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Decision in case 59/2018/TN on the European Commission’s reply to correspondence concerning EU citizenship for UK nationals post-Brexit

Available languages: en
  • Case: 59/2018/TN
    Opened on 03 Apr 2018 - Decision on 03 Apr 2018
  • Institution(s) concerned: European Commission


1. In April and August 2017, the complainant, a UK national living in Belgium, wrote to the European Commission about keeping his Union citizenship (Article 20 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union) regardless of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU (“Brexit”) and the outcome of the negotiations between the UK and the EU.

2. The Commission responded that only nationals of EU Member States can have EU citizenship. It also mentioned two ongoing European citizens’ Initiatives concerning the rights of Union citizens in the context of the withdrawal of a Member State from the EU[1].

3. The Commission stated that it was fully aware of the serious consequences of Brexit for citizens who have built their lives on the assumption that they would always be protected by the rights flowing from their country’s EU membership. In the Brexit negotiations, the Commission thus aims to protect, for life, the life choices made by these citizens to the extent possible under the EU Treaties and the Commission’s negotiating mandate[2]. However, in addition to the legal constraints of the EU Treaties, the Commission’s Chief Negotiator has no mandate to negotiate EU citizenship for UK nationals.

4. Dissatisfied with the Commission’s response, the complainant turned to the Ombudsman. The complainant put forward the view that the Commission failed to explain its position on the question of EU citizenship for UK nationals post-Brexit.


5. The Commission has provided the complainant with its views on his concern. Taking into account the current wording of the EU Treaties, it is reasonable for the Commission to argue that citizens not holding the nationality of an EU Member State—such as UK nationals after the UK’s withdrawal—cannot be EU citizens: “Citizenship of the Union is hereby established. Every person holding the nationality of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union. Citizenship of the Union shall be additional to and not replace national citizenship[3]. I thus close the case[4].

6. However, the concerns of citizens affected by Brexit, among them the complainant, are understandable. The Commission has explained to the complainant that one of the key priorities of the Brexit negotiations is thus to guarantee the status and rights of those EU citizens who have, relying on their existing rights under EU law, chosen to live, work or study in another Member State[5]. The need to find ways to protect the life-choices made by these citizens was part of the first phase of the Brexit negotiations, the results of which were published on 8 December 2017[6]. EU citizens rightly expect the Commission to continue to pursue its efforts to reach an agreement with the UK which will protect, to the greatest extent possible, their interests.


Emily O'Reilly

European Ombudsman

Strasbourg, 03/04/2018


[1] Retaining European Citizenship, ECI(2017)000005, information available at: http://ec.europa.eu/citizens-initiative/public/initiatives/open/details/2017/000005; and EU Citizenship for Europeans: United in Diversity in Spite of jus soli and jus sanguinis, ECI(2017)000003, information available at: http://ec.europa.eu/citizens-initiative/public/initiatives/open/details/2017/000003

[2] Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/brexit-negotiations/negotiation-mandate-and-transparency_en

[3] Article 20(1) TFEU.

[4] Information on the review procedure can be found on the Ombudsman’s website: http://www.ombudsman.europa.eu/en/resources/otherdocument.faces/en/70669/html.bookmark

[5] European Council (Art. 50) guidelines for Brexit negotiations, 29 April 2017, paragraph 8, available at: http://www.consilium.europa.eu/media/21763/29-euco-art50-guidelinesen.pdf

[6] Joint report from the negotiators of the European Union and the United Kingdom Government on progress during phase 1 of negotiations under Article 50 TEU on the United Kingdom's orderly withdrawal from the European Union, available at: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/sites/beta-political/files/joint_report.pdf