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The Existential Crisis of Citizenship of the European Union: The Argument for an Autonomous Status

  • Oliver GARNER (a1)

This article argues for the (re)construction of citizenship of the European Union as an autonomous status. As opposed to the current legal regime, whereby individuals with nationality of a Member State are automatically granted citizenship of the Union, under this proposal individuals would be free to choose whether or not to adopt the status of citizen of an incipient European polity. At present, the telos and essence of citizenship of the Union is contested. It may be argued that the status is partial or incomplete. This has informed competing normative perspectives. ‘Maximalist’ positions praise the judicial construction of Union citizenship as destined to be the ‘fundamental status’ for all Member State nationals. By contrast, ‘minimalist’ positions argue that the status should remain ‘additional to’ Member State nationality, and the rights created therein should remain supplementary to the status and rights derived from national citizenship. This article will argue for a new approach to the dilemma. By emancipating the condition for acquisition of EU citizenship from nationality of a Member State, and reconstructing it as an autonomous choice for individuals, it is tentatively suggested that a new constitutional settlement for Europe may be generated.

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PhD Researcher at the European University Institute, Florence. Editor at the European Journal of Legal Studies and the European Law Blog. Email: I would like to thank Rainer Bauböck, Floris de Witte, Urška Šadl, Martijn van den Brink, the reviewers, and the participants in the EUI EU Law Working Group and Political and Legal Theory Working Group meeting of 14 December 2017 for comments on earlier drafts of the paper.

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1 J Delors, Speech at the First Intergovernmental Conference in Luxembourg, 9 September 1985.

2 ‘What do we mean by saying that existence precedes essence? We mean that man first of all exists, encounters himself, surges up in the world—and defines himself afterwards’. J-P Sartre, ‘Existentialism Is a Humanism’, Lecture of 29 October 1945.

3 Menendez, A-J, ‘The Existential Crisis of the European Union’ in ‘Special Issue: Regeneration Europe’ (2013) 14(5) German Law Journal 453 .

4 For more detailed discussion of this phenomenon, see Garner, O After Brexit: Protecting EU Citizens and Citizenship from Fragmentation (EUI Law, 2016) Working Paper 2016/22.

5 C/13/640244 / KG ZA 17-1327 of the Rechtbank Amsterdam of 7 February 2018 – NL: RBAMS: 2018:605, available at For an English translation, see Jolyon Maugham, ‘Decision of the District Court in Amsterdam’ (Waiting for Godot, 13 February 2018); see also comment at Oliver Garner, ‘Does Member State Withdrawal from The European Union Extinguish EU Citizenship C/13/640244 / KG ZA 17-1327 of the Rechtbank Amsterdam (“The Amsterdam Case”)’ (European Law Blog, 19 February 2018)

6 C/13/640244/ KG ZA 17-1327 of the Rechtbank Amsterdam of 19 June 2018 – NL:GHAMS:2018:2009, available at

7 Closa, C, ‘The Concept of Citizenship in the Treaty on European Union’ (1992) 29(6) Common Market Law Review 1137, pp 1139–40 .

8 de Witte, F, Bauböck, R and Shaw, J (eds), Freedom of Movement under Attack: Is It Worth Defending as the Core of EU Citizenship? (RSCAS, 2016) Working Paper 2016/69.

9 See Lindahl, H, Fault Lines of Globalization: Legal Order and the Politics of A-Legality (Oxford University Press, 2013).

10 Article 45 TFEU.

11 See Tuori, K, European Constitutionalism (Cambridge University Press, 2015), ch 5.

12 See, inter alia, Hoekstra v Administration of the Industrial Board for Retail Trades and Businesses C-75/63, EU:C:1964:19; Brian Francis Collins v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions C-138/02, EU:C:2004:172.

13 Council Directive (EEC) No 90/364 on the right of residence: [1990] OJ L180/26; Council Directive (EEC) No 90/65 on the right of residence for employees and self-employed persons who have ceased occupational activity: [1990] OJ L189/17; Council Directive (EEC) No 90/36 on right of residence for students: [1990] OJ L180/30.

14 Article 1 of Council Directive (EEC) No 90/364: [1990] OJ L180/26.

15 Act concerning the election of the Members of the European Parliament by direct universal suffrage OJ L278/5.

16 The position of the Dublin European Council of 1990, see note 7 above, p 1154: ‘[The European Council] endorsed the development of the concept from the limited form of citizenship already existing within the EC and not created ex novo’.

