According to Michel Barnier, the status of British citizens residing on the territory of the European Union, the "Brexpats", is a thorny issue to be resolved with the United Kingdom.
Anyone who comes into contact with Brexpats knows their distress. The withdrawal of the United Kingdom is creating many uncertainties. The right to reside in the country of residence, sometimes elected several decades ago, the social regime, the tax regime, visas, electoral or property rights are, as Mr Barnier suggests, still unclear to this day. Trials before national or European courts have either failed or are ongoing.
Is this subject a subject for negotiation with the United Kingdom or should it be of interest only to the Union?
Of course, the status of the 1.7 million Brexpats is inseparable from that of the 3 million "Brimpats", the citizens of the European Union residing in the United Kingdom. Their respective statuses should be reciprocal.
With this major difference, Brimpats have never been British citizens whereas, at the time of Brexit, Brexpats were, often since their birth, citizens of the European Union. This raises the question of whether the Brexit has caused Brexpats to lose their European citizenship while they continue to reside among us.
Without doubt, the founding treaties of the European Union make citizenship of the Union dependent on the nationality of a Member State and the United Kingdom is no longer a Member State since February 1st. So it seems logical to say that all Britons, Brexpats or not, have since then lost their European citizenship.
But, first and foremost, European citizenship connects every European citizen to the European Union. Thanks to it, every European citizen votes in the European Parliament, has a right to petition it, a right to have recourse to the European Ombudsman, a right to communicate with the European institutions in a language of the Treaties.
Among these rights, which seem remote, the right to vote in the European Parliament is essential: half of the rights and obligations of every European citizen emanate from the European Parliament in particular. Who can claim that it is indifferent to him or her to vote, democratically, for whom will decide half of his or her collective life?
The European Union also has an obligation to combat discrimination on grounds of nationality, gender, origin, origin, beliefs, religion, disability or sexual orientation. Who can believe that this drive for equality, which goes to the heart of being, is a distant concern?
European citizenship connects each European citizen to each of the other Member States. Thanks to it, it is possible to move as freely between Paris and Brussels as between London and Liverpool, between Brussels and Prague as between Liverpool and Scapa Flow. We now know better how much geographical carelessness, this attribute of personal freedom, has been precious since it has left us in our homes.
Moving around is not everything... European citizenship is the right to settle freely in another Member State. About 350,000 French people are Brimpats, and about 400,000 Brexpats have chosen France. Isn't it just as wonderful for a young Auvergne native to seek his fortune in London as it is for a Liverpool native to live peacefully in the Dordogne in retirement?
European citizenship means the right to vote in municipal elections in the country of residence. French citizens living in Manchester vote to designate local authorities, just as Brexpats living in Barcelona vote for municipal elecciones. Everyone knows the burden of local taxes. Who can deny the corresponding weight of the vote?
These few examples illustrate the extent to which European citizenship affects almost every aspect of our personal and collective life: the right to vote, freedom, opportunities, equality, employment, taxation, social rights, etc...
European citizenship belongs intimately to the individual. It is a part of their being and it should not be possible to deny it. It is a good for the individual and it should not be possible to deprive them of it.
Unless he renounces it. And it cannot be seriously argued that Brexpats who have remained in the Union have endorsed the choice of their compatriots resident in the United Kingdom.
The United Kingdom has just granted the Brimpats the right to vote in local elections. Faced with this gesture of goodwill, let us plead for Brexpats to retain their European citizenship. By granting this right, the European Union would be renewing la geste of its democratic values.
For Cicero, a people is the meeting of a multitude whose association is based on a legal organisation and a community of interests. The French add to this the desire to live together. Wherever they are in Europe, Brexpats are part of our legal organisation, belong to our community of interests, and prove that they want to continue to live with us. By this choice, they remain among the people of Europe. There is no reason why the people of Europe should not keep them in their midst.
We Europeans must resist the natural reaction against the dissent induced by Brexit and keep Brexpats in our Union. Between China, which is advancing resolutely in this modern despotism of which it has managed, thanks to a viral crisis, to offer us the model, and the United States, which is tense in the face of this competition that it considers imperfect, they will help us, with their fighting spirit, to guarantee our security and prosperity to all of us. And they will protect our Brimpats.
Julien Fouchet, lawyer at the bar of Bordeaux (France), Jean-Noël Caubet-Hilloutou (France)