David Cameron announced at the beginning of his new term as Prime Minister that he would ask the country if they thought Britain should leave the EU. The policy had come at the time where parties like UKIP and the BNP were riding a wave of popularity because in part of their attitudes to the EU and immigration.
It is not clear if the Prime Minister is keen to exit Europe altogether or is using this threat as leverage to get a better deal for Britain from Brussels. He is currently trying to broker a new deal with EU leaders, and is meeting all of the 27 heads of State as part of this. The referendum is still planned for 2016 or 2017, but may not go ahead if the Government obtain the concessions they seek.
Whilst this is the world of Politics, for British Citizens who reside in other EU countries, this too-ing and fro-ing is a cause for concern, after all many have built lives in their new countries and would struggle to move back to the U.K. Close to two million British people live in other EU countries, with half a million or more living in Spain. Many people are now considering their options regarding citizenship before they potentially become illegal immigrants, though it is highly unlikely that this will happen though.
The EU was formed in 1992 by the Maastricht Treaty, central to this new Union was the freedom of movement and residence. This opened the door for those who had dreamed of a life in the French Riviera or the Costa del Sol to move their hassle free. Gradually throughout the 90s the borders in the EU came down under the Schengen Treaty, with the notable exception of the United Kingdom. So since 1992 EU nationals have moved to other countries, built lives and acquired rights. It would seem crazy that withdrawal from a Treaty would take these rights away overnight, and thankfully it is not the case.
The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties 1963 is a document that sets out the rights and obligations for States when entering, enforcing or leaving treaties. It considers that where parties do not agree otherwise withdrawing from a treaty will cancel any future obligations, it cannot take away rights that had been acquired under the treaty.
This means two things, firstly that the UK Government will have to consider carefully what to do about the 2 million Citizens living and working in Europe and reach agreements with respective EU governments. Secondly that if they do not those people will be able to continue with their lives without being uprooted.
The key then for those worried about this is not to panic, not to try to change citizenship or to marry a local just yet.