Documents considered by the Committee on 19 January 2011 - European Scrutiny Committee Contents

1 EU Citizenship




COM(10) 603




COM(10) 605




COM(10) 602

EU Citizenship Report 2010: Dismantling the obstacles to EU citizens' rights

Report on the election of Members of the European Parliament (1976 Act, as amended by Decision 2002/772/EC, Euratom) and on the participation of EU citizens in elections for the European Parliament in the Member State of residence (Directive 93/109/EC)

Commission report under Article 25 TFEU on progress towards effective EU citizenship 2007-10

Legal base
Document originated(All) 27 October 2010
Deposited in Parliament(All) 5 November 2010
DepartmentForeign and Commonwealth Office
Basis of considerationEM of 17 December 2010
Previous Committee ReportNone
To be discussed in Council21 January 2011
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionFor debate in European Committee B


1.1 The Maastricht Treaty introduced the concept of citizenship of the European Union. All nationals of EU Member States are also EU citizens. EU citizenship confers a set of rights which are enshrined in the EU Treaties. These include:

  • the right to live and work in another Member State;
  • the right, if resident in another Member State, to vote and to stand as a candidate in local and European Parliament elections;
  • the right to diplomatic and consular protection if living or travelling outside the EU;
  • the right to petition the European Parliament or to apply to the European Ombudsman; and
  • the right to participate in a citizens' initiative inviting the Commission to propose draft legislation for consideration by the European Parliament and Council.[1]

1.2 In September 2009, at the beginning of his second term of office, the President of the Commission (Mr Barroso) published a set of political guidelines to inform the work of the new Commission. He said:

    "Revitalising the link between the peoples of Europe and the EU will make it both more legitimate and more effective. Empowering citizens to be involved in decisions affecting their lives, including by ensuring transparency on how they are taken, will help to achieve these aims. This means that the rights of European citizens must have real effect: citizens today should not find that they still face obstacles when they move across borders within the EU."

1.3 He continued:

    "EU citizens still face numerous obstacles when they try to source goods and services across national borders. They should be able to make use of their rights as EU citizens in the same way as they use their rights as national citizens. The Commission will draw up a comprehensive report on these obstacles for citizens and propose how they can best be removed, together with the report on the obstacles still persisting in the internal market."

1.4 Document (a) — EU Citizenship Report 2010: Dismantling obstacles to EU citizens' rights — fulfils President Barroso's commitment to identify obstacles which impede EU citizens' enjoyment of rights conferred by EU law and to propose a set of measures to help overcome them. The report is intended to complement the Commission's Communication, Towards a Single Market Act for a highly competitive social market economy which suggests ways to improve the functioning of the Single Market so that it meets the needs and expectations of citizens when acting as economic operators (for example, consumers, businesses, workers).[2] The EU Citizenship Report is accompanied by two further documents. Document (b) assesses EU citizens' awareness of, and participation in, the 2009 elections to the European Parliament and includes an analysis of Member States' transposition and implementation of relevant EU legislation. Document (c) fulfils the Commission's obligation, under Article 25 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), to report every three years on the application of the citizenship provisions now contained in Part Two of the TFEU.

Document (a) — EU Citizenship Report 2010

1.5 The Commission says that EU citizens who "extend aspects of their life beyond national borders, through travel, study, work, marriage, retirement, buying or inheriting property, voting or just shopping online from companies established in other Member States should fully enjoy their rights under the Treaties."[3] The EU Citizenship Report identifies 25 practical obstacles confronting EU citizens in their different capacities — as private individuals, consumers, residents, students, professionals or political actors — which make it difficult for them to exercise the rights associated with EU citizenship and proposes 25 actions to overcome them. According to the Commission, the actions proposed fall into three categories:

  • ensuring the effective enforcement of EU rights;
  • making it easier for EU citizens to exercise their rights; and
  • raising EU citizens' awareness of their rights.

Citizens as private individuals

1.6 The Commission says that an increasing number of EU citizens are exercising their free movement rights by studying, working and living in a Member State other than their own, but encounter a host of practical difficulties. For example, procedures for securing recognition of civil status documents, such as birth or marriage certificates, can be complex; the law applicable to jointly owned assets, such as bank accounts or property, can be difficult to ascertain; the rights of victims of crime or of suspects or defendants involved in criminal proceedings (including access to lawyer) vary from one Member State to another; EU citizens may be subject to double or discriminatory taxation; and they may experience difficulties accessing healthcare in other Member States. EU citizens who travel outside the EU may require assistance from the diplomatic or consular authorities of Member States represented in the third country, if their own Member State of nationality does not have an embassy there. The Commission proposes eight actions to address these difficulties:

