The Maastricht Treaty introduced a new status, that of the European citizen, in 1992. A person holds European citizenship if she is a national of a member state for the purposes of community law. Those who hold this status enjoy a number of rights.
Some rights are associated with Union citizenship even thought their personal scope of application does not coincide with those individuals who hold nationality of a member state, the conditio sine qua non of access to Union citizenship. Such rights include the right to petition Parliament and the Ombudsman, the right to access documents from European Parliament, Council and Commission and the right to good administration. It is important is to notice that the rights associated with Union citizenship include transnational rights like freedom of movement.
Freedom of movement is both over- and under-inclusive compared to the category of persons holding the nationality of a member state.
Other rights are more properly called ‘citizens’ rights’ since they are only held by those who have the nationality of a member state. Such rights include political rights reserved for those having nationality of a member state, such as the right to vote and stand in election for second country nationals in local elections, the right to vote and stand in the elections of the European Parliament, and the right to adhere to a Citizens’ initiative. These rights are called supranational because their purpose is to give political voice across borders.
The conclusion to draw from this swift overview of the entitlements connected with European citizenship is that the claim according to which having European citizenship or not has no impact on the rights one may hold is false. In the case of Brexit, exiting the Union means that all European citizens ofBritish nationality risk losing rights associated with Union citizenship. Therefore it is misleading to claim that ‘triggering Article 50 will not dilute or diminish anyone’s statutory rights’ (Tomkins 2016).
When first introduced, European citizenship was often depicted as being the world’s first post-national status (Soysal 1994). It is connected to entitlements that may rightly be called supranational and transnational, but it is dependent on the nationality laws of European member states so therefore the characterisation using the prefix post might be a bit misleading. A better characterisation would be to say that European citizenship is a status civitatis, the criteria determining the access to and loss of which, are determined at the domestic level. It is also a status suigeneris. It differs from nationality in unitary states and from dual citizenship in federal settings. Finally, it is connected to entitlements that are different in kind. We may call it a birth-right status in a multi-level polity. It is this status that some now fear losing. Next, let us try to understand what more precisely they fear.