17 The position of the Spanish delegation, see ibid: ‘The creation of a new instance of political power, ie the Union, would require the definition of rights and duties of the affected individuals, as happens in national states’.

18 Ibid, p 1157.

19 On the ‘citizenship-foreigner cleavage’ see Thym, D, ‘Ambiguities of Personhood, Citizenship, Migration and Fundamental Rights in EU Law’ in L Azoulai, S Barbou des Places and E Pataut (eds), Constructing the Person in EU Law: Rights, Roles, Identities (Hart Publishing, 2016).

20 Article 20(2)(a) and Article 21 TFEU.

21 Article 20(2)(b) and Article 22 TFEU.

22 Article 20(2)(c) and Article 23 TFEU.

23 Article 20(d) and Article 24 TFEU.

24 Kochenov, D and Van den Brink, M, ‘Pretending There Is No Union: Non-derivative Quasi-Citizenship Rights of Third Country Nationals in the EU’ in D Thym and M Zoeteweij-Turhan (eds), Rights of Third Country Nationals under EU Association Agreements (Brill Nijhoff, 2015).

25 Weiler, J, ‘Introduction’ in M La Torre (ed), European Citizenship: An Institutional Challenge (Springer, 1998), p 13 .

26 Ibid.

27 d’Oliveira, J, ‘Union Citizenship: Pie in the Sky?’ in A Rosas and E Antola (eds), A Citizen’s Europe: In Search of a New Order (Sage Publications, 1995), p 82 .

28 Ibid, p 83.

29 Ibid.

30 ‘Citizens of the Union shall enjoy the rights and be subject to the duties provided for in the Treaties’. Article 20(2) TFEU. However, no such duties are derived from the Treaties.

31 See note 25 above, p 14.

32 Weiler argues that ‘there is … immense promise … [for] a demos understood in non-organic civic terms’. Ibid, p 16. Similarly, d’Oliveira argues that ‘European citizenship may be useful as a laboratory for this procedural concept of proto-cosmopolitan citizenship’. d’Oliveira, J, ‘European Citizenship: Its Meaning, Its Potential’ in R Dehousse (ed), Europe After Maastricht: An Ever Closer Union? (Springer, 1994).

33 See note 7 above, p 1168.

34 Rudy Grzelczyk v Centre public d’aide sociale d’Ottignies-Louvain-la-Neuve C-184/99, EU:C:2001:458.

35 Matthews v United Kingdom, (Application no. 24833/94) (1999) 28 EHRR 361.

36 Spain v the United Kingdom (Gibraltar) C-145/04, EU:C:2006:543.

37 Council Directive (EC) No 94/80 on the right to vote and to stand as a candidate in municipal elections: [1994] OJ L368/38.

39 A Somek, ‘Is Legality a Principle of EU Law?’, available at

40 See ‘Legal Positivism’ (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

41 Council and European Parliament Directive (EC) No 2004/38 of the European Parliament and of the Council on the right of citizens of the Union and their family members to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States: [2004] OJ L158/77.

42 Council Directive (EEC) No 90/364 on the right of residence: [1990] OJ L180/26.

43 Baumbast v Secretary of State for the Home Department C-413/99, EU:C:2002:493, para 94.

44 Ibid.

45 See A Somek, ‘The Emancipation of Legal Dissonance’ (Social Science Research Network, 2009) SSRN Scholarly Paper ID 1333194, available at

46 I thank Martijn van den Brink for this point.

47 Ruiz Zambrano v Office national de l’emploi C-34/09, EU:C:2011:124, para 42.

48 Janko Rottmann v Freistaat Bayern C-135/08, EU:C:2010:104.

49 See note 5 above, para 5.7.

50 Kostakopoulou, D, ‘European Union Citizenship: Writing the Future’ (2007) 13(5) European Law Journal 623 .

51 Elisabeta Dano and Florin Dano v Jobcenter Leipzig C-333/13, EU:C:2014:2358.

52 Jobcenter Berlin Neukölln v Nazifa Alimanovic and Others C-67/14, EU:C:2015:597.

53 Dion Kramer, ‘Had They Only Worked One Month Longer! An Analysis of the Alimanovic Case [2015] C-67/14’ (European Law Blog, 29 September 2015) See also D Kramer, ‘Earning Social Citizenship in the European Union: Free Movement and Access to Social Assistance Reconstructed’ (2016) 18 Cambridge Yearbook of European Legal Studies 270.

