.’ Following the Martin report from February 1990, the European Parliament called for a specific formulation of rights of European citizenship to be included in the future Treaty of Maastricht. A memorandum was written by the Belgian Foreign Minister Eysken suggesting the adoption of a uniform electoral procedure for the election of the European Parliament, in addition to the right to vote in local elections for all EU citizens. Nevertheless, it was first and foremost Spain that pushed in the direction of adopting the new status civitatis at Maastricht.

In a letter to the President of the European Council, dated the 4th of May 1990, the Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez suggested instituting a form of supranational citizenship as a step towards a future political union. According to this scenario, nationals of member states resident in other states than the one of which they hold nationality should not be cast as privileged foreigners. Rather, they had to be granted rights that were classified as ‘special basic rights,’ ‘new dynamic rights’ and ‘protective rights. ’ Leaving aside the merit of classification that, to some extent is reminiscent of that of T.H. Marshall (1950) then very much en vogue, it is interesting to note that the first category included the right to freedom of movement, freedom of residence, participation in political life in the place of residence, while social, environmental and cultural rights were listed under ‘new rights’ and the third category included the protection of the soon-to-be-instituted European citizens outside the Community. The Spanish memorandum came to play an important role in legal translation of these ideas into what we find in the Maastricht Treaty.

Shortly before the approval of the Treaty, at the special meeting of the European Council in Rome on the 27th and 28th of October 1990, a document was presented, in which European citizenship was understood to complement national citizenship, as a status attributed to those who already have the nationality of a member state. Following a new Spanish proposal from the 21st of February 1991, the idea began to circulate that defining the new status of European citizenship ought to be done by inserting a new title in the Treaty that the member states were now entering into. Issues relating to citizenship would, therefore, become a European policy. The political will to institute this new status civitatis was undeniably present at the time, but it was not until the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 that it was expressed in a legally binding text.

The Treaty establishing the European Community, better known as the Maastricht Treaty, ascribes a series of rights to citizens of the member states in the second part relating to citizenship: Articles. 18-21 TEC.5 These establish, first of all, the right to free movement within the Union (Article 18 TEC; now TFEU Article 21), the right to vote and stand in elections both at the local and at the European level at the same conditions as first country nationals (Article 19 TEC; now TFEU Article 22). The Treaty also provides for the right to consular protection by member states in a third country where the right-holder’s home state is not represented (Article 20 TEC; now TFEU Article 23), as well as the right to petition the European Parliament and to appeal the European ombudsman in cases of maladministration (Article 21 TEC; now TFEU Article 24). The final provisions of Article 22 TEC (now TFEU Article 25) provide that provisions may be adopted to strengthen or to add the rights laid down. It is thus an open list, a fact that is confirmed by other aspects too.

In fact, the rights listed in the second part of the Maastricht Treaty are not exhaustive of the status of the European citizen. This is not merely because of subsequent regulatory actions and later treatises, such as the Amsterdam Treaty, the Charter of Fundamental Rights of Nice or the Lisbon Treaty that have indeed added rights. It is so also because a series of legal positions have been ascribed to the European citizen in the case- law of the European Court of Justice. European citizens do not only have the rights listed under the heading relating to European citizenship in the treatises. These rights are also determined by case-law and by secondary legislation, that is, the legal acts, listed in Article 288 TFEU, including regulations, directives, decisions, recommendations and opinions.

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