When in January 2013 Mr. Cameron pledged to have a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU, I commented that, rather than a democratic choice, the question he was posing to Britons was actually the extent to which they think Britain should withdraw from European affairs, that is, whether partially or completely. My contention was that - as it is often the case with binary alternatives in referenda - by framing the terms of referendum the way he did, Mr. Cameron marginalised those voices who believe Europe should not just be a trading association, or – in Mr. Cameron’s words - about the UK joining the ‘race’ to benefit from globalisation whilst protecting ‘national interests’.
The issue of whose voices will be represented in the referendum has also been raised recently in relation to which citizens will be formally entitled to vote since, with over two million EU citizens now living in the EU, this could clearly affect the referendum outcome one way or another.
The question is that, under the proposed terms, along with British citizens, UK-resident citizens of Commonwealth countries will also be allowed to vote in the referendum, whereas EU citizens who are resident in the UK will not have the right to vote. However, as was pointed out in an earlier article on this website, UK-resident Maltese, Cypriot, and Irish nationals will be able to vote in the referendum by virtue of their Commonwealth status. This raises the thorny case of two EU citizens (say a Cypriot and a Spaniard) being treated differently by British laws thus potentially infringing the principle of equality of EU citizenship.
On these pages, Laura de Vito has lamented her frustration at these rules: she has been in the UK for 20 years, contributing to British society and still she is denied a voice in the referendum. As a EU citizen who has been in the UK for nearly 15 years I second Laura’s view. I am left to face the inconvenient truth that, for all the benefits of freedom of movement in the EU we have, European citizenship is not a status which one holds independently of national citizenship of a member state.
However, a possible way to bypass the predicament Laura, myself, and many other EU citizens are in could be to acquire British citizenship. As most EU countries allow for dual citizenship, we would not lose our status as Italian, Finnish, Portuguese citizens, etc. Of course there are limitations in going down this route. Firstly, not everyone will be eligible as, to apply, one has to have lived in the UK for at least five years (or three if married to a British citizen). Secondly, the process can be costly and it can take some time, with no certainty one would be granted citizenship in time for the referendum. Thirdly, a test must be taken to prove knowledge of language, culture and history. And fourthly, one has to become a subject by swearing loyalty to the monarch. The prospect of acquiring a new nationality may be off-putting to some as they may regard this process as a final ideological surrender to the very system of nation-states they are trying to distance themselves from in their commitment to construct a ‘new Europe’.
In my view, however, this might still be an option worth considering if it gave us the voice that we have so far been denied and helped us shape the future of Europe for the better.