The right to a nationality set forth in article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is primarily a right to have rights. The legal benefits of nationality have tremendous importance in the daily lives of individuals in every State. They include, among others, the rights to vote, to hold public office, to public education, to permanent residency, to own land, to travel, and eligibility for employment. Nationality is as such a prerequisite for exercising other rights.

Laws concerning the acquisition, retention or loss of nationality have long been considered a sovereign prerogative of the State under international law. However the development of international human rights law since the second World War has eroded the scope of the States’ competence in these matters. With the development of the customary international law and the adoption of multilateral human rights treaties, the right to a nationality has been gradually recognized as a human right and not merely the positive formulation of the duty of States to avoid statelessness.

International coverage of the law of nationality has mainly focused on three aspects, statelessness, dual or multiple nationality and state succession, as such situations may involve changes of nationality on a large scale. The primary concern was to reconcile nationality laws and thereby reduce cases of double nationality and statelessness.

The problems that emerged as a result of the democratic changes in Europe since 1989 have stressed the need to provide States with guidelines for standardizsing their internal rules and ensuring greater legal certainty. Diverging treaty regimes, the lack of clarity of relevant customary law, the limited jurisprudence in the subject and the variety of applicable laws have pledged for a comprehensive instrument reconciling all rules and principles on the subject.

A major contribution in this regard is the European Convention on Nationality adopted in 1997 by the Council of Europe. This Convention can be considered as a "European code on nationality", which deals with all major aspects related to nationality : principles, acquisition, retention, loss, recovery, procedural rights, multiple nationality, nationality in the context of State succession, military obligations in cases of multiple nationality an co-operation between States parties. Only questions relating to conflict of laws have not been included.