54 Ibid.

55 Pensionsversicherungsanstalt v Peter Brey C-140/12, EU:C:2013:565.

56 F de Witte, ‘Freedom of Movement under Attack’ in note 8 above, p 3.

57 D Thym, ‘The Failure of Union Citizenship Beyond the Single Market’ in ibid, p 7.

58 O’Brien, C, ‘Civis Capitalist Sum: Class as the New Guiding Principle of EU Free Movement Rights’ (2016) 53(4) Common Market Law Review 937, p 937 .

59 Ibid, p 939.

60 Commission v United Kingdom Case C-308/14, EU:C:2016:436.

61 Council and European Parliament Regulation (EC) No 883/2004 on the coordination of social security systems: [2004] OJ L166/1.

62 See note 58 above, p 951.

63 Opinion of Advocate General Szpunar in Alfedro Rendon Marin v Administracion del Estado C-304/15, EU:C:2016:75, points 107–10.

64 See note 6 above.

65 Mindus, P, European Citizenship after Brexit (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017). See also Gareth Davies’ argument for why Rottmann is inapplicable to the consequences of Brexit, Gareth Davies, ‘Union Citizenship – Still Europeans’ Destiny after Brexit?’ (European Law Blog, 7 July 2016)

66 See note 5 above.

67 However, for the alternative teleological argument that these positive sources may establish the condition for the acquisition of EU citizenship but that they do not necessarily establish the condition for the loss or retention thereof, see note 5 above.

68 European Council (Art. 50) Guidelines for Brexit Negotiations,

69 See European Commission Draft Withdrawal Agreement on the Withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community, TF50 (2018) 33 – Commission to EU 27, 28 February 2018,

70 Habermas, J, ‘Citizenship and National Identity: Some Reflections on the Future of Europe’ (1990) 12(1) Praxis International 1 .

71 Habermas, J, ‘Why Europe Needs a Constitution’ (2001) 11 New Left Review 5 .

72 Habermas, J, The Crisis of the European Union: A Response (Polity Press, 2013).

73 V Lippolis, ‘European Citizenship: What Is It and What It Could Be’ in note 25 above, p 325.

74 See note 50 above, p 643.

75 Ibid, p 641.

76 Ibid, p 645.

77 Ibid, p 638.

78 Ibid, p 645.

79 Ibid.

80 See note 8 above.

81 See note 58 above, p 974.

82 G Davies, The Process and Side-Effects of Harmonisation of European Welfare States (2006) Jean Monnet Working Paper No 02/2006, p 5.

83 Bruzelius, C, Reinprecht, C and Seeleib-Kaiser, M, ‘Stratified Social Rights Limiting EU Citizenship’ (2017) 55(6) Journal of Common Market Studies 1239 .

84 This is a reductive reading which does not take account of the sophisticated identification by Floris de Witte of the incipient forms of transnational solidarity: market solidarity, communitarian solidarity, and aspirational solidarity. However, these forms are in the early stages of their claimed emergence. Furthermore, as argued in the next section, a crucial predicate for their emergence would be an active decision of constitutive self-determination. See de Witte, F, Justice in the EU: The Emergence of Transnational Solidarity (Oxford University Press, 2015).

85 A similar notion is expressed by Floris de Witte under the heading of ‘aspirational solidarity’: ‘Aspirational solidarity, as should be clear by now, serves to allocate responsibility for welfare resources between the home and the host state of a mobile citizen depending on his or her ties with the different states’. Ibid, p 191. However, under a minimal conception of Union citizenship, any transnational dimension of this allocation of responsibility would be downplayed and kept within the ‘black-boxes’ of the solidarity present within the respective democratic states.

86 Manfred Brunner and Others v The European Union Treaty, Federal Constitutional Court (Germany) 89 BVerfGE 155 (1993).

87 Lisbon, Judgment of 30 June 2009, 2 BvE 2/08, 2 BvE 5/08, 2 BvR 1010/08, 2 BvR 1022/08, 2 BvR 1259/08, 2 BvR 182/09, para 346.

