Members' Research Service By / March 21, 2023

Your rights as an EU citizen [European Youth Event 2023]

The Treaty of Maastricht, which entered into force 30 years ago, officially established European Union citizenship.

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Written by David de Groot.

The European Youth Event will bring together thousands of young people in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, on 9 and 10 June 2023, to share ideas about the future of Europe. This introduction to one of the major topics to be discussed during the EYE event is one of 11 prepared by the Parliament’s Research Service (EPRS). It offers an overview of the main lines of EU action and policy in the area concerned, and aims to act as a starting point for discussions during the event. You can find them all on this link.

The Treaty of Maastricht, which entered into force 30 years ago, officially established European Union citizenship. Since then, everyone who holds the nationality of an EU country is also an EU citizen. Union citizenship means EU citizens enjoy the same treatment in law irrespective of their nationality throughout all EU countries. This includes rights to move and live and vote anywhere in EU territory.

EU citizenship

Article 20 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) states ‘Citizenship of the Union is hereby established. Every person holding the nationality of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union. Citizenship of the Union shall be additional to and not replace national citizenship’. As nationals of EU countries, therefore, our EU citizenship is the fundamental status granting us rights in all EU countries. These rights are granted under the EU Treaties and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Freedom to move and live anywhere in the EU

As an EU citizen, you have the right to move and live with your family in another EU country – whether they are EU citizens themselves or third-country (non-EU) nationals – for holidays, shopping trips, work, study or to retire. EU citizenship also allows you to live in one EU country and work across the border in another. The EU has adopted legislation to make all of this easier.

EU citizenship law mostly concerns EU citizens and their family members living in an EU country of which they do not have the nationality. However, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) also considers that EU citizenship protects us, under certain circumstances, against measures countries take that could deprive EU citizens of their rights in their own country. For example, national authorities may not refuse to grant a residence or work permit to a third-country national parent of an EU citizen child, if this means that the child would have to leave the EU – as that would be considered a violation of the child’s right of residence as an EU citizen.

Electoral rights

As an EU citizen residing in an EU country, you are entitled to vote and to stand as a candidate in that country in the European Parliament elections. These take place every five years, with the next elections expected in May 2024. Many EU countries allow their nationals to vote in European elections from abroad. Because you are only allowed to vote in the European elections in one place, however, individuals living in another EU state must then decide in which country they want to participate in the election. Furthermore, as an EU citizen you have the right to vote and stand as a candidate in municipal elections in the EU country in which you live.

The legislation on electoral rights dates from the 1990s. Updated proposals concerning voting in European elections in the Member State of residence and municipal elections are currently being considered.

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Heading towards 2024 European elections (Ten issues to watch in 2023)

Protection overseas

When visiting a non-EU country, things do not always go as planned, and you might need the help of an embassy or consulate. However, what happens if the EU country of which you are a national does not have an embassy or consulate in that country? Will you remain ‘unrepresented‘? In such cases, we have the right, as EU citizens, to ask for help from an embassy or consulate of any other EU Member State located in that non-EU country. They must assist you under the same conditions as they assist their own nationals.

Right to petition the European Parliament

As an EU citizen, you have the right to submit a petition to the European Parliament, individually or with others, on any matter within the European Union’s fields of activity that directly affects you.

The European Parliament’s Committee on Petitions acts as a bridge between EU citizens and the EU institutions, and is responsible for considering and following up on your petition.

Right to good administration and access to documents

EU citizens have the right to have their affairs handled impartially, fairly and within a reasonable time by EU institutions and bodies. Known as the right to good administration, it also sets out that you may write to the EU institutions in any of the official EU languages and must receive an answer in the same language.

Additionally, as an EU citizen, you have a right to access to documents held by the EU institutions.

Right to refer to the European Ombudsman

If you think that an EU institution or an EU agency has treated you unfairly, as an EU citizen you are entitled to refer your case to the European Ombudsman. The European Ombudsman is an independent and impartial body that holds the EU’s institutions and agencies to account, and promotes good administration. The Ombudsman helps people, businesses, and organisations facing problems with the EU’s administration by investigating complaints about maladministration by EU institutions and bodies.

Protection against losing EU citizenship

Considering that many of our essential rights come from our EU citizenship, losing EU citizenship can have devastating consequences on personal and professional life. However, whether there is an implicit right to retain EU citizenship once you have it, is still an open-ended question.

The Court of Justice of the EU has held on multiple occasions that it is for each EU country, having due regard to EU law, to lay down the conditions for the acquisition and loss of nationality. According to the Court, in situations where a person stands to lose their nationality, EU Member State authorities and courts must make an individual assessment of the consequences the resultant loss of EU citizenship would have on that person. There might also be a duty for EU countries to help people recover their nationality and thus EU citizenship.

A notable exception to this is, when a country decides to leave the European Union. In such cases, nationals of that country lose EU citizenship and all associated rights, unless they have the nationality of another Member State.

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