“Everyone has the right to a nationality”

Council conclusions demonstrate the EU’s commitment to address statelessness

16 December 2015 | Pascal Schumacher, JHA Counsellor responsible for migratory issues during the Luxembourgish Presidency
Pascal Schumacher

The year 2015 is coming to an end and yet, every 10 minutes a child is born without a nationality. The problem is considerable and the numbers speak for themselves: 10 million stateless people in the world; more than 400 000 in the EU alone; more than 70 000 children a year born into statelessness; more than 19 countries with a stateless population of over 10 000 people. From Brunei to Côte d’Ivoire, from Kuwait to the Dominican Republic and from Vietnam to Russia: statelessness is a significant issue in every region of the world – it is a truly global problem. But also a European one: two of the countries in the UNHCR list of top-ten largest stateless populations are EU Member States. 

If the European Union is actively committed at an external level to tackle statelessness through various programs and initiatives – inter alia, financial support to research projects, advocacy and awareness-raising initiatives, promotion and protection of the fundamental rights of stateless people, promotion of birth registration, support to local organization to provide schooling to stateless children –, its internal engagement has been, until now, less committing.

So far, however, an innovative political stand has been undertaken on behalf of those who do not have rights and those who cannot participate in any political system. During the last Justice and Home Affairs Council on 3 December 2015, a significant step from EU Member States has been made to tackle statelessness within its own borders. Council conclusions were agreed by ministers inviting the Commission to launch, via the European Migration Network as a platform, exchanges of good practices among Member States in order to reduce the number of stateless people, strengthen their protection and reduce the risk of them being discriminated. This initiative will raise awareness among practitioners, caseworkers and other civil servants from different countries on different methods and ways to better protect stateless people; these exchanges will be possible thanks to a more systematic collection of both reliable data and of procedures for determining statelessness. An equal establishment of dedicated statelessness determination procedures and the granting of a legal status to stateless persons throughout all Member States is the goal pursued with this initiative.

Efforts to put this issue on the European agenda commenced in the first semester of 2011 by Hungary as Presidency of the Council of the EU, who invited at the time Member States to discuss prevention and reduction of statelessness. With the adoption of the above-mentioned conclusions, the Luxembourgish Presidency has been able to unite efforts within a European Union, which stands by its values and protects the weakest. But this is not enough, the disparity between internal and external action of the EU on combatting statelessness is no secret to anyone and the EU should continue to strive for the sake of the stateless people. The right to have rights, to put it in Hannah Arendt’s words, is at stake: it is compelling to tackle the issue internally.

A veritable exit from the “statelessness cycle” involves an efficient prevention of statelessness at birth. For now, up to ten EU countries provide effective granting of nationality among children right from birth, national legislation of two of them do not contain any provision directly aiming to safeguard against statelessness at birth and the rest of EU Member States establish safeguards against statelessness at birth but under restrictive conditions. At a first stage, the exchange of information and good practices existing at EU level should reveal potential shortcomings in national legislations of some Member States; adoption and implementation of specific safeguards against statelessness at birth in nationality laws should logically follow in the relevant countries.

The EU is committed to assist Member States to reach the objective of zero statelessness. As Jean Asselborn stated: “The EU will fully play its part in the UNHCR campaign to eradicate statelessness and will unite its efforts to protect the weakest.”

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