  • a law in 2011 to make it easier for married couples or registered partners to know which courts have jurisdiction and which law applies to their property;
  • a law in 2013 to facilitate the free circulation of civil status documents;
  • developing the e-Justice web portal to provide more multilingual information on civil and criminal law and procedures;
  • two laws in 2011 to improve the protection of suspects or defendants in criminal proceedings, including provision for access to a lawyer;
  • a law and other measures in 2011 to improve the protection of victims of crime;
  • a law in 2011 to simplify the formalities for registering cars previously registered in another Member State and further action to prevent double or discriminatory taxation;
  • improving access to cross-border healthcare by providing secure online access to medical health data and ensuring widespread use of telemedicine services by 2020, and recommending a minimum common set of patient data to enable patient data to be accessed or exchanged electronically across borders by 2012; and
  • laws in 2011 to increase the effectiveness of EU citizens' right to diplomatic and consular assistance in third countries and developing a dedicated website to raise awareness of this right.

Citizens as consumers

1.7 The Commission says that, while many EU citizens spend their holidays in another Member State, few are aware of their rights. The problems are compounded for EU citizens with disabilities who face additional obstacles of access. Consumers remain reluctant to shop across borders because they believe that levels of consumer protection may be lower and that it will be more difficult to obtain effective redress if goods or services are defective. The Commission proposes the following six actions:

  • a law in 2011 to update existing EU rules on package travel and to make it easier to buy packages from other Member States;
  • completing the legislative framework to ensure that passengers have a set of common rights regardless of the mode of transport when travelling across the EU and ensuring that citizens have ready access to information about their rights at transport hubs;
  • an EU Disability Strategy for 2010-20 to improve access to all means of transport, promote better access to travel insurance, develop EU-wide standards on access to the built environment and establish an annual award for the most accessible European cities;
  • organising awareness-raising campaigns for European tourists and monitoring consumer satisfaction with a range of tourism services;
  • publishing a Code of EU Online Rights by 2012 setting out the rights of users of online services; and
  • a law in 2011 on Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanisms to facilitate out-of-court resolution of consumer complaints, and possible proposals for an EU online dispute resolution system for e-Commerce transactions by 2012.

Citizens as residents, students and professionals

1.8 The Commission says that EU citizens living in other Member States continue to encounter discrimination on grounds of nationality or face unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles. Obtaining recognition of professional qualifications can be costly, complex and slow, existing arrangements for exchanging information on social security are cumbersome and EU rules on social security coordination do not cover, for example, occupational pensions. The Commission proposes the following three actions:

  • greater vigilance in enforcing EU free movement rules, including on non-discrimination, and disseminating more information to EU citizens on their free movement rights;
  • a law in 2012 to speed up the recognition of professional qualifications; and
  • developing a new system for the electronic exchange of social security data to reduce delays.

Citizens as political actors

1.9 The Commission notes the steadily declining turnout for elections to the European Parliament, even though EU citizens who live in another Member State are entitled to vote or stand as a candidate there for local or EP elections, and highlights restrictions in some Member States which make it difficult for nationals of other Member States to join political parties or found their own party. EU law does not confer a right to vote in national elections in the Member State of residence and the Commission notes that some EU citizens (including UK nationals) who move to another Member State may end up being disenfranchised if electoral law in their Member State of origin precludes them from voting in national parliamentary elections.[4] The Commission proposes the following four actions:

  • asking Member States to ensure that the results of future EP elections are published at the same time, to avoid any risk that the outcome in one Member State may influence voting in others;
  • asking Member States to ensure that EU citizens are informed of their electoral rights in their Member State of residence, that their voting rights are fully enforced and that they are able join or found political parties;
  • simplification of the procedure for EU citizens to stand as candidates for election in their Member State of residence and proposals to improve the existing mechanism for the exchange of information to prevent double voting in EP elections; and
  • launching a discussion with Member States to consider how to prevent EU citizens who move to another Member State from losing their political rights.

Lack of easily accessible information and assistance for citizens

1.10 The Commission says that many EU citizens are unaware of their rights under EU law and do not know where to find relevant (including country-specific) information which would make it easier for them to exercise their free movement rights. The Commission therefore proposes two actions:

  • developing the 'Your Europe' web portal into a one-stop-shop information point on the rights of citizens and businesses in the EU; and
  • streamlining the Commission's information networks in Member States to enable citizens to find the right contact point for obtaining information on relevant rules and procedures at national, regional or local level.

