Like many of the people I represent, I have felt deep sadness and a sense of loss since the UK referendum vote to leave the EU. It breaks my heart that a majority of Britons want to walk away from the greatest peace project in global history. I have also been touched by the continued warmth shown to the UK European colleagues from across the continent and political spectrum. I appreciate their efforts to be constructive, and the fact that I continue to change and influence European legislation as a Green MEP, with no discrimination.
This referendum has prompted many of us to reflect upon what it means to be European, and why it is important to defend that identity. In the Green party we firmly believe that to lose the rights and freedoms that come with being a citizen of the European Union would be a monumental loss to all of us. That is why we are working to defend those rights and freedoms as we approach the negotiation process. My colleague Jean Lambert has focused particularly on the issue of citizenship and Brexit as she has expert on nationality and migration in-house and we cooperated recently in organising an event in London focused on the importance of free movement. We also made a video summing up the outcome of the event which you can find here. We have also been working particularly on young British people who so clearly indicated their desire to continue as members of the EU. We are making it a priority to protect their rights, including continued right to study abroad, to be part of the European voluntary service, and to receive a free Interrail pass.
While the idea of ‘associate citizenship’ of the EU is superficially appealing it is difficult to know what this might mean in legal terms, since what we think of as EU citizenship is actually based on the citizenship of a country that is a full member of the EU. I am concerned that the proposal of Guy Verhofstadt could imply that citizenship is something you can purchase without any corresponding responsibilities. So Brits would acquire additional rights without the British government offering anything to citizens of other member states. The European Union only works because all countries accept aspects they do not like for the greater good. Allowing one country to pick and choose is deeply destabilising. Tomorrow in Strasbourg, I will attend a meeting with Verhofstadt in which I will raise the question of associate citizenship and discuss possible ways to maintain the rights of citizens in the UK and abroad. This will be a delicate position to negotiate without undermining the citizenship laws of the EU.
As Greens, we believe that being a citizen is more than just a financial commitment whereby people (if they have the financial means to) can simply buy their way into a community; being a citizen is a commitment that requires a contribution to that society be it the EU or individual Member States. This is why we are putting forward a more constructive and legally solid amendment that seeks to base citizenship rights on residence rather than nationality. Such an amendment if it were to pass would mean that all who have lived in an EU country for a substantial amount of time would automatically gain the citizenship rights of that country without having to change their nationality. Likewise, all foreign nationals who have lived and worked in the UK for the same period of time would have access to all the rights that British citizens enjoy without having to apply for dual nationality.
With the Green party, I will continue to fight to remain as close to the European Union as possible and we have not given up hope of maintaining full membership. We are supporting the idea of a second referendum once we have a final and achievable deal on the table so that people can choose between two concrete realities, so they consciously vote for a future, and not just against the current status quo.
We are also very clear that rights are reciprocal and we want to ensure freedom of movement for both Britons in Europe and Europeans in Britain. We want to maintain the environmental standards and workers’ rights that only being within the single market affords. We also want full UK parliamentary scrutiny of the negotiations.
We have not yet begun the momentous task of redefining the UK’s relationship with the EU. Like anything that sounds too good to be true, I think that associate membership probably is. I will consider the legal proposal carefully, taking into consideration the support you have expressed, as well as need to protect the European Union itself. I will also be careful to ensure that proposals like this which are unlikely to succeed do not distract us from more important political objectives.