European Citizenship in the Ongoing Brexit Process

AuthorWillem Maas
DOI10.1177/00208817211002008
Publication Date01 Apr 2021
SubjectArticles
https://doi.org/10.1177/00208817211002008
International Studies
58(2) 168 –183, 2021
© 2021 Jawaharlal Nehru University
Reprints and permissions:
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DOI: 10.1177/00208817211002008
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Article
European Citizenship
in the Ongoing Brexit
Process
Willem Maas1
Abstract
Although traumatic, the ongoing Brexit process does not fundamentally alter
either the legal status of European citizenship or the debates about it within the
European Union (EU). Citizenship and free movement are so fundamental to the
European project that even the new status of an important state like the UK
does not change the political dynamics surrounding them.
Keywords
Free movement, citizenship, rights, Brexit, naturalization, internal migration,
pandemic
Introduction
Although Brexit has consequences on citizenship and free movement, the impact
of COVID-19 may be more far-reaching and consequential, at least in the short
term: the middle of the largest pandemic in over a century is a bad time to
prognosticate about the future of EU citizenship.1 The free movement of people
and the drive for common rights have been central elements of European
integration since its origins, and Brexit does not fundamentally alter this fact. But
COVID-19 may have significant, lasting effects on the politics of citizenship and
internal migration in Europe. Of course, Brexit is a traumatic experience in the
historical development of European integration, but the newly developing status
of the UK has precursors such as the relationship between the EU and Switzerland
(where free movement provisions are subject to bilateral treaties), Norway (where
free movement and even citizenship take place within a Nordic framework), and
other states such as Canada.2 Of particular interest for free movement and
citizenship post-Brexit is the status of Northern Ireland, which this article also
1 Professor, Jean Monnet Chair, York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Corresponding author:
Willem Maas, Jean Monnet Chair, York University, Toronto, Ontario M4N3M6, Canada.
E-mail: maas@yorku.ca
Maas 169
explores. Because of the emerging nature of the COVID-19 situation, this article
devotes some attention to the pandemic. As of this writing, the pandemic has
disrupted transportation and travel networks; may alter the nature of cross-border
work and leisure activities; and forced a re-examination of the previously open
borders not only between member states but also within them, dating from early
departure bans and other travel restrictions starting with lockdowns of certain
cities in northern Italy in late February 2019. Starting from characterizing
citizenship and common rights as central to the European project, this article next
discusses the ongoing Brexit process, existing models of EU relations with
proximate states, and an overview of some key current issues and political debates
regarding European citizenship and how Brexit may affect them. The overall
conclusion is that public health emergencies such as the current coronavirus
pandemic may affect European citizenship more than the Brexit process, despite
considerable uncertainty regarding the ongoing negotiations required by Brexit or
even whether Brexit may lead to a changed status for Scotland, Northern Ireland,
or other parts of the UK—or indeed whether the UK might rejoin the EU. In the
meantime, the absence of the UK from EU decision-making bodies makes
integration-minded decisions regarding citizenship more likely, even as other
issues and challenges require political attention.
Brexit and the Rights of EU Citizenship
From the earliest days of European integration in the post-war period, free
movement—of goods, services, capital and people—has been one of the core
values and aspirations of the European project. The idea of common European
rights, including ultimately a common European citizenship, has also always been
part of the discussion as a goal of European integration (Maas, 2007, 2020b).
Indeed, by the late 1960s and the first few years of the 1970s, it appeared that the
common legal status of nationals of the member states would be formalized with
a common European citizenship. But the first enlargement, which brought the
United Kingdom along with Ireland and Denmark into the Community in 1973,
changed the political balance and stymied the formal introduction of European
citizenship. After having again failed to be incorporated in the Single European
Act, the legal status was formally inserted into the treaties only with Maastricht,
which granted all EU citizens four sets of rights: free movement rights, political
rights, the right to common diplomatic and consular protection abroad, and the
right to petition Parliament and appeal to the ombudsman.
Maastricht consolidated and expanded the free movement rights that had been
gradually developing since the first rights for coal and steel workers (Maas, 2005),
by decoupling free movement from employment status and giving them direct
effect, meaning that the right to move and reside anywhere within EU territory
became an individual right for all EU citizens regardless of economic status. As
discussed below, this key right of EU citizenship is very popular across the
member states (including the UK) and is also the one most affected by Brexit, for
many EU citizens in the UK and for many UK citizens in the rest of the EU.

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