27th Mar 2019

Moving within the EU to get easier

It will be easier for citizens to set up home in other EU countries after the Competitiveness council reached a political agreement on a Directive to ease restrictions on residency rights.

For the first time, EU citizens and their family members will have the right of permanent residence if they have lived in any member state for five years or more. This will include students studying abroad on long courses.

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The red tape surrounding residence is also to be cut. Citizens will no longer have to obtain a residence card. They will instead be entered automatically into the population register of the new country.

The main controversy during the discussions surrounded the issue of gay and unmarried couples and whether or not these should be defined as "family members".

The council decided that the national law would apply and that if an individual member state recognises a same-sex or unmarried partner as a "family member", then he or she has an automatic right of entry in that country.

Conversely, if this is not the case, there shall be no automatic right of entry.

New expulsion rules

The Directive also makes it harder for member states to expel a citizen who has resided in the country for ten years or more. The text states that expulsion can only be decided on grounds of public security.

Presenting the agreement as "a very important step for the whole union", Rocco Buttiglione, Italian minister for European Affairs and current President of the Competitiveness council, drew special attention to this new protection against expulsion.

He said he was speaking as an Italian, rather than as a President when he welcomed this move and added, "you have no idea, no idea, what it means to be sent away for juvenile offences".

"It’s good to have more than one home", concluded Mr Buttiglione.

\"Hot news\" for the Commission

Jonathan Faull, speaking on behalf of Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Antonio Vitorino, said that the Commission was "delighted" with the outcome of negotiations, which would "make a real difference to the lives of the citizens of the union".

Responding to criticism that the Directive amounted to little concrete action – "hot air" as one journalist put it – the ex=head of the Commission's press service replied, "this is not 'hot air', but 'hot news'".

Economic impact, too

Aside from the impact on citizens, the EU hopes the Directive will have an economic impact.

Economic unions such as the eurozone need a high level of labour mobility, so that citizens can move to where there is a greater chance of employment.

This works well in the US, but is harder to achieve in the EU, primarily due to differences in language and culture between member states.

The EU hopes that by making it easier to live and work in other EU countries, labour mobility will increase and hence the wider economy will also grow.

The Directive will be adopted at a forthcoming council meeting.


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