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Brussels, 28 November 2006

Protecting citizens abroad: effective right to diplomatic and consular protection

Citizens of the Union make approximately 180 million trips outside the European Union every year, and half of those residing in the European Union expect to travel to a non-EU country in the next three years. To consider ways of enhancing protection for these people, the European Commission has adopted a Green Paper on consular and diplomatic protection.

Every citizen of the Union travelling or living in a third country where their own Member State is not represented has the right to diplomatic and consular protection by the authorities of any Member State under the same conditions as the nationals of that State. This fundamental right is granted by Article 20 of the EC Treaty and by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (Article 46).

However, a recent Eurobarometer poll showed that EU citizens were unaware of the existence of this right: only 23% of those interviewed knew about it. At the same time people have high expectations of Europe in this regard.

"Adequate protection of EU citizens abroad has to be granted to the increasing number of people who travel, work and live outside the EU," stated Vice-President
Franco Frattini, Commissioner responsible for Justice, Freedom and Security. He continued: "The European Union is a guardian of its citizens worldwide. Article 20 ensures that every European citizen can find a safe place wherever they are in the world. European Union citizens are part of a wider family when they travel within and outside the Union, not just in times of trouble but for general help and protection".

Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner underlined that : “Consular co-operation is important for our citizens to experience the added-value of the EU working together when they are abroad. Through its extensive network of delegations around the world, the Commission is ready to further support Member State, in particular in crisis situations”.

Consular protection becomes an essential instrument in times of catastrophe, for example at the time of the tsunami tragedy or the war in Lebanon, when it can be difficult for European citizens to contact their own country's services. But people can also make seek consular protection for solving everyday problems like losing a passport on holiday or being arrested or detained.

It is particularly important to enhance diplomatic and consular protection because not all Member States have a permanent representation in every third country. At present, all twenty-five are represented – by an embassy or a consulate – in only three countries outside the European Union: the People’s Republic of China, the United States and the Russian Federation

In addition, the current legal framework at EU level is limited to Decision 95/553/EC, which is due for revision in 2007.

These circumstances justify the need for a wide-ranging debate to reinforce the effective right to consular and diplomatic protection for EU citizens and their families.

The Commission has therefore published a Green Paper addressing a wide range of issues and proposing possible courses of action, for example:

  • the inclusion in all national passports of the text of Article 20 of the Treaty;
  • the extension of consular protection to Union citizens' family members who are third-country nationals;
  • the simplification of procedures for providing financial advances to European citizens in difficulties;
  • the establishment of "joint offices" in order to streamline functions and reduce the fixed costs of the structures of Member States' diplomatic and consular networks;
  • joint training for officials from the Member States and the Community institutions.

Better information is clearly needed. A Eurobarometer survey carried out in July 2006 shows that public awareness is still limited. In response, the Commission decided to launch an information campaign, distributing posters in travel agencies in eleven Member States where associations of national tour operators took part in the initiative.
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To find out more about Vice President Frattini's work please see his website:

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