Candidate barred from standing in German local election challenges removal of Brits’ EU rights

A British candidate rejected from standing in the Berlin local elections is challenging the decision in court, saying he still has EU citizenship after Brexit.

Candidate barred from standing in German local election challenges removal of Brits' EU rights
Matt Bristow placing political posters up on the Berlin campaign trail recently. Photo courtesy of Matt Bristow

When UK national and German resident Matt Bristow stood as a candidate for Volt Deutschland in the Berlin borough of Pankow, the state electoral commission ruled he wasn’t allowed because he doesn’t have the citizenship of a Member State of the EU after the UK left the bloc.

Under Germany’s election laws, EU citizens living in Germany can vote and stand in the district assembly elections, which are taking place on September 26th this year.

Bristow – with the support of his legal team, EU lawyer Dr Alexandra von Westernhagen and constitutional lawyer Michael Plöse – this week filed an appeal with the Berlin constitutional court against this decision in urgent proceedings.

The 36-year-old – backed by his pro-European party Volt – believes he is still an EU citizen and therefore should be able to exercise the right to stand in a German local election.

VIDEO: What Brits in Germany need to know about residency after Brexit

According to EU law, Bristow, who has lived in Berlin with some gaps since 2006, only needs to be an EU citizen in order to be able to stand in local elections. In the party’s view, this status is not the same as having the citizenship of an EU member state.

Citing EU law, Volt said in a press release that “EU citizenship is an independent status: it is additional to national citizenship and does not replace it. This is consistent with the opinion of a number of experts in EU law from various EU member states.”

Bristow, who is also a citizens’ rights campaigner for British in Germany, told The Local: “Once an EU citizen always an EU citizen, regardless of what happens in the country of origin – and the only way for such a fundamental individual right to be lost is if there is due process with an individual hearing. If you look at other fundamental EU rights, that’s the way the EU system works.

“You can’t just suddenly remove rights from people in that way. So we’re not arguing that British citizens who’ve been born in the past 18 months are EU citizens, we’re saying it’s clear that they’re not. Because they were born after the UK left the EU.

“We’re saying anyone who was a UK citizen up until the 31st of January 2020 would have automatically become an EU citizen, and therefore still is an EU citizen.”

READ ALSO: How Brits can prove their post-Brexit rights in Germany before they get their residency card

What does EU citizenship actually mean? Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Jens Kalaene

Although similar cases have arisen, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg has so far not ruled explicitly on this point. There’s a possibility that Berlin will refer this question onto the ECJ.

A ruling in favour of this stand point would have massive implications for Britons both at home and abroad. 

Bristow said he has always maintained that he is an EU citizen – and that’s why he stood in the district elections.

“I’ve understood that the authorities have taken a different view to whether or not I’m eligible for the election,” he said. “But because it’s such an important issue, I have thought throughout that this does need to go to the ECJ to have this question settled once and for all.”

Alexandra von Westernhagen, who, together with Professor Joshua Silver as the lead plaintiff, initiated a similar case from the UK in April 2020 that is currently before the ECJ, said: “Having been conferred, EU citizenship is a fundamental, individual right, which according to applicable EU law as well as the European Human Rights Convention cannot be removed without any due process. EU citizenship therefore is not automatically lost when the country of origin leaves the Union.”

Paul Loeper, Co-Chair of Volt Deutschland said: “We unequivocally criticise the exclusion of Matt Bristow from our electoral list on the basis of his British nationality. We regard this decision as being incompatible with EU law. We therefore explicitly support Bristow’s appeal against the decision of the state electoral commission.”

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about Berlin’s ‘super election day’

What does EU citizenship mean for EU citizens?

Although Bristow’s case is about standing as a candidate in a local election, other rights such as voting, freedom of movement and getting support from EU embassies while abroad are also linked to holding EU citizenship. 

“There are a whole other range of rights connected to EU citizenship which millions of people are reliant on. I think it’s broader than just the 66 million UK citizens, although clearly it’s partly about them,” said Bristow. 

“It’s also about hundreds of millions of EU citizens in general to really understand – what does the status of EU citizenship mean?

“Is it really worth the paper it’s written on? Or is it a kind-of PR stunt, is it no more than national citizenship or does it actually have its individual status and rights. And is the EU prepared to stand up for its citizens? That’s the crux of the issue.”

Bristow reiterated that this question is not simply a Brexit topic.

“This is a European Union issue, and it’s about the relationship between the EU and it’s own citizens and I think that’s a really important point.”

