In the 1980s, I was born having freedom of movement across, when was part of the European Economic Community. The concept of citizenship was formally established in 1993, as part of the creation of itself, under the Maastricht Treaty.
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Freedom of movement inwas always something I took for granted. I saw as part of our heritage, despite the grumblings of euroskeptics and sly articles in the British press about the perils of straight bananas and the metric system.
I traveled a lot in my youth, but travel was never really the issue. Citizens of many countries from outside thecan stay in the Schengen zone for up to 90 days without a visa. It wasn’t until 2009 that the benefits of being an citizen became obvious to me.
Free to Work and Study in Europe
I signed up for a master’s degree in Brussels, Belgium. The beauty of this was, as ancitizen, the entire degree cost me only €500 ($560). It was taught in English and full of students from all over the world.
There was no paperwork to deal with, no need to prove income, no need to apply for any student visas. Education in Belgium was as open to me as education in my country of origin. And that would have been the same for education in any country in the.
I stayed in Belgium for two years. During that time, I could work freely without any authorization. I taught English at the European Parliament. I also did a number of freelance jobs on the side. But I could have worked anywhere, from behind a bar, to the top levels of the European institutions.
As ancitizen, I had the right to live and work in Belgium, just as I did with any other country in the and the European Economic Area (EEA). No sponsorship needed, no work visa, no permission of any kind.
I often traveled back and forth between London and Brussels. The Eurostar was, and still is, the best mode of transport. It takes you directly from the center of one capital into the center of the other. With anpassport, going through immigration was quick and simple. In contrast, passport holders from outside the had to wait in a separate queue, all herded together.
I didn’t use myfreedom of movement rights again for 10 years. But that would be for the final time, as a big change was coming.
The Vote That Changed Everything
In 2016, a majority of British voters decided the UK should leave. Millions of British citizens would soon lose their rights. People with Irish or other European relatives were desperately applying for second passports.
The next few years were chaotic, full of political turmoil and tribalism. Thereferendum had split the country down the middle, and things would never be the same again.
After the vote, there was a rapidly closing window of opportunity to move to the. I knew that was the only option for me. So, in the early weeks of 2020, I moved to Lisbon, the capital of . Time was running out by then, with the transition period in full swing. Within months, citizens would be officially relegated to third-country national status.
There was no time to waste in securing residency in. As an citizen, it was easy. I landed in Lisbon, took my passport and showed up at the nearest municipal office. Thirty minutes and €15 later, I had a five-year temporary residency document for .
’s citizenship timeline is five years. All being well, that document will allow me to regain my rights sometime in 2025, this time as a proud citizen of — the country I chose.
Theproject is far from perfect. Like any large-scale collaboration of humans, it’s fraught with issues. Yes, there’s corruption. Yes, there’s waste and inefficiency. Despite that, the is an ambitious project that emerged out of the devastation of the Second World War. The resulting economic cooperation has kept peaceful ever since. In that sense, it’s doing exactly what it was designed to do.
Citizen of Another Somewhere
I don’t like nationalism. It’s too easily misused. And I can’t be proud of something that I didn’t achieve: the coincidence of being born on a certain piece of land. Does that mindset make me a “citizen of nowhere”? If so, that’s good. Thanks for the compliment, Theresa.
As the late John le Carre once said, “If you want to make me a citizen of nowhere, I will become a citizen of another somewhere.” An Englishman all his life, le Carre died an Irish citizen, so disappointed was he at the fallout from. He was fortunate to have that Irish heritage. Not everyone does. And those that don’t have become second-class citizens in .
National pride is artificially constructed to hold the nation-state together. It plays on our natural inclinations toward tribalism, which is merely an evolutionary hangover. Benedict Anderson’s classic book, “Imagined Communities,” explains these ideas better than I ever could.
Perhaps theis an “imagined community” too. But countries working together, no matter how flawed the process, is the only route we have to improving the world. It’s a project I’m determined to be part of. And if I can’t do so as a British citizen, then I’ll happily do so as a Portuguese.
*[Samantha North is the founder of Digital Émigré, an EU citizenship consultancy.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.