Last week it was reported that a large number of UK citizens living abroad have applied for the EU nationality of their host country. This was no doubt fuelled by signs from the Conservative government that the UK is seriously thinking of leaving the Single Market.
This is an issue of great urgency not least for UK citizens currently working at the EU institutions. The Treaty on the European Union sets out the following stipulations for employees in Article 28 (a) SR:
« an official may be appointed only on condition that he is a national of one of the Member States of the Union, unless an exception is authorized by the appointing authority (…) »
By the time Brexit comes into force sometime in 2019 (perhaps), UK citizens will no longer be nationals of an EU member state and will no longer fulfil the requirements of Article 28. So what will happen to them?
The short answer is: nobody really knows. But the general feeling that I have got during my month in Brussels is that British employees will either have to gain another EU nationality, or be made redundant with a handsome severance package. Probably many people who have made their career at the EU Institutions will have been living in Brussels long enough to apply for Belgian citizenship. But no doubt there are also many who are not eligible.
The EU clearly thinks that naturalisation is the best option. In September the Council held a conference on British nationals at the EU Institutions. You can watch a shaky video recording of the conference here. (Why not see if you can become the 300th viewer!) The main thrust of the EU’s message was along the lines of “Don’t worry, Brits! This is how you become Belgians.” Belgium requires 5 years’ residency before granting citizenship. The many British stagiaires who have just arrived in Brussels with an eye to getting a job will therefore not be eligible for Belgian citizenship by the time the UK leaves the EU.
There was recently a glimmer of hope from Germany, however. Sigmar Gabriel, leader of the SDP (the junior partner in Germany’s ruling coalition) urged Germany to grant fast-track citizenship to young Brits living in Germany. (Why oh why did I ever leave Berlin??) Since UK citizens aged 18-24 supposedly voted 70% in favour of Remain, certain politicians in Germany felt that these people should not have their European futures closed off from them by older Leave voters. However, when the issue was debated in the German parliament, it was met with stiff opposition.
It is understandable, really. Germany’s Turkish community has long faced barriers to naturalisation, and Germany is already trying to integrate more refugees than any other EU country. Why should Britons be given preferential treatment? In any case, this is of little use to UK citizens who are currently based in Brussels.
And yet, never one to give up hope, I made my own enquiries with the German embassy in Brussels. I emphasised my time spent in Berlin, my fluent command of German, my European career, and my lasting ties to Germany. None of this was of much interest to a certain Herr Zeiler, who replied with the following:
“eine Einbürgerung von im Ausland wohnhaften ausländischen Staatsangehörigen ist äußerst selten und regelmäßig nur bei Vorliegen eines besonderen öffentlichen (staatlichen) Interesses möglich. […] Anhaltspunkte für ein derartiges besonderes öffentliches Interesse vermag ich Ihrer Zuschrift nicht zu entnehmen.”
Disappointing but not surprising.
This leaves only the option of citizenship through marriage. Time to call in a few favours…