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Brussels, 21 February 2011
Annual reports on Your Europe Advice and SOLVIT: Frequently asked questions:
What is Your Europe Advice?
Your Europe Advice is a service that provides free, personalised advice to EU citizens on legal questions or problems they may encounter when in another EU country.
Through its network of experienced multilingual lawyers from all 27 EU Member States, Your Europe Advice provides answers in any of the official EU languages within one week of receiving the request.
The team is composed of experts in EU law, who also have an excellent knowledge of national and local rules and regulations. Any individual can ask questions about his/her EU rights. Most often, questions relate to cross-border situations. Enquiries can be submitted on-line, and replies are provided in the citizen's own language.
Your Europe Advice, formerly Citizen Signpost Service, has been operating since 1996, and is currently managed by the Commission through an external contractor, European Citizen Action Service (ECAS).
More information on Your Europe Advice and the online question form can be found on: http://ec.europa.eu/citizensrights
In 2010 how many enquiries were made through Your Europe Advice and regarding what issues?
The total number of eligible enquiries received by Your Europe Advice (formerly known as 'Citizen Signpost Service') reached an all-time high of 12 000 questions in 2010, a 15% increase from the previous year. Thanks to the explanations and advice from around 50 experts across the Member States, these individuals are now able to take full advantage of their rights in the Single Market.
About a quarter of the questions Your Europe Advice received in 2010 related to social security issues, including health insurance, pensions, and unemployment benefits. Other frequently asked questions related to residence rights (21%) and working rights (15%). Replies to 91% of queries were provided within three working days.
How is Your Europe Advice beneficial for citizens and businesses?
Your Europe Advice plays an important role in identifying those areas of the Single Market where progress is needed. Not only does it inform citizens about their rights in the EU, but it also provides the European Commission with important information about areas where the Single Market is not operating as well as it should. The data collected by the service provides important evidence which will contribute to better policy-making.
How does Your Europe Advice work in practice?
The following case illustrates the usual methodology used to reply to a citizen's query to Your Europe Advice:
A Slovak national who had just moved to Austria for work while his wife and children continued to live in Slovakia, contacted Your Europe Advice via the online form to find out in which country he would now have to pay for his family's health insurance contributions. The question was immediately dispatched by the central management of Your Europe Advice to an expert in social security and workers' rights. Within three days the citizen received a precise answer, in his own language, which clarified the situation for his personal case. The expert replied that there were two possibilities. If his wife was working in Slovakia, she should pay health insurance contributions for the children there. If she was not working, the man needed to pay health insurance contributions for his wife and children in Austria. The responses included the reference number for the form he was to request from the Austrian authorities in order to submit to the Slovak health insurance institution, and provided all the necessary legal references pertaining to his case.
What is SOLVIT?
SOLVIT is an online network enabling EU Member States to work together on the problems that arise when public authorities fail to adequately apply Internal Market rules.
SOLVIT Centres can help with handling complaints from both citizens and businesses in all official languages of the EU. Using SOLVIT is free of charge.
There is a SOLVIT centre in every European Union Member State (as well as in Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein). The centres form part of the national administration and are committed to providing tangible solutions within ten weeks.
SOLVIT has been operational since July 2002. The network itself is coordinated centrally through the European Commission, but is operated individually by the Member States. The European Commission provides the database facilities and, where necessary, helps to speed up the resolution of problems. The Commission also forwards some formal complaints to SOLVIT if there is a good chance that the problem can be solved without legal action.
In 2010 how many enquiries were made through SOLVIT and regarding what issues?
In 2010, SOLVIT helped 1 363 citizens and businesses who ran into difficulties getting their Single Market rights recognised by national public administrations.
Of the cases filed in 2010, 34% related to social security issues, 23% were about residence rights and 16% concerned recognition of professional qualifications. 90% of cases were successfully resolved, and the average time for treating a case was 66 days. Such a high success rate achieved under tight deadlines would not be possible either under infringement proceedings or formal judicial procedures, which can take up to several years.
How is SOLVIT beneficial for citizens and businesses?
The individual cases addressed by SOLVIT, while helping individual citizens, often shed light on larger structural problems within the Single Market. And the solutions they provide often extend well beyond the individual cases: they can lead to structural changes in the behaviour of public authorities or to a change in national legislation. SOLVIT is a successful example of a close partnership between Member States and the European Commission, which will be reinforced in the coming months.
