Growing engagement by the European Union
The role of the European Union (EU) in the protection of stateless persons and the prevention of statelessness has, to date, been relatively limited. As mentioned in section 2 of this chapter, there is no clear mandate for the EU to legislate on statelessness as such, with the regulation of nationality a competence that rests with member states. Nevertheless, there are numerous entry points for EU engagement on statelessness and over the past few years, the issue has started to gain a foothold on the agenda of key EU institutions.
In late 2014, the European Parliament published a study, commissioned by the Directorate-General for External Policies of the Union, titled ‘Addressing the human rights impact of statelessness in the EU’s external action’. The study demonstrated that there is a strong nexus between statelessness and several of the EU’s current human rights priorities and identified a variety of ways in which the EU has already contributed to addressing statelessness in its external action. This has included, among others, the initiation of or support for children’s rights programmes with stateless beneficiaries, awareness-raising on citizenship rights to help the avoidance of statelessness, promoting universal access to birth registration, research and dialogue on statelessness, in particular specific populations or geographies. The EU has since developed a framework for raising awareness about statelessness among third countries and in 2015, the global call for proposals issued by the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights explicitly included the possibility of support for projects with stateless persons as beneficiaries. External engagement on statelessness should continue in accordance with the EU’s Action plan on human rights and democracy for the period 2015-2020, which includes as a focus “preventing the emergence of stateless populations as a result of conflict, displacement and the break-up of states”.
In November 2015, the European Parliament released another study, this time commissioned by the Policy Department for Citizen’s Rights and Constitutional Affairs, at the request of the LIBE Committee. The study captured the state of play with respect to “Practices and approaches in EU Member States to prevent and end statelessness”, presenting an assessment of national practices in light of the relevant international and European standards. While focused on prevention and reduction of statelessness, the study also recognised that “proper mechanisms to identify stateless populations are lacking in a majority of Member States” and therefore looked more closely at the procedures used in determining statelessness where these exist. The study concluded that there are many holes in EU member states’ response to statelessness and pointed to both the need for and the different legal bases that exist to achieve coordinated EU regulation on the identification and protection of stateless persons in particular. A month after the publication of this study, in December 2015, the Council of the EU adopted its first Conclusions on Statelessness under the Luxembourg Presidency. In the Conclusions, the Council invites member states to exchange good practices and information relating to statelessness, specifically relating to reliable data on stateless persons and statelessness determination procedures using the European Migration Network (EMN) as a platform for exchange.
During 2016, EMN carried out a series of activities in response to the Council Conclusions. Two Ad Hoc Query were launched by the Luxembourg EMN National Contact Point to gather information on existing practices and generate the baseline data required for a more targeted discussion on the possibility of further coordinating action on statelessness. EMN also hosted several events, including a Conference discussing experiences and good practices regarding tackling statelessness organised in Luxembourg in April, a seminar on statelessness determination procedures, sharing experiences in establishing and operating such procedures in countries throughout Europe held in Ireland in May, and a meeting to discuss different examples for managing and identifying statelessness held in Hungary in September. Towards the end of 2016, EMN published the synthesis report of the findings from its Ad Hoc Queries and further discussions: “EMN Inform: Statelessness in the EU”.
EU engagement on statelessness: what’s next?
Looking ahead, further debate on the role of the EU in addressing statelessness is on the cards in 2017. In January 2017, EMN will convene another conference, in collaboration with the European Network on Statelessness and UNHCR, to “take stock on collective efforts to address statelessness in the EU as well as identify what further action is required”. MEPs have announced that a debate on statelessness will also be held at the European Parliament in 2017, as a joint initiative of the LIBE Committee and the Petitions Committee.