88 Grimm, D, ‘Does Europe Need a Constitution?’ (1995) 1(3) European Law Journal 282 .

89 Bellamy, R, ‘The “Right to Have Rights”: Citizenship Practice and the Political Constitution of the EU’ in R Bellamy and A Warleigh (eds), Citizenship and Governance in the EU (Bloomsbury, 2005), p 60 .

90 Ibid, p 66.

91 Bellamy, R, ‘Evaluating Union Citizenship: Belonging, Rights and Participation within the EU’ (2008) 12(6) Citizenship Studies 597, pp 597611 .

92 Ibid, p 605.

93 Ibid, p 606.

94 Ibid.

95 Ibid.

96 Kochenov, D, ‘EU Citizenship without Duties’ (2014) 20(4) European Law Journal 482 .

97 Bellamy, R, ‘A Duty-Free Europe? What’s Wrong with Kochenov’s Account of EU Citizenship Rights’ (2015) 21(4) European Law Journal 558 .

98 Ibid, p 562.

99 Ibid, p 563. Bellamy references, inter alia, Schwarz and Gootjes-Schwarz v Finanzamt Bergisch Gladbach C-76/05, EU:C:2007:49.

100 Ibid, quoting Rawls, J, A Theory of Justice (Harvard University Press, 1971), pp 333342 .

101 Ibid, p 562, quoting Irti, N, Nichilismo giuridico (Laterza, 2005).

102 M Van den Brink, ‘The Court and the Legislators: Who Should Defend the Scope of Free Movement in the EU?’ in note 8 above, p 23.

103 Ibid.

104 R Bauböck, ‘The New Cleavage Between Mobile and Immobile Europeans’ in note 8 above, p 20.

105 Arrighi, J-T and Bauböck, R, ‘A Multilevel Puzzle: Migrants’ Voting Rights in National and Local Elections’ (2016) 56(3) European Journal of Political Research 619 .

106 This recognises the historical origins and etymology of the word ‘citizenship’ as connected to ‘city’, the place of one’s residence, and a place in which any individual in theory may integrate themselves regardless of whether they have been born there or not. The reconnection of the status to place will be considered tentatively in Section IV below.

107 COM(2017)2025, Future of Europe: Reflections and Scenarios for the EU27 by 2025, White Paper, available at

108 Dawson, M and de Witte, F, ‘From Balance to Conflict: A New Constitution for the EU’ (2016) 22(2) European Law Journal 204, p 205 .

109 Ibid, p 216.

110 For the theoretical puzzles concerning the concept of constituent power in relation to European integration, see M Fichera, ‘Discursive Constituent Power and European Integration’, available at, the literature cited therein, and the forthcoming monograph building thereupon.

111 Arendt, H, On Revolution (Viking Press, 1963), pp 183184 .

112 See note 97 above, p 562.

113 Ibid, p 564.

114 Ibid.

115 See note 25 above.

116 Ibid.

117 Davies, G, ‘Any Place I Hang My Hat? or: Residence is the New Nationality’ (2005) 11(1) European Law Journal 43 .

118 See, inter alia, Piris, J-C, The Future of Europe: Towards a Two-Speed EU? (Cambridge University Press, 2012); J Habermas, ‘Core Europe to the Rescue: A Conversation with Jürgen Habermas about Brexit and the EU Crisis’ (Social Europe, 12 July 2016); D Seikel, ‘The European Union in Crisis – Is Flexible Integration the Way Forward?’ (Social Europe, 22 July 2016)

119 The analogy is, of course, imperfect as the ‘veil of ignorance’ would be impossible to replicate in reality. See note 100 above.

120 Van Parijs, P and Vanderborght, Y, Basic Income: A Radical Proposal for a Free Society and a Sane Economy (Harvard University Press, 2017).

121 See note 61 above.

122 For further on the construction of a European society, see Münch, R, European Governmentality: The Liberal Drift of Multilevel Governance (Routledge, 2010).

123 I thank Rainer Bauböck for the discussion that has informed the proposals outlined in these three paragraphs.

* PhD Researcher at the European University Institute, Florence. Editor at the European Journal of Legal Studies and the European Law Blog. Email: . I would like to thank Rainer Bauböck, Floris de Witte, Urška Šadl, Martijn van den Brink, the reviewers, and the participants in the EUI EU Law Working Group and Political and Legal Theory Working Group meeting of 14 December 2017 for comments on earlier drafts of the paper.

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