Lost & found: loss of nationality and its impact on EU citizenship

Feb 15, 2021

This article is written by Yuu Shibata on Medium.com, follow us on Medium.com/StudioMazzeschi for more latest articles.

March 2019, the European Court of Justice has clarified that, in the case where an individual may lose his/her EU Member State’s nationality (by operation of law) and consequently the EU citizenship, the national competent authorities when exercising their powers in the sphere of nationality, they must have due regard to EU law and to assess case by case the impact that the loss of the EU citizenship may bring to the person’s life or to his/her family and professional life.

There are many cases in which a person can lose his/her nationality. In the cases of nationals of European Union Member States, this loss of nationality may directly mean also the loss of EU citizenship when this person does not hold another nationality from another EU Member State.

Generally speaking, the “nationality” is a matter of each Member States domestic law, which means that each State will decide on how to regulate its nationality. However, according to the EU case-law, this does not mean that EU law will not be applicable at all in regulating nationality matters. In fact, in March 2019, with case C-221/17, the European Court of Justice has clarified the applicability of the Union law on the domestic nationality law.

Backgrounds of the case

Case C-221/17 of 12 March 2019 concerned four people who acquired in the past the Netherlands nationality either from birth or by nationality acquisition procedures. Furthermore, all of them have another nationality other than the Netherlands nationality and none of them have resided in the Netherlands in the past 10 years. The issue became apparent when they applied (independently) for the Netherlands passport but the competent authorities decided to not examine their passport application as according to them, the applicants had lost Netherlands nationality by operation of law (Article 15(1)(c) and Article 16(1)(d) of the Netherlands Law on Nationality). Consequently, the applicants brought four separate actions and appeals before the court.

Relevant legal basis

  • Article 20.1 TFUE provides: “ […] 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.[…]
  • Article 15(1)(c) of Netherlands’ Law on Nationality: 1) An adult shall lose his Netherlands nationality […] c) if he also holds a foreign nationality and if, after attaining his majority and while holding both nationalities, he has his principal residence for an uninterrupted period of 10 years outside the Netherlands […] and outside the territories to which the [EU Treaty] applies […].

Findings of the European Court of Justice

The ECJ gave a very systematic and clear reasoning on the case.

In the first place, the Court recalled for the Rottman Case (case C-135/08), in which the ECJ has already clarified that each Member State has the competence to regulate the conditions for acquisition and loss of nationality, having always due regard to international law. However, in this case, the Court added that such conditions must have due regard to the EU law in situations covered by it. For instance, Article 20 TFEU confers the EU citizenship to every nation of each Member State; and by doing it so, it also confers rights and freedoms such as the right to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States. As stated above, this case concerned four individuals that acquired the Netherlands nationality in the past, either from birth or by nationality acquisition procedures. These four individuals do not possess another EU Member States nationality, and therefore, by losing their Netherlands nationality, it means that they will lose also their status of EU citizen. In such circumstances, the ECJ indicates that all authorities when exercising their powers in the sphere of nationality, they must have due regard to EU law and to assess case by case the impact (examination of proportionality) that the loss of the EU citizenship may bring to the person’s life or to his/her family and professional life.


This case brought a great opportunity to the ECJ to clarify the applicability of the Union law on the nationality law when it concerns the loss of the Member States nationality and consequently the loss of the status of EU citizens.

With judgment C-221/17, the ECJ has managed to give a very fair solution to the case by protecting the person’s interest (by introducing the individual assessment on the ground of proportionality), the Member State’s interest (by respecting its entire competition ruling on the loss of nationality) and the EU interest (by clarifying that Member States must respect also EU law even when it is a matter of domestic law, such as the case of the nationality law) concerning the loss of the EU citizenship.

Yuu Shibata

Ph.D in Law at University of Bologna. She specializes in European Union Law and she is the Head of Japanese Desk. She is mother tongue Japanese and Spanish and speaks fluently Italian and English.

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