Lack of awareness of the meaning of EU citizenship

1.11 The Commission cites survey evidence indicating that many EU citizens are not well informed about their rights as EU citizens and notes that the citizens' initiative, introduced by the Lisbon Treaty, offers "great potential . . . . for a more active involvement of citizens and civil society in the European project."[5] The Commission proposes the following three actions:

  • designating 2013 as the 'European Year of Citizens' to raise awareness of EU citizenship and associated rights;
  • simplifying and rationalising EU funding available for promoting EU citizenship; and
  • exploring ways to strengthen media coverage of EU affairs, including options for the more sustainable financing of Euronews.[6]

1.12 The Commission says that its EU Citizenship Report is intended to open a debate involving EU institutions, civil society and national parliaments "on how EU citizenship can fulfil its potential in terms of enhancing Europeans' life chances by delivering concrete benefits that will have a visible impact."[7] It will be followed, in 2013, by an evaluation of the impact of the actions proposed and "an ambitious and comprehensive action plan" to remove persistent obstacles impeding citizens' enjoyment of their rights.

Document (b) — Report on the European Parliament elections 2009

1.13 The Commission notes that, despite efforts to mobilise voters, turnout for the 2009 EP elections was low (averaging 43% across the 27 Member States). While an increasing number of EU citizens who live abroad are registering to vote in their Member State of residence, many still choose not to and others prefer to vote in their Member State of origin. Few EU citizens have chosen to exercise their right to stand as a candidate for election to the EP in their Member State of residence.

1.14 The Commission says that most Member States comply with their obligations under EU law to enable EU citizens to vote and stand as candidates for local and EP elections in their Member State of residence. Practical difficulties remain in some Member States which only allow their own nationals to join, or found, political parties. The Commission also notes that not all Member States have enshrined in their domestic laws the obligation to ensure that the results of EP elections are only published after the polls have closed in the last Member State.

1.15 The Commission observes that the existing mechanism to prevent EU citizens voting or standing as candidates in more than one Member State is deficient and says that it intends to propose changes which will make the mechanism more efficient by, for example, establishing common rules on electoral timetables and the collection of voter registration data, while avoiding the imposition of disproportionate administrative burdens. The Commission highlights efforts by the European Parliament to establish a uniform procedure or common principles for EP elections, including possible provision for EU-wide transnational party lists, with the EU constituting a single electoral constituency, for the election of a small number of MEPs. Other ideas to be considered include:

  • the introduction of out-of-country voting facilities to enable expatriate voters to vote for a party list in their Member State of origin;
  • improving the prospects for smaller parties to be represented in the EP by removing the possibility to impose a minimum threshold;
  • removing the requirement, where applicable, for political parties or independent candidates to make a financial deposit; and
  • bringing forward the deadline for registering voters so there is more time to exchange data to prevent double voting.

1.16 The Commission says that, by proposing to designate 2013 as the European Year of Citizens, it hopes to increase awareness of, and participation in, the 2014 EP elections.

Document (c) — Report on progress towards effective EU citizenship 2007-10

1.17 The Commission's report reviews developments during 2007-10 affecting EU citizenship rights as set out in Part Two of the TFEU (summarised above in paragraph 1.1). It includes information on recent Court of Justice case law clarifying Member States' obligation, when exercising their powers to determine the conditions for the acquisition and loss of nationality, to have due regard to EU law; action taken by the Commission to secure the correct application of EU rules on the free movement and residence of EU citizens and on EP elections; and data on the number of petitions received by the European Parliament and complaints sent to the European Ombudsman. The report also provides useful statistical data on the number of EU citizens living in another Member State for more than a year (estimated at 11.7 million at the beginning of 2009) and describes the funding streams available to promote awareness of EU citizenship and associated rights.

1.18 The Commission says that, from 2011, it will include an assessment of EU citizenship rights in its Annual Report on the application of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. The three-yearly report required under Article 25 TFEU will seek to present "a more substantiated diagnosis" of obstacles encountered by EU citizens and propose remedies.

The Government's view

1.19 The Explanatory Memorandum provided by the Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington) focuses primarily on the policy implications of the proposed actions contained in document (a) — the EU Citizenship Report 2010. He notes that the Report "ranges across civil law, criminal procedure, taxation, health care, consular protection, consumer rights, disability rights, online services, free movement of persons, social security coordination, electoral rights, citizenship, nationality law and communications" and adds that most of the actions proposed "are already the subject of ongoing discussion within the European Union in sectoral Councils."[8]

1.20 Where EU legislation is proposed, for example, to establish common EU rules on jurisdiction and applicable law for jointly owned property where there is a cross-border dimension, or to facilitate the free circulation of civil status documents, the Minister emphasises the need for a full impact assessment to consider the legal, policy and cost implications. He says that proposed new laws on the rights of suspects or defendants in criminal proceedings and on the protection of victims of crime will be subject to the UK's Opt-In and will be assessed against the criteria set out in the Coalition Agreement "with a view to maximising our country's security, protecting Britain's civil liberties and preserving the integrity of our criminal justice system."[9] He expresses concern about possible legislative proposals on EU citizens' right to consular protection in third countries and says that the Government will seek to ensure that they "respect our clear understanding of the Treaty position, in particular that the provision of consular assistance remains a Member State competence." [10]

1.21 The Minister accepts that there is a strong case for extending the coverage of the existing EU Package Travel Directive to provide additional protection for consumers who book a combination of holiday elements but says that the Government remains to be convinced of the need for further legislative action at EU level to enhance passenger transport rights. In other areas where legislative action is proposed, for example on an alternative dispute resolution mechanism for consumer complaints, the Minister indicates that the Government will provide a detailed analysis of the policy implications once the Commission has presented specific proposals.

