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European Commission

MEMO

Brussels, 8 May 2013

Frequently Asked Questions: 2013 EU Citizenship Report

What is EU citizenship?

European Union citizenship is not just a concept, but a practical reality that brings tangible benefits to all of us. EU citizenship and the rights that go with it, such as the right to free movement, are key pillars of the European Union (Articles 20 to 24 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union). It is a status all nationals of an EU country automatically enjoy, which adds to and does not replace national citizenship. As underlined by the European Union Court of Justice, "Union citizenship is destined to become the fundamental status of nationals of the Member States" (Case C-184/99 Grzelczyk).

EU citizenship brings a set of important rights to all EU citizens, whether economically active or not, which gives them tangible opportunities and benefits in their daily life.

In particular, EU citizens have the right:

  • not to be discriminated against on the grounds of nationality;

  • to move and reside freely within the EU;

  • to vote and stand as candidates in municipal and European Parliament elections wherever they live in the EU, under the same conditions as nationals;

  • to be assisted by another EU country’s embassy or consulate outside the EU under the same conditions as a citizen of that country, if their own country is not represented;

  • to petition the European Parliament, apply to the European Ombudsman and address the EU institutions (in any official EU language); and

  • to organise or support, together with other EU citizens, a citizens’ initiative to call for new EU legislation.

What is the EU Citizenship Report?

The EU Citizenship Report is an action plan with concrete action items to improve EU citizens' rights in a number of areas. This means making sure that EU citizens can effectively enjoy their rights in everyday life when working or studying, living, travelling or shopping in the EU and when participating in the EU's decision-making process.

In the 2013 Report, the Commission is putting forward 12 new actions in 6 key areas to remove obstacles to citizens' enjoyment of their EU rights.

Who does it aim to help? Are you receiving complaints from citizens?

The EU Citizenship Report is the Commission's response to the numerous calls from often frustrated EU citizens (students, workes, consumers, …) who have shared problems they have experienced when travelling, moving to or shopping in another EU country.

The Commission is acting to help all those EU citizens which in one way or another are exercising their rights but still face obstacles in their everyday lives. It also aims to help every European who wishes to be better informed about his/her rights and how to enforce them.

Each year, the Commission receives around 1 million enquiries through the Europe Direct information service from citizens around Europe about issues related to their rights (IP/13/234). The Your Europe portal also attracted a significantly increasing number of visitors (it had almost 4.3 million visitors in 2012, as compared with 2.4 million in 2011 and 1,5 million in 2010). Inquiries on free movement and residence constituted 21% of all queries submitted to Your Europe Advice in 2012 and 13% of total SOLVIT cases in 2012.

In addition, the annual report on the implementation of the EU's Fundamental Rights Charter (published in parallel to the EU Citizenship Report, see IP/13/411 & MEMO/13/411) revealed that during 2012, the Commission received over 3000 letters from citizens concerning fundamental rights issues.

Currently, over 13.6 million EU citizens live in a different Member State to that of which they are a national, and around 210 million travel each year within the European Union for business or leisure. Many of the proposals in this year’s Citizenship report apply to all 500 million EU citizens.

How was the report prepared?

By asking citizens. Exactly one year ago, the European Commission launched one of the broadest ever public consultations online (IP/12/461). We asked the public to help shape Europe’s future agenda with a series of questions about the obstacles they face in exercising their rights as EU citizens, be it when looking for a job, travelling in Europe, when voting or standing as a candidate in elections, or when shopping online. 12.000 citizens participated and the main results can be accessed here: http://ec.europa.eu/justice/citizen/files/eu-citizen-brochure_en.pdf.

Hurdles to citizens exercising their EU rights have also been highlighted in the European Parliament's own initiative report on EU citizenship, Eurobarometer surveys on EU citizenship and electoral rights, the Committee of the Regions' recent study on obstacles to free movement and political rights and recent events such as the Committee of the Regions' Forum of 28 November 2012 and the hearing jointly organised by the European Parliament and the Commission on 19 February 2013.

EU Commissioners, together with European Parliamentarians and national and local politicians, have also been participating in Citizens' Dialogues in cities across Europe. During these dialogues many citizens have shared problems they have encountered and what solutions they would like to see. As part of the European Year of Citizens, these dialogues will continue throughout 2013.

Which problems have been identified?

There are six areas into which problems can be grouped and where the Commission is taking action:

1. Removing obstacles for workers and trainees in the EU

Citizens are calling for a true EU labour market enabling them to benefit from job opportunities available in the EU and contribute to the European economy. They also ask for initiatives making it possible for them to develop their skills and access quality training opportunities where available.

