Many fear that the UK’s decision to leave the EU will strip British citizens of their right to free movement around the bloc. EURACTIV Germany spoke to the MEP trying to protect that right.
Charles Goerens is a Luxembourgish MEP (ALDE) who is responsible for amendment no. 882 to a draft European Parliament report compiled by Guy Verhofstadt, the Parliament’s lead on the forthcoming Brexit negotiations.
Goerens spoke to euractiv.de’s Manuel Müller.
“Associate citizenship” for British citizens after Brexit: How did you come up with this idea?
Firstly, I was of the opinion that even after Brexit we should have a very close relationship with the United Kingdom. Secondly, the proposal to offer the UK “associate membership” is included in Guy Verhofstadt’s report anyway. And since many Brits would do all they could to keep European citizenship, I thought to myself: Wouldn’t it be great if we could achieve that? Europe isn’t just based on its member states, it’s about its citizens too. That’s why I made this proposal, but I never in my wildest dreams thought there would be such a response.
In your proposal, associated citizenship would be offered to people who “feel a part of the European project”. How can you gauge someone’s feeling?
Now we are talking about implementation. I can, for example, imagine that prospective applicants would have to sign a statement saying that they adhere to the European idea and fundamental European values. I don’t think that someone like Nigel Farage, who has done all he has to take the UK out of the EU, would apply for such a scheme. But with this proposal, I was keen not to get too bogged down in the details.
In the UK, there have actually been some negative reactions to the idea. Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen labelled the proposal as “an attempt to divide the British people into two classes and undermine the result of the referendum”. Do you see his point of view?
Yes and no. I understand that he is angry. But the suggestion has nothing to do with this or recognising the result of the referendum. It isn’t actually directed at the UK, but at the EU: we want to amend the EU treaty so that British people are able to remain EU citizens after Brexit. This is merely an offer, not an obligation. And as far as I am aware, even after Brexit, there will still be 65 million free citizens in the British Isles.
Conversely, other critics say that the EU is giving the UK a present of sorts, where British citizens would remain EU citizens and be allowed to move about the bloc as now, while the UK would abolish free movement. Why should the EU even pursue this idea?
I firmly believe that our ageing continent has a vested interest in allowing British citizens that want to stay in the EU for professional reasons, to do so. In Germany, that is certainly the case, in my own country (Luxembourg) too: we need skilled workers. Today, it is often the case that the unemployed struggle to find jobs and employers struggle to find workers. This has a lot to do with the European labour market not being mobile enough. Since the British are, on average, highly qualified, the EU only stands to benefit from the idea.
The proposal would need all 27 governments and parliaments of the the EU to agree to treaty change. Do you see any chance of that happening?
I know that unanimity is a tough ask. But the idea should at least be discussed. The proposal is out there and you see the response it has gathered: it is substantial. Never in my political life have I seen people so enthusiastic about something or received so many emails of support; it verges on madness. We have for the first time stumbled upon an enthusiastic commitment to European achievements. What we are seeing in the British Isles as a result of this proposal has not been seen in the other member states. I think it would be foolhardy to not act on it.