24th Feb 2018

EU citizenship concept to be 'fleshed out'

EU citizenship should mean freedom of movement, consular protection abroad and trans-national voting, but its enforcement depends on member states, European justice commissioner Jacques Barrot told a parliamentary committee on Monday (16 February).

Although enshrined in the current treaties, EU citizenship still looks more like "an imaginary concept", Mr Barrot said during a hearing in the parliament's civil liberties, justice and home affairs committee.

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He said the concept of EU citizenship would be "fleshed out" in the upcoming review of justice and home affairs policies nicknamed the 'Stockholm programme' in the second half of this year.

Polish conservative MEP Urszula Gacek, the parliament's rapporteur on EU citizenship, highlighted that during the recent Mumbai bombings, several MEPs were literally standing "in their pyjamas" out on the streets, but were not able to receive help from the closest embassy of an EU country.

"If a European member of parliament does not manage to get consular protection, what about ordinary citizens?" she asked.

But Ms Gacek admitted that some member countries with large diplomatic services, such as France, might feel reluctant to offer aid to EU nationals from smaller countries, fearing such provision could be abused.

Additionally, consular protection differs from member state to member state, Ernesto Bianchi, a commission official for citizenship and fundamental rights, explained.

"Consular protection is mandatory for instance in Denmark, but it is provided only by courtesy in the United Kingdom," he pointed out.

Danger of reverse discrimination

Problems appeared also in the effects of freedom of movement for EU nationals, Mr Bianchi added.

Sometimes it is difficult for national politicians to explain to their public why other nationals who travelled to a different EU country had more rights than the rest - a situation he called 'reverse discrimination'.

A Dane, for instance, when living and working in his home country, must follow Danish immigration law if he wants to marry a non-EU national and possibly face restrictions if the spouse has a suspicious record or has previously stayed in Denmark illegally.

But if the Dane is living in Italy and marries the same non-EU national under Italian law, he is entitled to return to Denmark together with his spouse, due to the principle of freedom of movement, Mr Bianchi explained.

Ms Gacek's draft report also criticises discrimination against EU citizens from other countries and urges the commission to take appropriate actions when inter-EU migrants are not able to enjoy their full rights as EU citizens.

Member states and local authorities should facilitate transfer of vehicle registrations, recognition of insurance policies issued in another EU country, the transfer of medical records and maintain clear rules on the re-imbursement of medical expenses, the document reads.

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