Heart and land - Brexpats are and remain European citizens
Renew’s man in Europe, Terry Knott, has been working closely with two eminent French lawyers who are trying to win the right for British people living in Europe to retain their EU citizenship. This is an English translation of their case.
Michel Barnier said, last week,that among the thorny issues to be resolved by the negotiators in charge of the future relations after Brexit, between the European Union and the United Kingdom, is that of the status of British citizens residing in the territory of the European Union, the "Brexpats" [Latin: Ex Patria, Out of Country].
Until now, we had hardly heard anything about this subject. The topics invited to the media table were rather [about] fishing, or fair competition between the two economies, confirming [giving] the impression that Europe is definitely more interested in people's wallets than in their hearts.
Anyone who rubs shoulders with the Brexpats knows their dismay. The withdrawal of the United Kingdom is creating all kinds of uncertainties, particularly regarding the right to reside in their [present] country of residence, where they have sometimes been living for several decades, but also regarding their social rights, their tax duties, the visa system, their electoral or property rights which, as Mr Barnier [EU] points out, have not yet been clarified, despite the many rounds of discussions between the Union [EU] and the United Kingdom. The legal proceedings they have initiated have either failed to resolve their great bitterness, or are ongoing.
We can thus be pleased with this return of the human element, to the concerns of negotiators, but on reflection, Michel Barnier's [recent] remark seems curious. Shouldn't the status of Brexpats in the European Union interest the Union [EU] alone? Why on earth should it be a subject for negotiation with the United Kingdom? Because the status of the 1.7 million Brexpats [approx. estimate] is inseparable from that of the 3 million "Brimpats", the citizens of the EU residing in the United Kingdom, in this area, solutions must be reciprocal.
Everyone understands this, but there is one major difference that must be noted: Brimpats have never been British citizens, whereas, like you and me, when the British voted for the Brexit, Brexpats were, often from birth, citizens of the European Union. This raises the question of whether the Brexit has really made [is making] them lose their European citizenship.
In terms of legal appearances, the answer is positive, since the founding treaties of the European Union make citizenship of the Union dependent on the nationality of a Member State. If a State leaves the Union, then its nationals should no longer be citizens of the Union.
However, this appearance [condition] comes up against certain difficulties.
European citizenship connects every European citizen first and foremost to the European Union. Thanks to it, every European citizen voting in the European Parliament, has a right to address petitions to the European Parliament, a right to have recourse to the European Ombudsman, a right to address the European institutions in one of the languages of the Treaties and to receive a reply in the same language.
These rights may seem remote for each, but 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. Who can claim that it is indifferent to him or her to vote, democratically, for who will decide half of what concerns him or her?
To limit ourselves to one example, who can believe that, without the power of the European Union and the vigilance of the Court of Justice, his personal data could have been effectively protected, unlike that of the American, or Chinese citizen, … if he at least made the effort to really want it?
The European Union also has an obligation not only to treat each citizen without discriminating against him or her, on the basis of nationality, gender, origin, convictions, religion, disability or sexual orientation, but also to combat discrimination.
Who can believe [maintain] that this drive for equality is a distant preoccupation?
European citizenship also 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 Strasbourg and Copenhagen, as between Liverpool and Scapa Flow, between Luxembourg and Rome, as between Scapa Flow and Portsmouth. We know better now how precious geographical carelessness is, since it has left us all the way to the interior of the borders.
But, if it was only a question of moving around… European citizenship is also the right to settle freely in another Member State. This is how 350,000 French people are Brimpats, just as some 400,000 Brexpats have chosen France. Isn’t it just as wonderful for a young Auvergne man to seek his fortune in London, as it is for a native of Liverpool to live peacefully in the Dordogne, during his retirement?
European citizenship even means the right to vote in municipal elections in the country where you live. French citizens living in Manchester vote to designate local authorities, just as the Brexpats living in Barcelona vote for municipal elections.
Everyone knows the burden of local taxes. Who can deny [refuse] the weight of the corresponding vote?
These few examples, which are by no means exhaustive, illustrate how European citizenship affects almost every aspect of our personal and collective life: the right to vote, freedom [of movement], opportunity, equality, employment and social rights, communication, computing...[etc.]
European citizenship thus belongs intimately to the individual. It is a part of his being and it should not be possible to deny it to him. It is a good for him and it should not be possible to deprive him of it.
Unless he renounces it. And, what makes it possible to consider that the Brexpats, who remained on the territory of the European Union and thus demonstrated their attachment to Europe, in spite of Brexit, would have renounced their European citizenship? Certainly not the sovereign, albeit unthinking, choice of their fellow [British] citizens.
The United Kingdom has just recognised Brimpats' right to vote in local elections. It has thus made a gesture of good will in terms of British citizenship. Let us plead for Brexpats to retain their European citizenship on this side of the Pas-de-Calais. By making this effort, the European Union would be renewing the gesture of its democratic values.
As Cicero said, a people is not just any gathering of men, assembled in a certain way, but the gathering of a multitude, whose association is based on a legal organisation and a community of interests. For the French, there is also the desire to live together. Whether they live in France, Germany, Greece or Estonia, Brexpats are part of a legal organisation, belong to a community of interests, and prove that they want to continue to live with us. By this choice, they have integrated [with] the European people. There is no reason why the European people should not keep them in their midst.
Again and again, let us borrow the conclusion from Winston Churchill: "Having lived in those days, I propose to show to what extent the structures and practices of democratic states, which are not united in larger organisations, are deprived of those elements of persistence and conviction, which alone can guarantee security for the mass of the humble... how necessary it is that many states advance together on a broad path of international action, from year to year, whatever the ebb and flow of national policies."
By voting for Brexit, British people have served us one of those ebbs and flows of national policy, that should encourage us Europeans to resist a very natural reactive temptation and to keep the Brexpats in our [European] union. Between China, which is advancing resolutely in this modern despotism of which it has succeeded, thanks to a viral crisis, in offering us the model, and the United States, which is reacting tensely to 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 help to protect Brimpats.
Paper and legal text by: Maitre Julien Fouchet, lawyer at the bar of Bordeaux (France)
Where the original text has been written from a legal, French perspective, certain words have been inserted or clarified, by the translator in square brackets [thus] to ensure the bi-lingual meaning is clear.