A Farewell to Traditional International Law

European citizenship differs both from nationality in unitary states and from dual citizenship commonly found in federal systems (See, e.g. Bar- Yaacov 1961; Garot 1999; Hansen 2002; a comparison in Schonberger 2005). There are some structural reasons why.

Much emphasis was laid on the fact that, originally, the recognition of the individual’s legal status in Community law did not differ from the legal status of subjects under international law (Jacobs 1976; Janis 1984; Nascimbene 1986; Lippolis 1994; Trevisani 1995; Cordini 2003). European law, however, broke with the tradition of international law, a matter which did not fail to impact on the legal status of individuals. The rules adopted by the Union are directly applicable to individuals and individuals may use, in some cases without reference to the state organs, the Court of Justice and the Court of First Instance. Rights can be claimed by the individual, not only against EU and member state institutions, but also against private persons and bodies.6

European law differs from international law in allowing direct individual access to the justice system. This fact provides some insight into what was considered to be the very point of introducing European citizenship: In the ‘common provisions’ in Title I, the parties to the Treaty are ‘resolved to create a citizenship common to the nationals of their countries’ and ‘to strengthen rights of the nationals of their member states through the introduction of a citizenship of the Union. ’ The provision of rights is therefore a central aspect of European citizenship.

There are also other features of European citizenship that sets it apart from traditional constructs. There are reasons inherent to the very structure of the EU, and reasons inherent to the development of the case-law by the European Court of Justice:

First, the different legal positions associated with Union citizenship have a common principle: freedom from discrimination on grounds of nationality. In European law, nationality is not considered a relevant criterion for ascribing to individuals different legal positions, other things being equal, whereas differential treatment on grounds of nationality is a core feature of international law. In the second part of the consolidated versions of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), under the title ‘Non-discrimination and Citizenship of the Union,’ this principle is defined in the following terms: ‘Within the scope of application of the Treaties, and without prejudice to any special provisions contained therein, any discrimination on grounds of nationality shall be prohibited’ Article 18 TFEU (ex Article 12 TEC).

This is an atypical principle in this context. Traditionally, differential treatment on the grounds of nationality is precisely what status civitatis enables. The point of making the distinction between nationals and non-nationals is to allow differential treatment. Citizenship, or status civitatis to use the legal term of art, is a status that is recognised only by those having some privileged relationship with the community. Originally this relationship was conceived as a relationship of perpetual allegiance linking a territory’s subjects to their ruler (Vanel 1951, p. 21) but, over the centuries, it came to be understood in national terms,7 even though formally the introduction of the principle of nationality in international law occurs rather late.8 Over the last couple of centuries - and with significant difficulties in colonial settings - the prevailing idea was that differential treatment on grounds of nationality did not equate to discrimination. To the contrary, nationality was admittedly considered to offer justification, or good reason, to treat individuals differently. It is on this backdrop that the right to non-discrimination in European law can be said to stand in discontinuity with this traditional assumption that most forms of status civitatis rely on.

Second, the case-law that the European Court of Justice has developed on matters relating to citizenship departed in significant ways from the standard elaborated in international law. In European law, formal recognition of the status trumps the so-called effectiveness principle which otherwise rules international law. Under international law, in particular with reference to Article 5 of the Hague Convention from 12th April 1930,9 the principle of effectiveness applies to the resolution of questions of citizenship (See, e.g. Quadri 1936; Bastide 1956; Glazer 1956; Maury 1958; Weis 1979; Carrera Nunez and De Groot 2015). In the event of contested citizenship due to multiple nationalities, residence ought to be guiding in order to identify the legal regime that applies to the individual. This is done by verifying the person’s so-called habitual residence. The principle of effectiveness was reiterated, and took on this form, following the famous Nottebohm ruling from 1955 by the International Court of Justice. Here is a summary of the famous case:

Friedrich Nottebohm was born in 1881 in Hamburg as a German citizen. In 1905, he emigrated to Guatemala, where he successfully ran his business. He maintained close ties both professionally and personally, with Germany and Liechtenstein, where his brother moved in 1931. Several family members naturalised in Guatemala, but Friedrich Nottebohm, fearing that Guatemalan citizenship would harm his business, moved to Liechtenstein in 1939 and applied for naturalisation. Here he obtained naturalisation ex iure pecuniae a month after the outbreak of war; a conflict that he would witness from a safe distance, that is from Guatemala. Being a German, he was arrested by US order in October 1943 and deported to the USA, where, without a trial, he was held for two years and three months while his belongings were confiscated and sold in Guatemala. After a series of appeals in Guatemalan courts, Nottebohm was able to obtain the diplomatic protection of Liechtenstein. In 1951, Liechtenstein presented an appeal before the international court of justice.

At the outset, it was necessary to determine whether Liechtenstein could grant its diplomatic protection to Nottebohm. In denying the existence of a legally significant bond with Liechtenstein, the Court, in line with already mentioned Hague Convention, gave a definition of citizenship based on the principle of effectiveness: ‘nationality is a legal bond having as its basis a social fact of attachment, a genuine connection of existence.’10 This definition is the one currently adopted in international law and it is known as the doctrine of genuine link.

It is this doctrine that the European Court of Justice distances itself from in establishing its case-law on Union citizenship. Its case-law departed from the principle of effectiveness with the Micheletti ruling.11 Here are the facts of the case: This ruling concerned Mario Vicente Micheletti, an Argentine dentist holding an Italian passport ex iure sanguinis who was refused a permanent residence card from the delegacion del gobierno of Cantabria in Spain in March 1990. The appeal was presented before the Tribunal Superior de Justicia in the same Spanish region, requiring the administrative decision to be cancelled, in addition to the recognition of his right to obtain the residence card, a conditio sine qua non for the exercise of the profession, and to request, for other family members, the issuance of the residence certificate. In a preliminary ruling procedure, the Spanish court raised the issue of a conflict between Community law and Article 9 of the Spanish Civil Code, under which - and in accordance with international law - in cases of multiple nationality, the citizenship that prevails is that of state in which the person had her former habitual residence before arrival on Spanish territory; in this case, Argentina. However, the judges in Luxembourg considered that the provisions of Community law precluded a member state from refusing to grant the benefit of ‘community rights’ to an individual in possession of both the nationality of a member state and that of a third country, on the sole basis that the member state did not recognise the person to be a second country national, that is, a person having the nationality of another member state.

Basically, under EU law, a member state may not decide who are to be considered as nationals of another member state and therefore no additional criteria can be added to assess citizenship, such as the genuine link doctrine: Merely having the nationality of a member state is sufficient to be recognised by the European legal system as a second country national (See, e.g. Borras Rodriguez 1993; Iglesias Buhigues 1993; Jessurun d’Oliveira 1993; Ruzie 1993; Carrascosa 1994).

Apart from the reasons mentioned, inherent to the structure of the EU and to the development of the case-law of the European Court of Justice, there is yet another reason for differentiating between European citizenship and common forms of status civitatis. It pertains to how the status was introduced into EU law. Indeed, at Maastricht, when the Treaty on the European Community was signed, a choice had been made about how to design the access gate to this new citizenship. The designers shaped the access gate so as to make European citizenship a derivative status. In a nutshell, there are 28 ways to access the status.

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