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More action against statelessness needed within EU and Council of Europe

Published: 07th June 2022 Last updated: 07th June 2022

Within the Council of Europe and the European Union, much remains to be done to tackle statelessness. Even though there are no obvious gaps in European law that stand in the way of preventing and solving statelessness, the legal framework is insufficiently put into concrete action. That is one of the conclusions of PhD researcher Caia Vlieks, who will defend her PhD thesis at Tilburg University on Tuesday, June 14, 2022.

“To be without documents and a nationality is as if you never existed in this world.” These are the words of a stateless person in Europe. They illustrate that to be stateless means having no nationality whatsoever and often possessing no documents to prove your identity. It can make a person feel invisible.

Statelessness continues to affect hundreds of thousands of people throughout Europe, the Netherlands included. Contributing factors include discrimination, migration, and registration problems. Statelessness can have grave consequences for the person involved, including problems with accessing health care and education.

European law

Caia Vlieks examined the contribution of European law to preventing and solving statelessness and lessons that can be learned with a view to improving the situation. Her research shows that the Council of Europe and the European Union provide further guidance on existing international norms on statelessness and nationality. They also offer important safeguards for preventing statelessness in Europe, as well as avenues for solving statelessness. For instance, European law pays attention to tackling statelessness among children and in the context of state succession, that is to say, new states emerging from a state that ceases to exist as a unified entity. Furthermore, European law contains guidelines on acquisition and loss of nationality, as well as on non-discrimination in relation to nationality and statelessness.

There are no obvious gaps in the existing standards on preventing and solving statelessness in Europe, Vlieks concludes. European law could consequently make a significant contribution to eradicating statelessness. But if the law is to compel states to take action and make a difference in practice, more is needed.


In Vlieks’ opinion, the Council of Europe, and its European Committee on Legal Co-operation in particular, should intensify its efforts to promote existing instruments for preventing and solving statelessness among its members states. It should also give more information about identifying statelessness.

In addition, within the European Union, statelessness should be given much more prominence within such EU policy areas as asylum and migration, children’s rights, and equality. The EU could furthermore provide additional guidance on the identification of statelessness as a necessary precondition to the protection, participation and inclusion of stateless people.

“Given the findings of my research, it is painful that people today, in Europe, remain without a nationality and, by extension, basic rights,” Vlieks contends. To her mind, further research and input from the broader field of statelessness research as well as perspectives from stateless people themselves are imperative.


Caia Vlieks will defend her PhD thesis in the Tilburg University Auditorium on June 14, 2022 at 13:30 hrs. The defense can be watched via a livestream. The title of the PhD thesis is Nationality and statelessness in Europe. European law on preventing and solving statelessness. Supervisor: Professor E.M.H. Hirsch Ballin; co-supervisor: Dr. L.E. van Waas.

Note to editors

For more information, please contact Caia Vlieks at / (+31) (0)13 – 466 3067. Review copies of the thesis can be requested at