In the consultation on EU citizenship a majority of respondents (69%) considered that they should receive unemployment benefits for at least six months when looking for a job in another EU country.

Source: 2012 Public consultation on EU citizenship - Base: Respondents who had looked for a job in another EU country

Young people are also concerned that often a traineeship contract specifying the rights and obligations of the parties is still not compulsory in a number of EU countries (as many as 25% according to a 2011 survey by the European Youth Forum). This results often in low or no pay at all which discourages young people from pursuing traineeships in the EU. There is an urgent need to tackle these shortcomings and enhance opportunities for young people to develop their skills and acquire work experience abroad. This is necessary not only to address the concerns voiced by citizens, especially the young, but also to address dramatic levels of youth unemployment.

2. Cutting red tape in the Member States

Almost one in five of the respondents to the 2012 public consultation on EU citizenship who used their right to free movement experienced problems, often due to lengthy or unclear administrative procedures. Another problem was that local administrations were not always aware of citizens’ free movement rights.

Source: 2012 Public consultation on EU citizenship - Base: Respondents who faced problems while moving or residing in another EU country

Citizens living in another EU country are also confronted with difficulties related to the use of their passports and identity documents. For instance, if their passport and ID card are stolen and they cannot get new ones in time to catch their flight, it might be a pragmatic solution for them to be able to use their registration certificates in order to travel within the EU. The Commission has also heard complains about citizens having to go back to their country of origin just to get a roadworthiness certificate for their car as Member States currently do not recognise each other's roadworthiness certificates. Today's Citizenship report offers solutions to exactly these problems.

3. Protecting the more vulnerable in the EU

In the consultations, citizens pointed to the specific difficulties people with disabilities (an estimated 80 million people in the EU) encounter when moving around the EU. Unlike parking cards for persons with disabilities (for which a common EU model was established almost fifteen years ago), disability cards giving access to transport, tourism, culture and leisure are often recognised only at national level.

Citizens also indicated that some citizens are more vulnerable when it comes to asserting their rights, in particular in criminal proceedings, due for instance to their young age or to their mental or physical condition.

4. Eliminating barriers to shopping in the EU

A quarter of Europeans who buy over the internet, order from sellers in other EU countries. However, in responses to the public consultation, one in four people encountered problems when shopping online. Consumers often miss crucial information when comparing or buying digital products (for example audio-visual downloads such as music, films or games). They are often unsure if they will be able to use the product on their device or judge the quality they will get.

5. Targeted and accessible information in the EU

Much has been done to improve citizens’ awareness of their EU rights, in particular through the Europe Direct and Your Europe one-stop shop. One in three citizens (36%) now say they are well informed about their EU rights (see IP/13/119). Although this represents an improvement of 5 percentage points compared to 2007 it is still not enough. In addition 76% of respondents are not sure what they can do if their EU rights are not respected.

Source: 2013 Eurobarometer EU citizenship

6. Participating in the democratic life of the EU

Citizens question practices by which some Member States deprive their nationals of their right to vote in national elections because they have been living in another EU country for a certain period of time (disenfranchisement). Generally, a majority of Europeans thinks that EU citizens should not lose their right to vote in national elections in their country of nationality just because they have moved to another EU country.

Source: 2012 Public consultation on EU citizenship - Base: All respondents

How is the EU Citizenship report fixing these problems?

The Citizenship Report sets out 12 concrete actions to help Europeans make better use of their EU rights:

  • Look into extending the export of unemployment benefits for longer than the mandatory three months, to make it easier for citizens to look for a job in another EU country.

  • Develop a quality framework for traineeships and modernise the EURES service.

  • Work on solutions to remove obstacles faced by EU citizens in relation to identity and residence documents issued by Member States including the development of optional uniform European documents for citizens.

  • Make it easier for European citizens moving or operating across borders to deal with different sets of tax rules and, in particular, to avoid double taxation.

  • Facilitate the recognition of roadworthiness certificates, making it easier and safer for citizens to travel to another EU country with their car.

  • Support the development of a mutually recognised EU disability card to ensure equal access within the EU to certain specific benefits (mainly in the areas of transport, tourism, culture and leisure).

  • Strengthen the procedural rights of people suspected or accused in criminal proceedings, taking into account the specific situation of children and vulnerable citizens.

  • Revise the European Small Claims Procedure to facilitate the settling of disputes regarding purchases in another EU country.

