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For quite a few years, europeans have held european citizenship. But what is the actual meaning of the phrase in law?

By that I mean, is a (say) person born and lifelong resident in Germany, a european citizen in the "strong" sense of effectively having dual german-european citizenship? Could they surrender German nationality and yet still remain a european citizen? Or is European citizenship a derived/secondary kind of thing, that the person doesn't have independently, but only has by virtue of they being a German citizen and German citizens having the status of European citizens for the time being?

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    I'd say EU citizenship comes with a EU country citizenship. – Thomas Hung Jul 5 '16 at 15:50
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    @Thomas is that the answer though? If so, please write an answer :) – user3851 Jul 5 '16 at 15:56
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From the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union:

Article 20

(ex Article 17 TEC)

  1. 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 be additional to and not replace national citizenship.

Similarly, from http://ec.europa.eu/justice/citizen/:

Any person who holds the nationality of an EU country is automatically also an EU citizen. EU citizenship is additional to and does not replace national citizenship. It is for each EU country to lay down the conditions for the acquisition and loss of nationality of that country.

From this I conclude that anyone who surrenders German citizenship also loses European Union citizenship, unless that person is also a citizen of another European Union country. In other words, European citizenship is derived from national citizenship, not independent of it.

This can also perhaps be seen in, for example, freedom of movement rules, where national immigration law applies to family members of a country's own citizens (unless the citizen in question has previously exercized freedom of movement rights by residing in another EU country).

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I would say that the answer to this question may be changing in the near future. Currently it seems that you received an EU citizenship by being born as a citizen of an EU member, by receiving the citizenship of an EU member, or by being a citizen of country that becomes an EU member. And you would lose the EU citizenship by giving up or losing citizenship of all EU members that you are a citizen of.

It currently looks as if there are about 60 million EU citizens who are citizens of a country that will leave the EU soon. It seems a bit unfair that these people would lose EU citizenship because a decision of their country, not their own decision, so there might be a change in the rules.

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    It seems impossible that individuals from the UK can stay EU citizens after brexit. The EU is structured as a union of nation states, there wouldn't be any meaningful place in it for citizens of a non-eu state. – bdsl Jul 7 '16 at 23:24
  • Do you have any evidence that anyone is seriously considering a change in the rules? The closest thing I'm aware of is talk of some EU countries making it easier for British citizens to become citizens so they can continue to be EU citizens, and that is obviously an explicit effort to work within the existing rules. – phoog Jul 12 '16 at 14:56

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