Stuart Bonar on how associate membership of EU may work for all
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Can Brits remain members of the EU without finding a route to a foreign passport? Stuart Bonar has an idea
Since the vote to leave the European Union, many friends have suddenly developed a keen interest in their Irish ancestry.
One has already claimed German citizenship. Another, Cypriot. Yet another has secured permanent residence in Belgium. Everywhere, people are finding ways to avoid being stranded here in Brexit Britain.
Some of us however are unable to contribute to the big, post-referendum spike in applications to become new Danes, Italians and Swedes. We lack a parent or grandparent helpfully born elsewhere in Europe.
I want to keep my right to live, work, travel, study, retire, even start a business elsewhere in the EU with the minimum of bureaucratic fuss and bother, but it is more than just that. I am a European. I feel it in my bones. I don't want to be stripped of my European citizenship. I want to keep it.
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I have a simple idea that would allow those who want to leave the EU to do so while allowing those of us who feel we are European as well as British to remain so.
Currently, individuals are only EU citizens if they are nationals of an EU member state. If the UK is no longer in the EU, we are no longer EU citizens. But why not allow people from departing member states to become EU citizens directly, out of choice?
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You would have to opt in, perhaps you would have to make a public declaration of support for the EU and maybe face a citizenship test.
Pro-Europeans would get to keep their EU citizenship, which they value, whilst anti-Europeans would get to shake it off. This solution would do something that the Government seems uninterested in doing, namely trying to find a way forward that works for as many people as possible – not just ramming through the agenda of some people at the expense of everyone else.
But what is in it for the rest of Europe? After all, it is a big ask. Well, with a big member leaving, the EU will shrink. There is a risk that the EU will look very much to be on the wane. Its 12 stars will perhaps appear to burn a little less brightly than before. In which case, what better way to give Europe renewed zip and zing than footage of British citizens queuing anxiously to be let back in?
And think of the impact of the images of smiling, grateful Brits waving their new EU passports for the TV cameras? The wind will be back in Europe's sails.
I set up a blog to get to promote this idea. Amazingly, within a few days and on the back of just a handful of tweets and Facebook posts, more than 100,000 people had read it and 15,000 have signed up to support the idea.
And it turns out that support for the principle goes further than one might think. A Liberal MEP from Luxembourg, Charles Goerens, is pushing this very idea in the European Parliament. His amendment, calling for 'associate citizenship', is scheduled for a vote in the Parliament's constitutional affairs committee on November 21. If approved, it will go before the whole Parliament next month.
Events are moving fast and this could happen.
If other member states need a little extra inducement, what if those of us who participated paid a subscription fee, the equivalent of what we are currently paying per person for EU membership through our taxes? Again, a fee is something that Mr Goerens is proposing to his fellow MEPs.
Last year, the UK's contribution was £17.8bn gross, £12.9bn after accounting for our big rebate, and £8.5bn net (after one knocks off all the money we get back for things like farm subsidies).
In the same year, the UK's population was estimated to be just over 65 million. So, crunching the numbers, each participant could pay a monthly fee of between £11 and £23 to belong. Subscription citizenship: it is a zeitgeisty, millennial interpretation of 'no taxation without representation'. It is freedom of movement meets Netflix.
There is a challenge for the EU here too. It has adopted some of the trappings of statehood: a flag, an anthem, citizenship. Now, pro-European Brits are the first people who face it all being ripped from their hands. What is the EU going to do about that? If it just turns and walks away, maybe it should give up any pretension of being anything more than a simple club of countries.
This is the moment for the EU to be brave and bold, to show that the EU cares about the people who care about it.
The anti-Europeans are already squealing and squawking in their usual fashion over early reports in the media that this could happen. But it is worth repeating that this idea does not stand in the way of them getting any of the things they want. They would still be free to walk away from the EU and no longer be part of it.
But, importantly, this idea also allows pro-Europeans to remain part of the EU – a great, noble experiment that has become the most successful peace project in history. This idea is that deeply unfashionable thing in the era of Brexit and Trump: a compromise.
Stuart Bonar blogs at stillEU.uk and runs the Campaign to Remain page on Facebook.
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