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07 juli 2016

Union Citizenship – Still Europeans’ Destiny after Brexit?


By Gareth Davies
If the UK withdraws from the EU, then its citizens will cease to be citizens of the Union. That much is simple – Article 20 TFEU doesn’t leave any doubt that Union citizens are those who are citizens of the Member States.
Still, while that provision was once thought to make Union citizenship dependent on national citizenship, in Rottmann the Court turned it neatly around, showing how it made national citizenship equally dependent on EU law. In that case a German citizen was faced with threatened denaturalisation, which would be likely to leave him stateless. He argued that the denaturalisation, because it also deprived him of his Union citizenship, was an interference with his EU law rights, and so should be constrained by EU law.
He won on the principle, although he probably lost on the facts: the Court said that indeed, a national measure which deprives a Union citizen of their Union citizenship clearly falls within the scope of EU law, and is therefore subject to judicial review in the light of EU law rules and principles. However, it went on to say that such a measure is not per se prohibited. It must merely be proportionate. Denaturalising fraudsters probably is, in most circumstances.
Rottmann to the rescue for UK citizens?
There is an argument circulating, more in a spirit of desperation than of hope, that Rottmann might offer a way to block Brexit, or at least to amend it in some way. A decision to leave the EU would, after all, be a measure depriving around 60 million Union citizens of their Union citizenship and its associated rights and privileges. Not only that, but this would be clearly contrary to the wishes of at least half, probably more than half, of those citizens. Therefore, can we not argue that a decision to invoke Article 50 TEU is subject to Rottmanesque judicial review?
There are three reasons why this argument fails, although even in failing it does reveal something interesting about the nature of Union citizenship.
Firstly, Rottmann concerned a state that was a Member of the EU, and therefore subject to its law. That it should apply its nationality (and other) rules in the light of EU law is hardly surprising. However, if the UK leaves then it will no longer be subject to EU law, and it will only be at the point that it ceases to be subject to EU law that its citizens will cease to be citizens of the Union. Once the UK is no longer under any obligation to apply or respect EU law, there would be no basis (at least in EU law) for challenging the consequences of its national measures for the rights and privileges of disaffected FUCs (Former Union Citizens).


This rather procedural argument is less persuasive than one based on the bigger Treaty picture: by inserting Article 50 into the TEU the Member States, and for that matter the European Parliament, clearly accepted the possibility of departure from the Union, and associated removal of Union citizenship from national communities. To read Rottmann as possibly preventing this is to see it as an attempted coup d’etat, as a ruling that undermines an explicit provision of the Treaty and removes a more fundamental element of national sovereignty than Van Gend or Costa ever did. Is this plausible, when the case presents itself merely as an orthodox ruling that Member States must take account of the consequences of their actions for EU law?
It may help here to conceive of individual membership and national membership of the Union. The latter is regulated by Articles 49 and 50 TEU, and the former essentially created by Union citizenship. Whether a state member may deprive a person of their individual membership is, post-Rottmann, and understandably, an EU law matter. However, whether a community as a whole may take a decision to resign their membership, both individual and national, is another question, and there is nothing in Rottmann which suggests that it is intended to be about this.





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