The Citizenship of the Union

The Treaty of the European Union or Treaty of Maastricht established the Citizenship of the Union. The foremost purpose of the institutionalisation of this new legal status was, according to Community institutions, to strengthen and enhance the European identity and enable European citizens to participate in the Community integration process in a more intense way.

European citizen's condition was reserved to every person that had the nationality of a member State. The European citizenship didn't substitute but rather supplemented the citizenship of each State. In consequence, laws of each State -quite different in many cases - were to regulate the way to access to the Citizenship of the Union.

"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 complement and not replace national citizenship.'

Treaty of Amsterdam, 1997

Member States citizens already enjoyed a series of rights on account of the application of the laws that regulate the European common market (free movement of goods and services, consumer protection, public health, equal opportunities...).

The Citizenship of the Union established some rights that are added to all the previous one. Basically, they can be summarised in the following ones:

Article 18 (ex Article 8a)

1. Every citizen of the Union shall have the right to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States, subject to the limitations and conditions laid down in this Treaty and by the measures adopted to give it effect.

Treaty of Nice, 2001

Article 19 (ex Article 8b)

1. Every citizen of the Union residing in a Member State of which he is not a national shall have the right to vote and to stand as a candidate at municipal elections in the Member State in which he resides, under the same conditions as nationals of that State. This right shall be exercised subject to detailed arrangements adopted by the Council, acting unanimously on a proposal from the Commission and after consulting the European Parliament; these arrangements may provide for derogations where warranted by problems specific to a Member State.

2. (...) every citizen of the Union residing in a Member State of which he is not a national shall have the right to vote and to stand as a candidate in elections to the European Parliament in the Member State in which he resides, under the same conditions as nationals of that State (...)

Treaty of Amsterdam, 1997

Elections to the European Parliament


  • The right to have diplomatic and consular protection from the authorities of any Member State where the country of which a person is a national is not represented in a non-Union country;

Article 20 (ex Article 8c)

Every citizen of the Union shall, in the territory of a third country in which the Member State of which he is a national is not represented, be entitled to protection by the diplomatic or consular authorities of any Member State, on the same conditions as the nationals of that State. Member States shall establish the necessary rules among themselves and start the international negotiations required to secure this protection.

Treaty of Amsterdam, 1997

  • the right of petition to the European Parliament and appeal to the European Ombudsman

Article 21 (ex Article 8d)

Every citizen of the Union shall have the right to petition the European Parliament (...)
Every citizen of the Union may apply to the Ombudsman (...)

Treaty of Amsterdam, 1997

To these rights, the Treaty of Amsterdam added other two less important new rights:

  • Right of writing to the European institutions in one of the official languages (Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, English, Gaelic Irish, Dutch, German, Danish, Swedish, Finnish and Greek) and being answered in that same language.

Every citizen of the Union may write to any of the institutions or bodies referred to in this Article or in Article 7 in one of the languages mentioned in Article 314 and have an answer in the same language.

Treaty of Amsterdam, 1997

These last two rights, as well as petition right to the Parliament and application to the Ombudsman, are also applicable to  every resident in the member States, although not being nationals of them.

So far, the Citizenship of the Union, contrary to national citizenship, does not impose any duty to the citizens of the member States.  

The Citizenship of the Union is considered as a legal status to be developed and, this way, the Commission must present  every three years to the Parliament, the Council and the Economic and Social Committee, a report on the application of the dispositions of the Second Part of the Treaty, which all articles related to the European citizenship are included in.

The Second report on the Citizenship of the Union, emitted by the Commission in 1997, emphasized the need of developing all the measures regarding the free movement of European citizens within the EU. The report pointed out the necessity to improve the information that citizens receive about their rights to free movement and residence.  

One of the initiatives to improve this information on European citizens'  rights, was the setting up of a web site Citizens. This site provides an eminently practical information.

From a much more political position, the European Parliament approved in 1988 a Resolution on the Second Report of the Commission that affirmed that:

"Citizenship of the Union is (...) a dynamic institution, key in the process of European integration, and that is expected to extend and complement  gradually the rights granted to the individuals by their belonging as nationals to a member State (...) 

In this resolution, MPs proposed a wide set of measures bound to broaden the rights granted to the European citizens.

Next to the new legal statute of the Citizenship of the Union, we should include the different advances that the Treaty of Amsterdam proclaimed with regard to human rights.

Other rights guaranteed within the Union are:

  • Equality of all citizens to access to the civil service in the institutions of the European Union.

  • the non-discrimination principle by reason of nationality.

Article 12 (ex Article 6)

Within the scope of application of this Treaty, and without prejudice to any special provisions contained therein, any discrimination on grounds of nationality shall be prohibited.

Treaty of Amsterdam, 1997

Article 13 (ex Article 6a)

Without prejudice to the other provisions of this Treaty and within the limits of the powers conferred by it upon the Community, the Council, acting unanimously on a proposal from the Commission and after consulting the European Parliament, may take appropriate action to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.

Treaty of Amsterdam, 1997

Finally, it is necessary to highlight that the Commission has emphasised the fact that education will be the key element for building the European citizenship. The rights introduced in Maastricht and included in the Treaty of Amsterdam constitute the beginning of a process that, from a pro-Europe view, will lead to a Citizenship of the Union whose rights and duties will be connected to daily life and will be the base on Europeans will support a significant part of their identity.

European students

In 1995, the Commission set up a Group of Reflection on Education and Formation, constituted by 25 independent experts of the fifteen member countries and presided over then by a French member of the Commission, Edith Cresson. In December 1996, this panel subscribed a report titled Building Europe by means of Education and Training. 

The following year, in December of 1998, the Commission approved a document titled Learning for active citizenship. Edith Cresson claimed in the foreword:

"The fostering of competencies and convictions capable of enhancing the quality of social relations rests on the natural alliance of education and training with equality and social justice. Citizenship with a European dimension is anchored in the shared creation of a voluntary community of peoples, of different cultures and of different traditions - the creation of a democratic society which has learned to embrace diversity sincerely as a positive opportunity, a society of openness and solidarity for each and every one of us"