EU Citizenship at the Crossroads - Enhancing European Cooperation in Nationality and Fundamental Rights

Ngo Chun Luk, TRANSMIC Research Assistant at the Centre for European Policy Studies
/ 6 mins read

And, in reference to today’s more specific discussion, I note that people who lose their citizenship or have it taken from them are often described as being “quarantined” or as having fallen between two stools, existing and not existing at the same time. Their experiences of public administration will no doubt have been intensely frustrating as they get so far only to be rejected because their status isn’t accounted for in a drop-down menu on a computer screen. For the individual in question, this is death by a thousand unticked boxes. – Emily O’Reilly, European Ombudsman, Keynote at the ILEC Final Conference, 11 December 2014

These words of the European Ombudsman perfectly sum up the nature of the subject at hand. The involuntary loss of citizenship is a serious matter, with the potential to seriously alter the lives of individuals. Despite the gravity of this topic, not much was known about the various rules and practices on the loss of citizenship, even within the Member States of the EU. It was in this light that the Involuntary Loss of European Citizenship (ILEC) project, co-funded by the European Union, spent the past two years exploring every aspect of involuntary loss of citizenship in the EU.

The results of their research and their policy recommendations were presented and discussed in the two-day final conference, co-hosted by the Centre for European Policy Studies and the European Economic and Social Committee in Brussels, on 11th and 12th of December 2014. Researchers from the academia gathered together with various policymakers and practitioners in the field of migration and citizenship to discuss the findings of the ILEC project. The policy recommendations of the ILEC project were positively received by policymakers and practitioners. These policy recommendations broadly fall under one of four categories: involuntary loss of citizenship, quasi-loss of citizenship, statistics on citizenship, and the role of the EU in loss of citizenship.


Best practices in involuntary loss of citizenship in the EU

One of the first set of recommendations of the ILEC project relates to best practices when dealing with involuntary loss of citizenship. This ILEC policy brief by Professor René de Groot and Professor Maarten Vink stresses the role of international and European standards in issues of loss of citizenship. The authors strongly recommended that the proportionality principle be applied for all procedures of deprivation of citizenship. Further recommendations include ensuring that persons faced with such a deprivation are accorded strong procedural guarantees, including access to judicial review and the treatment of the individuals concerned as nationals during the entire procedure.

The issue of statelessness was thoroughly considered. The policy brief refers to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness and the European Convention on Nationality, and highlights that deprivation of citizenship cannot lead to statelessness (with some exceptions). During the ILEC Final Conference, the importance of good European practices was linked to the global approach to reducing statelessness by the UNHCR.


How to deal with quasi-loss of citizenship situations?

A second important issue examined in the ILEC project is the phenomenon of ‘quasi-loss’ of citizenship. This happens where the national authorities do not treat certain situations as the loss of citizenship, but conclude instead that the person(s) ‘never acquired’ that citizenship in the first place. Particularly in Member States where the quasi-loss is not treated as a loss, but as a non-acquisition, Professor René de Groot and Professor Patrick Wautelet found that the quasi-loss can have severe consequences. For example, the protections offered in the case of loss of citizenship, such as protection against statelessness, are circumvented. For the family members, the quasi-loss could also place them in danger of being treated as never having obtained the citizenship.

The recommendations focus on avoiding the negative consequences of treating these situations as quasi-loss. In their policy brief, Professor René de Groot and Professor Patrick Wautelet recommend Member States to provide individuals faced with quasi-loss of citizenship with a minimum number of procedural guarantees. Member States are also recommended to treat cases of quasi-loss as situations of deprivation, and to provide procedural and substantive protection of their legitimate expectations.


How many people are affected by involuntary loss?

The ILEC project covers many fields of expertise. The policy brief of the ILEC project by Professor Maarten Vink and Ngo Chun Luk discusses the available data on (involuntary) loss of citizenship in the European Union. The findings of the authors point to serious problems in the availability and comparability of data on how many people lose the citizenship of a Member State each year. They recommend that a more systematic collection of statistics should be undertaken by Member States.


The role of the European Union in involuntary loss

In light of the international principle of sovereignty of States in citizenship matters, an important question is whether the European Union plays any role in matters of deprivation of citizenship by Member States. This idea is found throughout the ILEC project’s outcomes, especially in the final policy brief by Dr Sergio Carrera and Professor René de Groot. They highlight three key priorities in the EU’s future actions in the field of citizenship, within the current EU competences:

  1. Addressing the consequences of the legal patchwork of Member States’ regulations and administrative decisions on the loss of fundamental rights as an EU citizen;

  2. Monitoring and ensuring compliance by Member States in their obligations towards European institutions and other Member States, on the principle of sincere and loyal cooperation; and

  3. Ensuring more effective implementation of multilateral international treaties, with a more prominent role for the EU in promoting these international and regional human rights principles.

Based on these priorities, the authors recommend that the EU Mutual Information Mechanism (“MIM”) be revisited. They recommend that the scope of the MIM be expanded to include questions related to citizenship and fundamental rights, and that a standing committee of experts in nationality law be established to strengthen the MIM. They also see a role for EU institutions in assessing the impact of national decisions on citizenship for EU citizenship fundamental rights. The European Commission has an important role here, as the Commission could issue recommendations to Member States to address issues that are in contravention with Union law.


Involuntary loss and statelessness

Statelessness is one of the most drastic consequences resulting from loss of citizenship and was an integral component of research in the ILEC Project. Some of these issues were already highlighted above. Reduction and prevention of statelessness is an important international standard enshrined in e.g. the 1961 Convention on Reduction of Statelessness, and the general line of the ILEC project is that Member States should adhere to these principles. Quasi-loss, which could also lead to statelessness in some situations, should also fall under the protection and guarantees in relation to statelessness.

During the ILEC Final conference, it became clear that the findings of the ILEC project are important for practitioners, even in the area of statelessness. One of the invited speakers from the UNHCR welcomed the ILEC project’s recommendations for fostering best practices in the Member States when it comes to the loss of citizenship and statelessness. She also linked the ILEC project’s findings with the work of the UNHCR in combatting global statelessness, drawing particular attention to the Tunis Conclusions.



 The Involuntary Loss of Citizenship: Exchanging Knowledge and Identifying Guidelines for Europe (ILEC) project has been co-funded by the European Commission’s DG Justice, Citizenship and Fundamental Rights. The ILEC project would like to thank its partners from The Centre for European Policy Studies, Maastricht University, University of Liège, European University Institute, the Danish Institute for Human Rights, the Interdisciplinary Cernte for Comparative Research in the Social Sciences and the University of León for their role in the ILEC project. Further, the ILEC project would like to extend its sincere gratitude to the invited speakers and participants to the ILEC Final Conference for their attendance and constructive dialogue.

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