Member comments

  1. I await with bated breath to see the outcome…. but I doubt it will be in favour of U.K. (former) EU citizens. Our rights and status have been unilaterally removed

    1. That’s the key – “unilaterally removed” without due process or right of appeal and without any consideration for individual circumstances

  2. There are about 1.2 million UK citizens living in the EU, which makes us a larger population than Cyprus, Luxembourg and Malta. Larger, in fact, that the two smallest states put together.
    I agree with Matt Bristow, we have been disenfranchised by the electoral system in the UK and if we cannot vote in our adoptive countries, then anyone refusing to let us vote is clearly acting in an undemocratic way and contrary to the EU’s fundamental ethos.

  3. I have been living in France since 1987, got married to local woman from Rennes, had our daughter in the 90’s , initially I got the carte de séjour in 1988 renewed it in 1998 then in the early 2000’s it was no longer needed, then came Brexit , I eventually changed the one from 1998 for the new 2021 one, which gives full rights in France and the EU, same as I had pre Brexit, but, I have only ever been allowed to vote in local and regional elections , with the new card I’ve been given permanent residence, ‘séjour permanent’, but still not able to vote in the Presidential elections, but I have been offered French citizenship which I so far have not accepted .Things are the same as pre Brexit.

  4. Maybe Brits should pin their hopes on German parties voting to allow less restrictive rules on dual nationality. i.e. to allow the other nationality to be non-EU. SPD, Greens and FDP offer some encouragment of this in their manifestos, though I guess it is more aimed at allowing second generation children of Turkish and others to retain the nationality of their parents.

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How Germany is reacting to far-right election victory in Italy

While far-right groups have been celebrating, other politicians in Germany see the results as worrying. Here's a look at the reaction.

How Germany is reacting to far-right election victory in Italy

According to initial projections following Italy’s election on Sunday, the coalition led by Georgia Meloni and her radical right-wing Fratelli d’Italia party has won a majority of seats in the two chambers of the Italian parliament and will lead the next government. 

Meloni is a euro-sceptic who has previously spoken about having an “aversion” to Germany and referred to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz as “socialist” while on the campaign trail.

However, Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s deputy spokesman Wolfgang Buechner told reporters on Monday: “We of course have to wait for the official final result from this election but at this time what the chancellor would say is that Italy is a very Europe-friendly country with very Europe-friendly citizens and we assume that won’t change.” 

READ ALSO: What will a far-right government mean for Italy?

A Finance Ministry spokesperson added that Berlin expected the new Italian government to continue to respect the stability pact that sets the fiscal rules for the eurozone.

Despite these reassurances from the central government, German politicians in the EU parliament have expressed concern about the new direction for Italy.  

Rasmus Andresen, spokesman for the German Greens in the EU Parliament, said the “unprecedented Italian slide to the right” will have massive repercussions for Europe and for the European Union.

“Italy, as a founding member and the third strongest economy in the EU, is heading for an anti-democratic and anti-European government.”

Though Meloni no longer wants Italy to leave the eurozone, she has said that Rome must assert its interests more and has policies that look set to challenge Brussels on everything from public spending rules to mass migration.

The Greens’ co-leader in Brussels, Thomas Waitz, told Die Welt that the EU can only function if it sticks together, for example on cooperation in energy markets, decisions on Russian sanctions or dealing with the Covid crisis. “Meloni, on the other hand, would back national go-it-alones. It can be a disaster for Europe,”  he said. 

READ ALSO: Euro falls to 20-year low against US dollar

The FDP’s expert on Europe, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, takes a similar view. He said on ARD’s Morgenmagazin that cooperation with Italy in the European Union will become more difficult. He said that it will now be much more difficult to achieve unity in Europe, especially on the issues of migration, reform of the Stability and Growth Pact and the single market.

Speaking on RTL, Green Party leader Omid Nouripour called the election results in Italy “worrying” and pointed out that people within the Italian right-wing nationalist alliance have “very close entanglements with the Kremlin”.

“We can’t rule out the possibility that people in Moscow also popped the corks last night,” he said.

Germany’s own far-right party – Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) – has been celebrating the victory. 

AfD member of the Bundestag Beatrix von Storch wrote “We cheer with Italy!” on Twitter late Sunday evening.

Referring to the recent elections in Sweden, where the right was also successful, von Storch wrote: “Sweden in the north, Italy in the south: left-wing governments are so yesterday.”

Her party colleague Malte Kaufmann tweeted, “A good day for Italy – a good day for Europe.”

With reporting from AFP