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European Commission

Viviane Reding

Vice-President of the European Commission, EU Justice Commissioner

Citizenship must not be up for sale

Plenary Session debate of the European Parliament on 'EU citizenship for sale' /Strasbourg

15 January 2014

Main Messages:

National citizenship is an entry door to the EU. It is an entry door to the EU Treaty and to the rights that EU citizens enjoy.

Member States should use their prerogatives to award citizenship in a spirit of sincere cooperation with the other Member States. In compliance with the criterion used under public international law, Member States should only award citizenship to persons where there is a “genuine link” or “genuine connection” to the country in question.

It is legitimate to question whether EU citizenship rights should merely depend on the size of someone’s wallet or bank account.

Citizenship must not be up for sale!

SPEECH:

The Commission is attentive to developments in the Member States which have set up investor schemes for granting citizenship. Recently, our attention was most recently drawn to the Maltese investors' scheme.

There is no doubt that conditions for obtaining and forfeiting national citizenship are regulated only by the national law of each Member State. But there is also no doubt that granting the nationality of a Member State means also granting EU citizenship and the rights attached to it. These are rights which can be exercised and must be recognised all over the Union. In other words, awarding nationality and citizenship to a person gives this person rights vis-à-vis the 27 other Member States of the European Union.

As a matter of fact, since the Treaty of Maastricht, granting Member State citizenship also means granting EU citizenship. This means granting a series of additional EU rights. This is the case of the right to move and reside freely within the EU territory, the right to work and stand as candidate in European and municipal elections in their Member States of residence, the right to consular protection and benefit from the many achievements of the Single Market. As a consequence, naturalisation decisions taken by one Member State are not neutral with regard to other Member States and to the EU as a whole.

National citizenship is an entry door to the EU. It is an entry door to the EU Treaty and to the rights that EU citizens enjoy. A passport is not only a paper or an official document. It conveys rights and obligations both to citizens and to all Member States of the Union. That is why Member States should use their prerogatives to award citizenship in a spirit of sincere cooperation with the other Member States, as stipulated by the EU Treaties. In compliance with the criterion used under public international law, Member States should only award citizenship to persons where there is a “genuine link” or 'genuine connection" to the country in question.

In general, let me raise the question: do we like the idea of selling the rights provided by the EU Treaties? Certainly not. Citizenship must not be up for sale!

We have been celebrating the European Year of Citizens 2013 that marked the 20th anniversary of European citizenship. In this context it is legitimate to question whether EU citizenship rights should merely depend on the size of someone’s wallet or bank account.

While I am not calling for the Commission to receive legal power to determine what constitutes nationality or the rules granting it, the Commission nevertheless expects that Member States act in full awareness of the consequences of their decisions.

Our debate today shows the growing importance of these questions in a European Union where national decisions are in many instances not neutral vis-à-vis other Member States and the EU as a whole. It is a fact that the principle of sincere cooperation, which is inscribed in the EU Treaties (Article 4.3 of the Treaty on European Union), should lead Member States to take account of the impact of decisions in the field of nationality on other Member States and the Union as a whole.

That is why the Commission follows any developments concerning this matter in the Member States.

Citizenship has been very much in the centre of our discussions over the last years: in the context of the European Year of Citizens, the run-up to the European Parliament elections and more generally in all our work to reconnect our European citizens to the democratic life of the EU. That's why citizenship cannot be taken lightly. It is a fundamental element of our Union. One cannot put a price tag on it.


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