open access

Abstract

Names are central elements of people’s identities: they distinguish them from other individuals and play an important role in human self-determination. Names and their spelling reach, from time to time, national and European courtrooms. The European Union is no exception in this respect, as the jurisprudence of the Court of Justice proves. Unlike the European Court of Human Rights, the Luxembourg court avoids looking at the right to one’s name through the prism of fundamental rights but opts for internal market and EU citizenship reasoning. This article puts into context one of the latest EU citizenship cases on the right to one’s name, originating from the (lack of) ethnic minority rights protection in Lithuania. The Runevič-Vardyn case, in which the Court of Justice was called to balance EU citizens' fundamental rights against national constitutional traditions to protect state language, also highlights the political and diplomatic tensions between Poland and Lithuania – two ‘young’ Member States with their unique post-Soviet history. This is only one of the many examples illustrating the intricate ethnic minority rights issues in many EU bordering Member States, which raises wider questions about the future of European integration. Given the current national reform on the spelling of names in identity documents in Lithuania, it may well be that the change to improve the protection to one’s right to identity can come from within. The authors, however, propose that the Court takes a more coherent fundamental rights and proportionality approach on this matter. Hence, as a way out, they put forward a proposal for inclusive residence-based EU citizenship that is underpinned by the substantive equality of all EU citizens, no matter what their ethnic origin or mother tongue.