As SOLVIT prepares to celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2012, the network is undergoing a comprehensive evaluation of its organisation and performance. Following this evaluation, the Commission will formulate specific proposals to ensure SOLVIT continues to deliver high-quality services to an increasing number of citizens and businesses.
How does SOLVIT work in practice?
The following case illustrates the methodology used to solve an ordinary complaint filed by a citizen or a business through SOLVIT: A French professor had worked in Ireland for many years. She then returned to live in France, where she was told that her social benefits would be lower than what she believed she was entitled to following her years of work in Ireland. The professor contacted the French SOLVIT centre, which asked her to provide all the necessary documents to support her case (e.g. official correspondence). The French SOLVIT centre made a preliminary analysis and concluded that the case fell within the SOLVIT remit and accepted to intervene on her behalf. SOLVIT France then contacted the Irish SOLVIT centre, providing them with a file with all the relevant evidence and legal analysis of the case in English. The Irish Centre looked into the problem from their side, and found that Irish authorities had made a mistake when filling the woman's social security form. The Irish authorities rectified the situation, allowing the professor to receive the benefits she was entitled to in France. This problem was resolved within 1 week.
Where can citizens and businesses find out more information about their EU rights?
The Your Europe website provides EU citizens and businesses with clear information about their rights and opportunities in the EU market. With the click of a mouse the website will also take them to services that can help them defend their rights quickly and effectively.
The Your Europe website is designed as a one-stop-shop and is easy for citizens and businesses to navigate. Information is presented around the main themes of daily life and the main stages of a company’s life cycle, cutting across policy areas, and the section of the website dedicated to citizens has recently been revamped to make it more user-friendly. The website contains useful tips and warnings on each issue, which are accompanied by a wealth of real-life stories and frequently asked questions. Extreme care has been taken to make the language clear and jargon-free to ensure users have access to information that is tailored to their specific needs.
What are the differences between Your Europe website, Your Europe Advice and SOLVIT?
The Your Europe website acts as the single entry point to access relevant specialised assistance services. If, however, a visitor still needs help after reading the information provided, such as visitors wishing to obtain personalised advice on their EU rights given a particular situation, they are directed to the Your Europe Advice service. Visitors requiring assistance in getting their rights recognised by a national administration will be directed to SOLVIT.
Other assistance services for citizens and businesses that are accessible via the Your Europe website include the European Consumer Centres Network (ECC-Net)1, the Enterprise Europe Network (EEN)2 and the European Employment Services (EURES)3.
Your Europe is now accessible in English, French, German Italian, Spanish and Polish. Other official EU languages will be made available throughout 2011.
Visit Your Europe now: http://ec.europa.eu/youreurope
Annex 1 EXAMPLE OF CASES FROM YOUR EUROPE ADVICE
I have moved to Austria in order to work there, but my wife and children have stayed behind in Slovakia. Where should I pay health insurance contributions for my dependents?
There are two possibilities: if your wife works in Slovakia, she must pay health insurance contributions for your children there; if she does not work, you must pay health insurance contributions for your dependents (i.e. your wife and your children) in Austria. You should request an S1 form (former E 109 form) from the Austrian health insurance authority, and then submit it to the Slovak health insurance institution.
I am Romanian and I want to start a free-lance activity in France. The French authorities say I have to apply for a work permit. Is that correct?
No. The transitional restrictions to which nationals of so-called “enlargement countries” are subject in some of the EU countries are justified by the need to avoid aggravating the situation of national job markets in areas where they are already saturated; the restrictions concern employed work only. You should not be required to apply for a work permit if you are going to work in France as a self-employed worker.
CARS AND DRIVING
I keep a car in Greece, where I have my summer house, but I live in the UK. Can the Greek authorities oblige me to register the car in Greece?
No, they cannot, because you are not permanently resident in Greece. However, they can forbid you to rent your car or even to lend it to a Greek resident. Your car may only be driven by a Greek resident if you are on board, or otherwise by yourself or visiting relatives or friends. You may find it difficult to insure the car in Greece under UK registration plates, but you should explain the special circumstances.
I am Czech and I would like to move to Austria to look for a job there. How long can I stay there before I find a job?
As an unemployed job-seeker, you are allowed to stay in Austria for at least 6 months, and even longer, even if you do not have any income or unemployment benefits from your country of provenance, as long as you can show that you are actually looking for a job and have a genuine chance of finding one. You can prove this, for instance, by providing copies of job applications, invitations to interviews or positive reactions to your applications.