  • Develop a model for the online display of key requirements to make information about digital products clearer and easy to compare.

  • Take actions to ensure that local administrations are given the tools to fully comprehend the free movement rights of EU citizens.

  • Make it clearer and easier for citizens to know who to turn to for their rights to be redressed by providing user-friendly guidance on its central Europa web site.

  • The Commission will:

    • promote EU citizens’ awareness of their EU citizenship rights with a handbook presenting those EU rights in clear and simple language;

    • propose constructive ways to enable EU citizens living in another EU country to maintain their right to vote in national elections in their country of origin;

    • explore ways of strengthening and developing the European public space, based on existing national and European structures, to end the current fragmentation of public opinion along national borders.

What has been achieved for EU Citizens since the last Citizenship Report in 2010?

In 2010, the first EU Citizenship Report outlined 25 concrete actions to remove obstacles to EU citizens' enjoyment of their EU rights in cross border situations. All actions put forward in 2010 have now been implemented (see progress table).

Actions taken include:

  • Facilitating the smooth circulation of public documents (such as birth, death or marriage certificates or documents relating to real estate);

  • Strengthening the rights of around 75 million people who are victims of crime every year across the EU;

  • Cutting red tape for 3.5 million people registering a car in another EU country each year, leading to savings of at least EUR 1.5 billion per year for businesses, citizens and registration authorities;

  • Proposing fast and inexpensive solutions for consumers to resolve their disputes with traders in the EU out-of-court, enabling them to save around EUR 22.5 billion a year across Europe;

  • Improving the accessibility of rail travel for the estimated 80 million Europeans with disabilities;

  • Removing obstacles to the effective exercise of electoral rights in European and local elections by the 8 million EU citizens of voting age living in an EU country other than their own

The Commission has also pursued a rigorous infringement policy against Member States to ensure that EU citizens can enjoy their right to free movement; that they can take advantage of their right to participate as voters and candidates in municipal and European Parliament elections and that they are not discriminated against on the grounds of nationality. A track record of the cases pursued by the Commission can be found in today's progress report towards effective EU Citizenship 2011-2013.

What are examples of such infringement actions?

1. On Free Movement Rights

Over the reporting period (1 January 2011 – 31 March 2013), the Commission took action to ensuring the full and effective transposition of the EU Free Movement Directive (2004/38/EC) by all Member States. As a result, the vast majority of Member States amended their laws, or committed themselves to doing so to comply with the rules on free movement.

In 2011, the Commission took action against twelve Member States (AT, BE, DE, CY, CZ, ES, IT, LT, MT, PL, SE, UK, IP/11/981). In 2012/early 2013, it sent reasoned opinions in seven of these twelve cases (CZ, LT, UK, AT, DE, SE and BE). As a result, so far, five Member States have amended their legislation or committed themselves to doing so (MT amended its legislation and ES, IT, PL and SE committed themselves to doing so by spring 2013). The main issues raised in the infringement proceedings concern the rights of entry and residence for family members of Union citizens, including same-sex spouses or partners, the conditions for issuing visas and residence cards to non-EU family members and the material and procedural safeguards against the expulsion of EU citizens.

Examples include: Denmark adopted new expulsion rules which entered into force in July 2011 and also applied to EU citizens, raising serious concerns about their compatibility with EU free movement rules. Following the Commission’s intervention and contacts with the Danish government, the Aliens Act was amended in June 2012.

Another example are the cases relating to the registration of foreign double names. Following the Commission’s action in 2010, Sweden amended its legislation in 2012 to allow for the registration of foreign double surnames for Swedish nationals. Also, the Commission took Belgium to court to enforce this same right for children born in Belgium of one Belgian parent and one parent from another Member State.

2. On Electoral Rights

EU citizens living in a Member State other than that of which they are nationals have the right to participate (as voters and candidates) in municipal and European Parliament elections in that country under the same conditions as its nationals.

In five cases, the Commission pursued dialogues with Member States on issues regarding the transposition of Directive 94/80/EC (right of EU citizens to participate in municipal elections) and in ten instances regarding the transposition of Directive 93/109/EC (right of EU citizens to participate in European elections). As a result, the Member States amended their legislation or announced amendments to comply with EU law1. The Commission will closely monitor delivery on these commitments and the full compliance of national laws.

In addition, the Commission contacted eleven Member States that did not allow non-national EU citizens to found or become members of political parties, which is contrary to Article 22 TFEU. In two cases (Germany and Malta), the situation was clarified, in one case (Bulgaria) national legislation was adopted in line with EU law and in another case (Finland) amendments were announced. Action was taken against the seven remaining Member States (CZ, ES, GR, LT, LV, PL and SK.).

