Citizenship Rights of Europeans

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  • 0:02 EU Citizenship
  • 0:47 History
  • 2:45 Rights
  • 5:19 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we briefly explore the evolution of the European Union (EU) and the notion of EU citizenship, then discover exactly who is an EU citizen and the rights EU citizens enjoy.

EU Citizenship

Chances are that one of the first things you learned about in grade school was the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The U.S.'s Bill of Rights refers to the first ten amendments of the U.S. Constitution, amendments that detail the basic rights and privileges that come with being a citizen of the United States. Other countries have similar constitutions or bills of rights, while some, like the UK, have compiled their citizens' rights over time through collected statutory law.

More like the latter than the former, the European Union (EU), Europe's 28-nation supranational organization, also grants its citizens a certain amount of rights. In this lesson, we will detail how EU citizenship evolved over time and the specific rights EU citizens enjoy today.


EU citizenship is a relatively recent development in European history. European cooperation began as an economic partnership between six Western European nations in the 1950s. Originally designed to pool industrial resources, the partnership expanded to include common agricultural policies, the removal of tariffs between member nations, and currency manipulation so as to avoid trade and capital deficits between member states.

In addition to expanding its economic cooperation, the EU also began integrating in other areas as well, especially governance. After all, in the 1970s and 1980s, EU nations began earnestly working toward the creation of a single, common economic market in all EU countries - it only made sense for EU governments to cooperate and adopt common policies and attitudes both domestically and in foreign policy. At the same time, the EU was also expanding. By the end of the 1980s the EU's forerunner, the European Economic Community, had expanded from its original six countries to 12 countries, and further expansion was planned.

In 1992, the members of this growing European cooperative organization signed the Treaty on European Union in Maastricht. The Treaty not only officially changed the name of the organization to the European Union but also established, for the first time, the rights and duties of EU citizenship. Multiple documents and treaties since the Treaty on European Union have modified or added to the rights enjoyed by European citizenship.

In 2000, the EU drafted the Charter of the Fundamental Rights of the European Union. The landmark Charter listed dozens of basic rights for EU citizens, though the document did not become binding until 2009. The 2007 Treaty of Lisbon made additional changes and additions to EU citizenship rights. For example, it gave EU citizens the right to vote for the European Parliament in their EU country of residence, regardless of their citizenship.


Before we discuss the rights enjoyed by EU citizens, let's first establish the parameters necessary to be an EU citizen. According to the Treaty on European Union, any citizen of an EU member country is automatically an EU citizen. There is no need to apply or file any paperwork. Moreover, EU citizenship cannot be refused by citizens of an EU member state.

EU citizenship does not replace national citizenship. It is considered an additional set of rights enjoyed by citizens of EU member states. However, EU citizenship is directly connected to national citizenship - if an EU citizen does something which causes them to lose their national citizenship, they lose their EU citizenship as well.

As long as they keep their national and EU citizenship, EU citizens enjoy many rights and freedoms across the organization. EU citizens have the right to move, live, and work freely across all 28 EU member nations. They are allowed to stand as candidates in elections for the European Parliament. As mentioned above, EU citizens are also allowed to vote in their EU country of residency, regardless of nationality.

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