Brits thrown post-Brexit EU citizenship lifeline by Commission

When the Belgian government assured its British expats they could stay in place and work without a permit in the event of a no-deal Brexit until 2020, the twenty-five thousand Belgian and British citizens who currently live and work in each others’ countries breathed a sigh of relief. [Shutterstock]

The European Commission registered a Citizens’ Initiative on Wednesday (18 July) that could end up securing EU citizenship for UK citizens once Britain leaves the EU.

“As Exit Day approaches on 29 March 2019, so does the prospect of millions of UK nationals losing their citizenship of the European Union. This will have a direct impact on people’s lives,” reads the website of the initiative.

“Millions of EU nationals residing, working and studying in the UK also live in limbo, anxiously awaiting the outcome of protracted negotiations which look set to downgrade their rights.”

The Permanent EU citizenship initiative is the latest example of the participatory democracy instrument that allows citizens to suggest legal changes in any field where the Commission has power to propose legislation. It was introduced in the Lisbon Treaty.

A member of the initiative told EURACTIV that they are confident about its chances of success, citing its “flying start”, especially on social media.

“We were very glad when we saw that Guy Verhofstadt [The European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator] relayed it on his Twitter account. We want to raise awareness among all EU citizens, because many of them will be in a precarious state of limbo when Brexit will come into effect.”

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“Many UK citizens build their lives according to the principles of EU citizenship and many were born with it, so we want to alert all citizens and tell on the risk lurking behind. We think that EU citizenship is a fundamental value,” the representative added.

A first initiative of its kind was launched but only lasted until March 2018. For the Permanent EU citizenship committee, it was “a modest accomplishment”. If it did not make it, it at least helped pave the way for this second initiative.

In a press release on Wednesday, the Commission confirmed that “the registration of this initiative will take place on 23 July 2018, starting a one-year process of collection of signatures of support by its organisers”.

The EU executive did not make any further comment on the initiative, since the process is at a very early stage.

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Under the rules of ECIs, the initiative will have to attract one million signatures within a year from at least seven member states, meaning it will not be enough for just UK residents to muster behind the idea.

If it is successful in fulfilling these criteria, then it will still be up to the Commission whether or not to act on the request, although it will be forced to explain itself if it decides not to.

EU citizenship complements national citizenship and includes the rights to travel and live anywhere in the EU, vote and stand as a candidate in European and local elections in another member state.

Citizens also get diplomatic protection and consular help from any other EU country in other parts of the world.

ECIs have already proved to be an effective democratic tool. In February, the Commission revealed how it intends to update drinking water rules, a process that was sparked by an initiative that managed to secure the support of 1.6 million people.

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The European Commission revealed on Thursday (1 February) how it plans to update drinking water rules, with the goal of improving human health, reducing emissions and tackling plastic waste high on the list of priorities.

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