3. On the principle of Non-Discrimination on grounds of nationality

Article 18 TFEU and Article 21(2) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights prohibit discrimination on grounds of nationality within the scope of application of the EU Treaties. Upholding this principle is an integral part of the Commission’s role as the Guardian of the Treaties in ensuring the correct application of EU law in the various policy areas. Examples include:

In a series of actions brought against six Member States (Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece and Luxembourg), the Commission contested national provisions reserving access to the notary profession to nationals of the Member State concerned. In its judgments of 24 May 2011, the Court of Justice agreed that such provisions were discriminatory on grounds of nationality and thus in breach of the Treaty (Cases C-53/08, C-47/08, C-50/08, C-54/08, C-61/08 and C-51/08).

In 2011, in another example the Commission took Austria to court because of a national rule granting reduced fares on public transport only to students whose parents were in receipt of Austrian family allowances. In its judgment of 4 October 2012, the Court supported the Commission’s position, upholding the principle that EU students studying elsewhere in the EU have the same right to some benefits as local students (Case C-75/11).

In 2012, the Commission took action on problems encountered by non-Maltese EU citizens residing in Malta in accessing reduced water and electricity tariffs under the same conditions as those available to Maltese citizens.

What is the European Year for Citizens?

Citizens are and must be at the heart of European integration. To underscore this, the EU institutions made 2013 the European Year for Citizens – a year dedicate to you and your rights as a European citizen.

At a time when the EU is taking major steps towards a deep and genuine Economic and Monetary Union, of which democratic legitimacy is a cornerstone, with a Political Union on the horizon, it is all the more important to focus on the things the EU is doing to make citizens’ lives easier, to help them understand their rights and involve them in a debate on the Europe they want to live in and build for future generations.

The Year will show how EU citizens can directly benefit from these rights, as well as from policies and programs that exist to support the enjoyment of these rights.

What are Citizens’ Dialogues?

Throughout the year, members of the Commission will hold debates with citizens about their expectations for the future in Citizens' Dialogues (townhall meetings) all over the EU. Vice-President Reding has already held debates in Cádiz (Spain), in Graz (Austria), in Berlin (Germany), in Dublin (Ireland), in Coimbra (Portugal) and Thessaloniki (Greece). Commissioner Malmström took part in debates in Napoli (Italy), Torino (Italy) and Göteborg (Sweden). Commissioner Tajani held a debate in Rome (Italy), Commissioner Potočnik in Pisa (Italy) Commissioner De Gucht in Ghent (Belgium) and Commissioner Hahn in Eupen (Belgium). Several Members of the European Parliament have also participated in these debates, as well as national politicians such as the Mayors of Cadiz and Thessaloniki.

Many more Dialogues will be held all over the European Union throughout 2013 – which will see European, national and local politicians engaging in a debate with citizens from all walks of life. Follow all the debates here: http://ec.europa.eu/european-debate.

What happens next?

The Commission will implement the actions in the EU Citizenship Report during 2013 and 2014.

In addition, the results of the European Year for Citizens will help guide the Commission as it draws up plans for a future reform of the EU. One of the main purposes of the dialogues will also be to prepare the ground for the 2014 European elections.

Next year’s elections to the European Parliament should be about European issues, and not about problems with national governments. There should be a more European dimension where voters choose both a national political party and a family of parties that are following a political line in Europe.

That is why the Commission is also taking steps to enhance the democratic legitimacy of European elections. At the beginning of March, the Commission asked political parties to name candidates for the Commission President post (see IP/13/215). The Commission would like to see a real European debate – with European Political Parties campaigning on a clear programme of their vision for the future of Europe.

For more information

IP/13/411

Press Pack:

http://ec.europa.eu/justice/newsroom/citizen/news/130508_en.htm

European Commission – EU Citizenship:

http://ec.europa.eu/justice/citizen/index_en.htm

2013 European Year of Citizens:

http://europa.eu/citizens-2013

Homepage of Vice-President Viviane Reding, EU Justice Commissioner:

http://ec.europa.eu/reding

Follow the Vice-President on Twitter: @VivianeRedingEU

1 :

CY, PL and RO adopted new legislation; CZ, SI and SK announced amendments of their legislation in time for the 2014 EP elections. EE and LV provided satisfactory explanations, while BG, HU, LT and MT recently adopted legislation which is under consideration.


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