CJEU confirms UK citizens lost EU citizenship as consequence of Brexit
The Court of Justice of the European Union has confirmed that UK citizens no longer possess EU citizenship after it was asked to rule on the topic by a British woman living in France.
The woman, EP, was challenging her removal from the French electoral roll, which in turn required the French court hearing her application to make a reference to the CJEU for a preliminary ruling on the question. EP’s application was opposed by the Prefect of the French department of Gers.
The case was considered by the Grand Chamber of the CJEU, with an opinion issued by Advocate General AM Collins. Additional observations were submitted on behalf of EP, the French and Romanian Governments, the Council of the EU and the European Commission.
Following 1 February 2020, the day on which the UK officially left the EU, EP lost the right to vote in local elections in France, where she had resided since 1984. She re-applied to join the special electoral roll but by decision of 7 October 2020 her application was refused. As she had been abroad from the UK for more than 15 years, she was also unable to vote in the UK and on that basis, she challenged her removal from the French electoral roll.
Under French law, the right to vote and stand as a candidate in municipal elections was only granted to EU citizens residing in France. It was EP’s position that loss of Union citizenship could not be an automatic consequence of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU as it infringed the principles of legal certainty and proportionality and also constituted discrimination between Union citizens and infringed her freedom of movement.
The Prefect of Gers contended that the action should be dismissed. He considered that the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union on 1 February 2020 resulted in the loss of the right to vote and to stand as a candidate in municipal and European elections held in France and, therefore, the automatic removal of United Kingdom nationals who did not also have French nationality, from the special electoral rolls.
Four questions were referred to the CJEU for a preliminary ruling, the first of which was whether Article 50 TEU and the Withdrawal Agreement must be interpreted as revoking the Union citizenship of UK nationals, particularly those who had settled in another EU country for more than 15 years. It was also asked whether the Withdrawal Agreement was in part invalid insofar as it infringed principles underlining EU identity.
In its decision, the CJEU observed: “In the first place, it must be pointed out that citizenship of the Union requires possession of the nationality of a Member State. Article 9 TEU and Article 20(1) TFEU provide that citizens of the Union must be nationals of a Member State. Furthermore, it follows from those provisions that Union citizenship is additional to national citizenship but does not replace it.”
It continued: “The authors of the Treaties thus established an inseparable and exclusive link between possession of the nationality of a Member State and not only the acquisition, but also the retention, of the status of citizen of the Union. It is from that perspective that the Court has held that Article 20 TFEU confers on every person holding the nationality of a Member State Union citizenship.”
Noting that UK nationals had been citizens of a “third state” since February 2020, the CJEU said: “The loss of [EU citizenship] is, as a general rule, an automatic consequence of the sole sovereign decision taken by the United Kingdom to withdraw from the European Union, by virtue of Article 50(1) TEU. Insofar as concerns, on the other hand, the 15-year rule, it is a choice of electoral law made by that former Member State, now a third State.”
It went on to say: “In those circumstances, neither the competent authorities of the Member States nor their courts may be required to carry out an individual examination of the consequences of the loss of the status of citizen of the Union for the person concerned, in the light of the principle of proportionality.”
Addressing the validity of the Withdrawal Agreement, the court added: “There is nothing in the documents before the Court to suggest that the European Union, as a contracting party to the Withdrawal Agreement, exceeded the limits of its discretion in the conduct of external relations, by not requiring that, a right to vote and to stand as a candidate in municipal elections in the Member State of residence be provided for United Kingdom nationals who exercised their right to reside in a Member State before the end of the transition period.”
It concluded: “As regards the circumstance that certain United Kingdom nationals, such as EP, who exercised their right to reside in a Member State in accordance with EU law before the end of the transition period, are deprived of their right to vote in the United Kingdom under the 15-year rule, it should be noted that that fact arises solely from a legislative provision of a third State, and not from EU law. Therefore, that circumstance is not relevant for the purposes of assessing the validity of Decision 2020/135.”
The Grand Chamber therefore ruled that UK nationals could no longer enjoy the status of citizens of the Union, nor vote and stand in local elections by virtue of that status, even where deprived of voting rights in their own state.