En Ciudadanía, Educación, Cultura

– Allan F. Tatham –


In recent years, commentators have come to regard the high-water mark of the central importance of EU citizenship as the statement made by the European Court of Justice more than 20 years ago in its seminal ruling in Grzelczyk. In this 2001 decision, the Court declared:[1] “Union citizenship is destined to be the fundamental status of nationals of the Member States, enabling those who find themselves in the same situation to enjoy the same treatment in law irrespective of their nationality, subject to such exceptions as are expressly provided for”.

Since that time, the Court has apparently retreated from that vision, conscious in part perhaps of a growing pushback on the issue in the EU Member States.[2] Mediated by the wording of Article 4(2) TEU, domestic constitutional courts have sought to develop this provision on the respect for national identity in favour of their own interests.[3] These courts have construed its meaning to reaffirm their State’s (constitutional) identity as representing its “essential core of national sovereignty” and thus acting as a bulwark against further encroachment into the domestic arena by EU law or its alleged expansive interpretation by the Court of Justice.[4]

Yet, these “dialogues of the deaf” between Luxembourg and certain national constitutional tribunals and the struggles to guarantee respect for its fundamental values in the Union, have been conducted against a backdrop of the polarising events of the last six years. Brexit and the war in Ukraine have had dramatic impacts on and have resulted in unforeseen consequences for EU citizens and their self-perceptions as such, as exemplified in the nature of their responses to these events.

As a result, these events have actually led to a phenomenon not widely seen so far in the EU integration process, namely, popular engagement in political activities or in activities underlining social solidarity in favour of the Union’s values. Closely enmeshed in this phenomenon, there is a still-emerging common articulation of an understanding of what EU citizenship means for its holders and the responsibilities (as well as the treaty-defined rights) linked to it. This “revolution” is a “bottom-up” or popular approach to a common cause among EU citizens in the face of crisis.

On the one hand, Brexit led to a rise in political consciousness among those most affected – UK nationals in the EU and EU citizens in the UK and elsewhere. These groups made common cause by taking part in political activities supporting the benefits of EU citizenship for all and protesting the subsequent loss of rights deriving from it and its negative impacts alike on individuals, families and societies.[5]

On the other hand, the war in Ukraine has caused a broad and profound expression of social solidarity from EU citizens to support Ukrainians fleeing the war. This has gone hand in hand with the growing awareness of the values – for which Ukrainian soldiers are fighting against Russian invasion – are the same as those espoused by the Union and held in common by its citizens.[6]

Both events have arguably acted as inflection points far beyond the high political, strategic or financial considerations of the EU or the national executives and legislatures.

They have given citizens across the Union pause for thought in their mutual understanding and regard.

Thus, the perils of Brexit, according to continental media and leaders,[7] have been playing out recently in the corridors of power in Whitehall and Westminster as the ruling Conservative Party – the main purveyor of Brexit virtue – has chosen its third prime minister in three months and has, in the opinion of many, failed “to get Brexit done”.[8] In addition, EU citizens are being hit by rising prices of food and energy but many are prepared to bear this as part of their self-perceived shared responsibility for the defence of their common values that is being paid in blood and personal suffering beyond the Union’s borders in a recently-accepted EU candidate country.

While this does not necessarily augur well in every case – given the political make-up of the new right-of-centre coalition governments in Italy and Sweden – it does give some food for thought as to how best the Union can capitalise on this grassroots solidarity and political activity. What can the EU therefore do in order to give them the required space and support to nourish such popular shoots and allow them to flourish more organically?

One could see, for example, the possibility of further co-operation with civil society in value promotion, the environment and the digital economy, all of which impact on the daily lives of millions in the Union. However, any such citizens’ initiatives or transnational networks should not be driven by the avowed spending priorities of the EU but should rather be seen as a response to emerging community campaigns at local, national and regional levels in furtherance of the promotion and respect for EU values, in whatever guise.

