Citizenship of the European Union

Table of Contents:

Citizenship of the European Union

Outline of the Community (European Union) legislation about Citizenship of the European Union


These categories group together and put in context the legislative and non-legislative initiatives which deal with the same topic.

Institutional affairs > Building europe through the treaties > The Amsterdam treaty: a comprehensive guide

Citizenship of the European Union

As set out in the Maastricht Treaty, any national of a Member State is a citizen of the Union. The aim of European citizenship is to strengthen and consolidate European identity by greater involvement of the citizens in the Community integration process. Thanks to the single market, citizens enjoy a series of general rights in various areas such as the free movement of goods and services, consumer protection and public health, equal opportunities and treatment, access to jobs and social protection. There are four categories of specific provisions and rights attached to citizenship of the European Union:

  • freedom of movement and residence throughout the Union;
  • the right to vote and stand as a candidate in municipal elections and in elections to the European Parliament in the state where he/she resides;
  • protection by the diplomatic and consular authorities of any Member State where the State of which the person is a national is not represented in a non-member country,
  • the right to petition the European Parliament and apply to the Ombudsman.

Although the exercise of these rights is dependent on European citizenship and is subject to certain limitations laid down by the Treaties or secondary legislation, the right to apply to the Ombudsman or to petition the European Parliament is open to all natural or legal persons residing in the Member States of the Union. Likewise, any person residing in the European Union has fundamental rights.

The Amsterdam Treaty completes the list of civic rights of Union citizens and clarifies the link between national citizenship and European citizenship.


Union citizenship and the rights accompanying it must be seen in perspective in order to understand the dynamics of the process launched by the Treaty setting up the European Economic Community (signed in Rome in 1957). This Treaty gave people the right to move freely within the European Community. Free movement of people was closely linked to economic status as employee, self-employed or service provider. The right of residence throughout the Community was first given to employees and the self-employed and members of their families in conjunction with the right to work there.

The Single European Act (1986) wrote provisions into the Treaty of Rome to establish an area without frontiers and to abolish checks on persons at internal frontiers, irrespective of nationality. Unfortunately, this area was not established before the scheduled date of 31 December 1992. But in 1990 the Council, acting under the Single Act, extended the right of residence to persons who are not engaged in an occupation, provided they have sufficient resources and social insurance cover. The final stage in attaining the general right to movement and residence was its incorporation in the concept of Union citizenship in the Treaty on European Union (1992). In 1997 the Amsterdam Treaty produced a political solution for further progress on free movement, incorporating the Schengen Agreement into the Union Treaty (although some member states wanted to have special status and will retain controls at their border with other Member States).

As early as the Paris Summit in 1974, attempts had been made to define the “special rights” to be conferred on nationals of the European Economic Community as it then was. In 1992 the EU Treaty wrote Union citizenship into the Treaty establishing the European Community (Article 17, ex Article 8). After the signing of the Treaty, the Declaration by the Birmingham European Council in October 1992 made clear that “… citizenship of the Union brings our citizens additional rights and protection without in any way taking the place of their national citizenship”. A Declaration attached to the Treaty setting up the European Community notes that “the question whether an individual possesses the nationality of a Member State shall be settled solely by reference to the national law of the Member State concerned”.

The Treaty on European Union, by establishing Union citizenship, confers on every Union citizen a fundamental and personal right to move and reside freely without reference to an economic activity. The right to vote and to stand as a candidate in elections to the European Parliament and in municipal elections in the Member State in which he/she resides and the right to protection by the diplomatic or consular authorities of any Member State in a non-member country are a concrete expression of the feeling of common citizenship. Directives adopted in 1993 and 1994 laid down the rules for giving effect to these rights. The same Treaty makes it possible to strengthen and amplify these rights.

However, European citizens still encounter real obstacles, both practical and legal, when they wish to exercise their rights to free movement and residence in the Union.


Amendments have been made to Articles 17 and 21 (ex Articles 8 and 8(d)) of the EC Treaty, which define European citizenship.

Firstly, the Amsterdam clarifies the link between European and national citizenship. It states unequivocally that “citizenship of the Union shall complement and not replace national citizenship”. Two practical conclusions follow from this:

  • it is first necessary to be a national of a Member State in order to enjoy citizenship of the Union;
  • European citizenship will supplement and complement the rights conferred by national citizenship.

Moreover, the Amsterdam Treaty has established a new right for European citizens. Every citizen of the Union can now write to the European Parliament, the Council, the Commission, the Court of Justice, the Court of Auditors, the Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions or the Ombudsman in one of the twelve languages of the Treaties and receive an answer in the same language.

As a reminder the twelve languages are: Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Irish (Gaelic), Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish.

Lastly, a new paragraph has been inserted in the preamble of the EC Treaty. It confirms the commitment by the member states to the education of their peoples. Each member state undertakes “to promote the development of the highest possible level of knowledge … through a wide access to education and through its continuous updating”.

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