The declined amendment on the Lithuanian citizenship

The declined amendment on the Lithuanian citizenship

Dr. Mindaugas Kuklys

On 12 May 2019, Lithuania held a referendum[1] on the amendment of Article 12 of the Constitution. Currently, the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania (Art. 12) stipulates that “with the exception of cases established by law, no person may be a citizen of the Republic of Lithuania and another state at the same time”.[2] The proponents of the referendum proposed that the Lithuanian citizens by descent retain Lithuanian citizenship in case they acquire citizenship of a country meeting the integration criteria into the European Union (EU) or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Although 72.35 percent of those who participated in the referendum voted for the amendment, the constitutional amendment was not accepted.[3] This happened because only one of the two criteria required by the referendum law was fulfilled: the participation turnout of 53.16 percent was sufficient (more than a half of all eligible voters is required), however, only 956,564 of all 2,486,915 eligible voters [4] (38.46 percent) were in favor of the amendment (more than a half of all eligible voters is also required).

The Lithuanian parliament promulgated the citizenship law in 2002 which allowed treating Lithuanian citizenship acquired by birth sufficiently broadly from 2003 onwards. However, at the end of 2006, the Constitutional Court of Lithuania ruled out that this treatment contradicted the Constitution of Lithuania since double citizenship may be an exceptional and not a common option. A broader treatment would require the amendments in the Constitution made by referendum.[5]

Thus, almost 13 years after the ruling by the Constitutional Court the referendum finally took place. However, the referendum, intentionally or non-intentionally, was badly prepared. The dissemination of information was late and not broad enough. The official campaign was limited to the territory of Lithuania, although the main target group of this referendum continues to live abroad. There was no national consensus on this issue among major political parties. Even the initiators from the political parties that proposed the referendum did not make the impression that they were really interested in its success.

The proponents of the referendum argued that the Lithuanian citizens choosing emigration helped to solve the problem of unemployment in Lithuania in a specific way.[6] Last year the Lithuanian citizens abroad sent 1.3 billion Euro to Lithuania, that made about one quarter of the Lithuanian annual gross national product (GNP) growth.

Some opponents of the referendum were afraid that Lithuanians with a double nationality living abroad would abuse the Lithuanian health system and the pension scheme,[7] although it is totally clear that membership in the health and pension system is disconnected from citizenship. The other argument against the double (multiple) citizenship was a geopolitical one – Lithuania is not sure about the friendliness of some of its neighbors.[8]

This time the Lithuanian citizens living abroad were twice as active than during other Lithuanian referenda and elections. Usually, the turnout of Lithuanian citizens living abroad is much lower than of Lithuanian citizens living in Lithuania. Still, there were some influential voices inviting to discuss whether the Lithuanian citizens living abroad for a long time and having one more citizenship should retain the political (voting) rights.[9] This proposal implicitly referred to the model, practiced by Denmark at least till 2015 – the Danish citizens, independently whether they had additional citizenships or not, were not able to vote at elections in Denmark if they resided abroad longer than a prescribed number of years.

The standard practice of Lithuanian authorities is to treat a Lithuanian citizen who is also a citizen of another state as the Lithuanian citizen only. The possession of another citizenship does not exempt him or her from the duties of a Lithuanian citizen listed in the Constitution of Lithuania, Lithuanian laws and other legal acts. Still, the opponents of the referendum questioned whether Lithuanian citizens living abroad would be able to fulfil their duties and obligations.[10]

Out of 28 of the EU states (if the United Kingdom is still included), only four – Lithuania is among them – does not allow for double or multiple citizenship. All the new member states from Eastern Europe that joined the EU in 2004 were affected by the emigration to the old EU member states. Proportionally, Lithuania is the second most affected state in the European Union – compared to the beginning of the regained independence in 1990, Lithuania lost about 24.0 percent of its population,[11] which was mainly a young and active labor force. The only EU state that experienced proportionally larger population losses (27.5 percent) than Lithuania was Latvia.[12] However, Latvia, reacting to the changes in its population, decided to allow for the retainment of Latvian citizenship in case Latvian citizens acquired citizenships of the EU, NATO and some other states of the democratic world. For the opponents of the referendum, the Latvian legislation was not chosen as an example to follow. The opponents of the referendum claimed to follow the example of Estonia which supposedly forbids double (multiple) citizenship. However, after a more careful analysis of the Estonian legislation (the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia), it becomes clear that Estonian citizens by descent may not be stripped of citizenship and that Estonia, in fact, allows for multiple citizenship.

The author of these lines argues that the exodus of one part of the Lithuanian society is a well-documented fact and that migration is not an exception but rather a common trend. Therefore, it would be reasonable to adjust the Constitution of Lithuania accepted 27 years ago according to the changes in the society.


[1] The referendum was held together with the presidential elections and the referendum on the reduction of parliamentary seats from 141 to 121 in the Lithuanian Seimas.
[2] Official translation of the Constitution of Lithuania,,%20amended%20in%202003.pdf.
[3] The official data of the Electoral Commission of the Republic of Lithuania,
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ruling of the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Lithuania on the Compliance of the Provisions of the Legal Acts Regulating the Citizenship Relations with the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania, Case No. 45/03-36/04, 13 November 2006,
[6] Kuklys, Mindaugas  “Lietuvos pilietybė ir politinio elito atsakomybė”,, 10.05.2019,
[7] “Kokia dvigubos pilietybės referendumo esmė?” (the commentary by Vytautas Sinkevičius, a professor in law and a former justice of the Constitutional Court),“Karštos kėdės” program, Laisvės TV, 15.03.2019,
[8] Valatka, Rimvydas.“Desakralizuoti Lietuvos pilietybę”,, 17.02.2019,
[9] Sinkevičius, Vytautas. “Pilietybė – dėl ko balsuosime referendume”,, 16.04.2019,
[10] Ibid.
[11] Source: the Eurostat data and own calculations, based on the variable “Population on 1 January by age and sex”,
[12] Ibid.

Image: © Witold Janczys.

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