In this respect, the EU should develop instruments that can by multi-purposed, ones that provide a foundation for a rapid response to emerging situations and, while flexible, remain focused on and tailored to the needs of citizens, perhaps in the shape of some type of EU citizenship solidarity fund. Moreover, a less bureaucratic process

needs to be used in order to make access to EU support easier and straightforward with much less paperwork and fewer hurdles to overcome that currently represent, in themselves, strong disincentives to apply for assistance in the first place. Naturally, the granting of funds or the provision of other types of support will need to be hemmed in with certain guarantees, for example, maximum spending limits and controls on disbursement to prevent misuse of funds. Such instruments need to make funds and other support available closer to the recipients, more “down on the ground,” and not perceived – as it can be from the outside – as the showering of benevolent largesse on favoured projects from the “high citadels of power in Brussels”. In this way, the space created may help to encourage an evolution in the minds of EU citizens that their citizenship is a natural part of their identity and represents more than just a bundle of rights set out in the wording of some distant EU treaty but also comprises duties in solidarity with their fellow Union citizens.


[1] Case C-184/99, Grzelczyk v Centre Public d’Aide Sociale d’Ottignies-Louvain-la-Neuve, Judgment of the Court of 20 September 2001, ECLI:EU:C:2001:458, at paragraph 31.

[2]  Case C-140/12, Pensionsversicherungsanstalt v. Brey, Judgment of the Court of 19 September 2013, ECLI:EU:C:2013:565; Case C-333/13, Dano v. Jobcenter Leipzig, Judgment of the Court of 11 November 2014, ECLI:EU:C:2014:2358; and Case C-67/14, Jobcenter Berlin Neukölln v. Alimanovic, Judgment of the Court of 15 September 2015, ECLI:EU:C:2015:597. For a discussion on this retreat from Grzelczyk, see N. Nic Shuibne, “Limits Rising, Duties Ascending: The Changing Legal Shape of Union Citizenship”, (2015) 52 Common Market Law Review 889-937.

[3] See generally A.F. Tatham, Central European Constitutional Courts in the Face of EU Membership: The Influence of the German Model of Integration in Hungary and Poland, Martinus Nijhoff (Brill), Leiden (2013).

[4] In some cases, such courts have refused to follow interpretations of the Court of Justice’s interpretations of provisions of EU law, as required under Article 267 TFEU: see the discussion in A.F. Tatham, “The paradox of judicial dialogue with the European Court of Justice in an illiberal democracy: the recent experience with the Hungarian Constitutional Court,” (2022) núm. 72, Revista de Derecho Comunitario Europeo 483-517, especially at pp. 500-504.

[5] M. Benson, C. Craven and N. Sigona, “European Belongings and Political Participation beyond Brexit”, MIGZEN Research Brief, no. 4, available at https://migzen.net/site/assets/files/4658/final_european_belongings_and_political_participation_after_brexit_v2.pdf (accessed 26 October 2022).

[6] I. Hoffmann and H. Schilgen, “With a tailwind: Support for political measures backing Ukraine is high. Meanwhile, Europeans see their personal prospects compromised”, eupinions slides, 13 April 2022, Bertelsmann Stiftung, available at https://eupinions.eu/de/text/with-a-tailwind (accessed 26 October 2022).

[7] J. Henley, “EU media and leaders blame Brexit for UK political ‘insanity’ as Truss quits”, The Guardian online, 20 October 2022, available at https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2022/oct/20/european-press-pin-blame-on-brexit-for-uk-political-insanity (accessed 26 October 2022).

[8] Fewer than half of Britons think Brexit is “done”: YouGov, “As far as you are concerned, is Brexit ‘done’?”, YouGov Opinion Poll, 11 May 2022, available at https://yougov.co.uk/topics/politics/survey-results/daily/2022/05/11/8055b/1?utm_source=twitter%20&utm_medium=daily_questions&utm_campaign=question_1 (accessed 26 October 2022).


Allan F. Tatham, Profesor adjunto, Facultad de Derecho, Universidad San Pablo-CEU, Madrid.


Este artículo se incluye dentro del proyecto “Propuestas para la presidencia española de 2023: Ciudadanía europea, democracia y participación“.

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