Is EU Citizenship Meaningless? – The Dutch Seem To Think So


Last January, a short adaptation of one of my blog posts concerning citizens’ rights after Brexit, was published in the Dutch national newspaper, “Trouw.” I pointed out the problems facing British citizens who will still be living and working in the EU-27 after Brexit. In particular, I stressed the dangers of the upcoming bureaucracy, and the necessity of upholding freedom of movement within the EU, a particularly sensitive and serious issue for many British citizens, whose livelihoods depend on it. I suggested that freedom of movement, so implicit in the EU treaties, and something that we, as British citizens living in the EU, had based our whole lives upon, was such a deep-rooted acquired right, that it could not be retroactively removed.

The opinion piece was rebuffed by a former professor in immigration law, who pointed out that, “who was I to complain” since (i), it was the UK that voted for Brexit and (ii) freedom of movement was only permitted as part of EU membership, as local “courtesy”, but was not a black and white piece of legislation. He basically told me that if I were to complain to somebody, it would have to be the UK and not the Netherlands or the EU. He ended his reply with the all too familiar, “You cannot have your cake and eat it!” Where have I heard that one before? I would like to remind him that most of us were forced to eat the proverbial cake, without so much as a whisper, or a cup of tea, and we run the risk of choking on it.

The same honourable professor has just written his own opinion piece in “de Volkskrant”, where he rightly points out the dangers facing Dutch citizens, who will lose EU-citizenship-based freedom of movement, in the same way that the British expats in the EU will. He finds that Dutch citizens, living in the UK, and (in passing) British citizens in the Netherlands, will be living in a “danger zone”, where they risk seeing their rights severely curtailed or even abolished. Indeed, if the present UK proposals are applied, Dutch citizens living in the UK will be allowed to work in an EU-27 member state for a period of up to 5 years, before they have to “prove” undeniable ties with the UK, in order to reestablish themselves in the UK. In that respect, Dutch citizens in the UK are lucky because, if all goes to plan, British citizens in the Netherlands won’t even get that.

It is rightly observed, in the article, that the Dutch coalition government pointed to the fact that Dutch citizens in the UK needed, “special attention”, and it was even suggested in some quarters, that double nationality would be acceptable in the case of Dutch nationals acquiring British citizenship. At present, the Netherlands does not accept double nationality, except under particular circumstances. Dual-citizenship is allowed if the British citizen is married to a Dutch national.

The professor goes on to state the importance of Dutch nationals in the UK being able to become British without losing their Dutch nationality, and thus getting the best of both post-Brexit worlds. It does seem to me a case of, “je mag je koek niet hebben, en hem opeten” (“You cannot have your biscuit and eat it.”).

It is of the utmost importance that the Netherlands, as one of the last European countries, gives up its resistance to double-nationality – H.U. Jessurun d’Oliveira, de Volkskrant, Aug 2018

Surely, it is the prerogative of the EU to protect existing EU citizens from losing their citizenship, if it is accepted that the EU citizenship has such an important value. Any other attitude only serves to undermine the importance of EU citizenship. The opinion that some have, that it is the UK’s fault that EU citizens, who are for the most part, innocent bystanders in the whole affair, should suffer as a result of the moral shortcomings of others, is nothing but a shortsighted and erroneous conception of what the EU should stand for. Citizenship, whatever its nature, is not a commodity that can be thrown away like a banana skin, having served its purpose, or when it is no longer valid.

The professor, specialised in immigration law and, I suppose, the rights and welfare of immigrants, considers it important enough for Dutch citizens to maintain their Dutch citizenship along with the acquisition of a British one – this to preserve an unaltered right of freedom of movement. But this freedom of movement is synonymous with EU citizenship, and it is only the latter that can uphold the former.

The EU and UK cannot negotiate their way out of denying millions of people, who are current EU citizens and who are living because of their EU citizenship, one of the fundamental rights associated with this citizenship. If national citizenship can no longer guarantee freedom of movement, so important for so many, EU citizenship should prove what it really is – a right that once acquired, cannot be removed retroactively, for those who not only have benefited from it, but depend on it.

The European Union has a common mission to extend, enhance and expand rights, not reduce them. We will never endorse their retroactive removal. The European parliament will reserve its right to reject any agreement that treats EU citizens, regardless of their nationality, less favourably than they are at present. This is a question of the basic fundamental rights and values that are at the heart of the European project. – Guy Verhofstadt

In asking me to complain to the UK and not the Netherlands or the EU, the learned professor has undermined the importance and relevance of EU citizenship, that the EU is so proud to have made emblem of its institutions. What is the point of a citizenship that cannot be defended, and that you can lose so easily? In the same way that I can fight to protect my British and French citizenships, and count on the UK and France to protect them, I should be able to count on the EU and its member states, to protect my EU citizenship, if the latter is to have any meaning, at all.