What if, after Brexit, it was possible for citizens of former member states to obtain individual EU citizenship? The PanEuropean spoke to the man behind the proposal, MEP Charles Goerens.
TPE In what context did the proposal of an Associate EU citizenship surface?
CG The Committee on Constitutional Affairs, of which I myself am a substitute member, has been working on a report by Mr Guy Verhofstadt on “Possible evolutions of and adjustments to the current institutional set-up of the European Union”.
This report proposes avenues for updating EU treaties to cope with current and future challenges aiming at enhancing consistency, efficiency and accountability of EU governance, its institutions and policies, and should translate into a series of amendment proposals to the treaties. Among the proposed adjustments is the creation of a status of Associate member of the EU.
The report recommends that “a type of ‘Associate status’ could be proposed to those states in the periphery that only want to participate on the sideline, i.e. in some specific Union policies”. I seized this opportunity to propose the creation of a status of Associate citizen of the EU.
Both proposals go along the same line and will be advocated by MEP Verhofstadt as Lead negotiator appointed by the European Parliament in the negotiation with the UK.
TPE What exact form would this ‘Associate EU citizenship’ take?
CG There is a growing concern among British citizens that Brexit might result in the exit of their country from the single market and, as a consequence, the loss of their free access to other EU member states. This is a consequence they are not prepared to accept.
My proposal consists in essence to confer to any citizen of a former member state of the Union freedom of movement, one of the four freedoms provided for and guaranteed by the treaties. Those are the rights to move to and stay in any member state of the EU.
To the preservation of such rights, I consider it would be appropriate to add the right of voting in European ballots. These are the general principles I am ready to commit to and which would require an amendment to the treaties.
It is down to the negotiators and then the legislator to determine the appropriate modalities and, if need be, complement the proposal.
TPE Does the freedom of movement include the right to work?
CG The legal implications of such a right need to be thoroughly investigated but, yes, free access to the labour market is an essential right that no EU citizen is prepared to lose.
Associate citizens could also nominate themselves for these seats.
TPE Your proposal includes the right of vote. How would that work?
CG The French Parliament benefits from an interesting scheme for the French living abroad. We could draw inspiration from it by deciding to attribute seats in the EP to Associate citizens of former EU states and offer them to vote for a trans-European list.
Associate citizens could also nominate themselves for these seats.
TPE Would you consider asking the UK to concede reciprocity for the EU granting such rights to British citizens?
CG As an MEP, I can only voice the concerns of EU citizens with regards to the EU. It is up to the EU negotiators to determine what should be tabled in the negotiation with the UK. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t deem reciprocity essential for my proposal to be adopted by the EP.
Some European countries with an ageing population simply cannot afford to close their doors to the British. However, it cannot be ignored that if there are three million British people residing in European member states other than the UK, there are as many continental European residents living in the UK.
I doubt my proposal would go unchallenged across the EP if the UK didn’t offer some sort of reciprocity.
TPE What will you ask the beneficiaries of Associate EU citizenship in return for the rights granted to them?
CG They could be asked to pay a fee to cover administrative costs. However, this is not an essential feature of the proposal. Associate EU citizenship is not destined to be traded like a privilege. It’s a set of rights that you are born with.
TPE What do you answer to those who say that your proposal would amount to allowing leaver states ‘have the cake and eat it’ by letting them retain some essential benefits of the single market without bearing the constraints of it, namely the contribution to the EU budget and some heavy regulations? Don’t you fear that granting the Associate citizenship to citizens of former EU states could encourage some member states to leave the EU?
CG Those who, in some EU states, plead for or aspire to leave haven’t expressed any wish to keep their EU citizenship. That is simply not something they are interested in. I therefore think that such a fear is ill-founded.
TPE What are the odds in favour of the adoption of your proposal?
CG As representatives of European citizens, MEP Verhofstadt and I think that, whatever the odds, it is our role and our duty to voice the concerns of citizens attached to the integrity of the EU and to the achievements of sixty years of European construction.
The countless reactions to our proposal I received by mail, as well as the rapidly growing number of signatures of the campaign in support of it launched on Change.org show that we benefit from a steadily growing support from the European population, expressing a mounting concern and a strong and deeply rooted sense of belonging to Europe.
The stronger the support from the European population, the more compelling our proposal will seem to the European Parliament and in the eyes of those in charge of negotiating with the UK. We need to reach a certain critical mass in favour of the proposal in order to shift the position lines.
Once we get a majority in favour of the proposal, then you can count on the European institutions to deliver the appropriate legal framework for the scheme to work smoothly. The Treaty will have to be revised regardless of the success of our proposal after Brexit comes into force.
Let’s take advantage of this opportunity to develop the Associate EU citizenship.
TPE How has your proposal been received among EU institutions?
CG We won’t have a clue about the European Council’s reaction to the proposal until article 50 is set in motion. No notification, no negotiation says the Council.
As for the EP, I can tell you that the proposal has been well received by many of my colleagues and that we will work on creating transpartisan support from January onwards.
Now, I would invite those opposing the idea of the Associate EU citizenship to distinguish the pertinence of the proposal and the obstacles to its implementation within the current legal framework.
Such a framework is meant to fit the principles determined by the EP, not the opposite.
TPE What is the EP’s room for manoeuvre in the process of amending the Treaty?
CG The EP has a veto right over the agreement which will emerge from the negotiations as over any international agreement. The British Prime Minister has announced that she would trigger article 50 by the end of March.
The EP will express its opinion before that deadline and adopt a resolution that will set negotiating objectives that the Council will have to consider. The EP, which has always been a driving force behind proposals, will be the EU institution starting the offensive.
Moreover, you know that MEP Verhofstadt has been appointed Lead negotiator for the EP. Mr Verhofstadt will be closely associated to the negotiation and will make sure that the EP’s proposals remain high in the negotiating team agenda.
Last but not least, the Commission will inform the EP, in the same way as the British Government will keep the Commons informed of the development of the negotiation. We will without any doubt find the appropriate methods to comply with the necessary confidentiality of the process.
We in the EP are pragmatic people.