Annex 2 SUCCESS STORIES FROM SOLVIT4
SOLVIT helps French student pilot register in Belgium
A French national studying to become a pilot at a Belgian flight school could not register as a student with the Belgian authorities because the school was private and not recognised by the Belgian regional authorities (the "French Community").
However, because the certificates issued by the school were approved by the Belgian transport ministry, under EU law anyone enrolled there should have student status.
Thanks to SOLVIT's intervention, the French Community authorities agreed to register the student.
Solved in 8 weeks
SOLVIT helps reunite Turkish husband with pregnant Danish wife in Germany
A Turkish national wanted to join his Danish wife in Germany, where she was about to give birth and thus not able to travel. The Turkish father-to-be needed a visa to travel and was struggling to get the necessary paperwork.
SOLVIT intervened and the German authorities issued a certificate attesting the couple's financial situation, which was needed by the consulate in Istanbul to issue the visa.
Solved in 8 weeks
SOLVIT helps British patient receive healthcare in Bulgaria
A British national resident in Bulgaria was incorrectly charged for a consultation despite presenting the documentation (‘S1’) entitling her to free healthcare at the point of delivery. In fact, people insured in Bulgaria do not have to pay for such consultation so the same treatment should be granted to a British national resident in Bulgaria.
Her doctor refused to accept her papers, claiming he had not received any guidance about treating patients from other EU countries.
After action by SOLVIT, the Bulgarian authorities sent the patient a letter confirming her rights (which the doctor accepted) and provided a contact person in case of further problems.
Solved in 16 weeks
SOLVIT ensures pension rights from different countries are upheld
A Hungarian who'd worked in Romania for 20 years and then in Hungary for 18 years applied to the Hungarian authorities for his pension. They started by asking the Romanian authorities to calculate the Romanian part of the pension but got no reply for almost a year, despite several reminders.
Thanks to intervention by the Romanian SOLVIT centre, the Romanian pension authority has now taken a decision on the Romanian portion of the pension and the Hungarian can finally enjoy his retirement.
Solved in 9 days
SOLVIT helps Bulgarian study architecture in Germany
A Bulgarian national wanted to study architecture in Germany. His Bulgarian high school diploma (enough for access to any Bulgarian university) showed he had followed the general curriculum.
But because he'd studied some additional arts subjects, the diploma also mentioned a specialisation in arts and painting. The German authorities claimed this specialisation restricted his access to just certain universities, which did not include architecture colleges.
Thanks to SOLVIT, the German authorities changed their decision and recognised that his diploma qualified him to study architecture in Germany.
Solved in 13 weeks.
SOLVIT helps Irish engineer to work in Poland
A Polish national who obtained his engineering qualifications in Ireland was having difficulties getting them recognised in Poland. They insisted that he needed to take additional exams, due to differences between Irish and Polish engineering degrees.
This requirement was not in line with EU law. Following SOLVIT's intervention, the Polish authorities agreed to recognise the Irish qualifications without further conditions.
Solved in 4 weeks
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SOLVIT helps Swedish company keep Danish homes warm
In Denmark, householders can get a government subsidy of 20,000 Danish kronor if they replace their old oil heating system with a heat pump system.
However, the customers of a Swedish company installing such pumps in Denmark were not getting the subsidy because it was only granted to firms based in Denmark, with a Danish registration number (CVR-number).
After action by SOLVIT, the Danish authorities announced that systems installed by firms without a Danish CVR-number are also eligible for the subsidy.
Solved in 3 week
SOLVIT allows Italian landfill company to continue operating in Poland
Under a new rule in Poland, an Italian company operating 4 landfills had to apply for authorisation to continue its activities in one of the landfills.
The authorities refused to grant the authorisation, saying the landfill failed to meet the appropriate environmental standards – even though the company's operations had already been approved by the Polish environment ministry.
Thanks to action by SOLVIT, the company was given the authorisation it needed.
Solved in 9 weeks
SOLVIT speeds up reimbursement of VAT
The client, a German air service company, paid VAT on kerosene and other services at a couple of airports around Europe and then applied for reimbursement. In some cases VAT was not reimbursed within six months. SOLVIT Slovakia and SOLVIT Italy contacted the tax authorities in their country and speeded up the reimbursement procedures.
Solved within 1 week and 4 weeks respectively
Success stories for all Member States and Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland are available in the annex of the SOLVIT 2010 annual report