1.22 The Minister says that the Government will examine carefully Commission proposals on double taxation to ensure that they do not extend EU competence or limit future options for developing the UK's car taxation system and will consider the scope for "deregulatory improvements" to make it easier to register in the UK cars previously registered in another Member State.

1.23 The Minister notes that some of the proposed actions, for example, on cross-border healthcare, also feature in the Commission's Digital Agenda for Europe.[11] He reiterates the Government's concern to ensure that online health information systems are safe and secure and says that the feasibility of the Commission's proposals should be tested by means of project pilots which are subject to proper evaluation.

1.24 The Minister generally supports initiatives to raise EU citizens' awareness of their rights. For example, he welcomes the development of the e-Justice and Your Europe web portals to provide a "one-stop-shop" point of access for EU citizens seeking information about their rights or about legal procedures in other Member State, but adds that the funding of individual e-Justice projects will require careful consideration. He also welcomes the publication of a Code of EU Online Rights, provided it merely codifies the existing rights of on-line consumers rather than creating new ones. He says that funding for the proposed EU Year of Citizens in 2013 should come from existing budgets and supports efforts to rationalise and simplify funding programmes concerning EU citizenship. He expresses caution about possible proposals to secure more sustainable funding for Euronews, adding:

    "Like all publicly funded bodies, care needs to be taken to avoid an unfair advantage over commercial news media in providing access to news content. . . . The UK policy is that there should be open provision of news from independent sources based on plurality of voice and neutrality across communication channels."[12]

1.25 The Minister notes the Government's support for Commission proposals to develop and foster the use of EU-wide standards on accessibility to the built environment as part of the EU's broader Disability Strategy for 2010-20 but also emphasises the importance of seeking to develop international standards, where possible.

1.26 The Minister says that UK electoral law complies with the requirements of EU law concerning the publication of EP election results after polls have closed in all Member States. EU citizens resident in the UK who are nationals of another Member State are able to register to vote and to stand as a candidate in EP or local elections in the UK and to join political parties. He agrees that existing arrangements for exchanging information to prevent voting in more than one Member State have not proved workable in practice and suggests focusing efforts on "raising awareness that double voting and double candidacies are not permitted and highlighting the penalties that persons will incur for any breach of the law."[13] He notes the 15-year limitation currently applicable to UK citizens registered as overseas voters who wish to vote in UK parliamentary elections and says that the Government is considering their position.

1.27 While recognising that the principal purpose of the Citizenship Report is to identify obstacles to the free movement of EU citizens, the Minister believes that it does not adequately address fraud and abuse of free movement rights and suggests that more could be done to monitor and tackle fraud and abuse.

1.28 The Minister says that the financial and legal implications of the actions proposed in the Citizenship Report, as well as regulatory impact assessments, will be provided as and when specific legislative or other measures are proposed by the Commission. He expects the informal meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs Council to consider the Report on 21 January 2011.


1.29 The three Commission reports provide a broad overview of the rights associated with EU citizenship and of the practical obstacles that EU citizens exercising free movement rights continue to encounter. The Minister's Explanatory Memorandum focuses principally on the EU Citizenship Report 2010 but we note that some of the Commission's ideas for reforming the procedure for elections to the European Parliament contained in its Report on the 2009 elections and summarised in paragraph 1.15 would also, if implemented, have important implications for UK electoral law.

1.30 The EU Citizenship Report 2010 illustrates how the rights associated with EU citizenship cut across numerous policy areas. For that reason alone, it is an important document which we wish to draw to the attention of the House. While many of the actions proposed in the EU Citizenship Report seek to raise awareness of existing rights and ensure their more effective enforcement, a significant number involve further EU legislative measures, mainly in the field of civil and criminal law and consumer rights. Most of these measures have been foreshadowed in earlier policy documents, for example the Council Resolution on a Roadmap for strengthening the rights of suspects or defendants in criminal proceedings[14] and the Stockholm Programme establishing priorities for EU action in the field of justice and home affairs.[15] In his Explanatory Memorandum, the Minister says that the Government will only be able to assess the full political (as well as legal and financial) significance of the proposals once the Commission has presented specific legislative or other measures. Nonetheless, he considers that the actions proposed by the Commission "touch on important matters of public interest" and adds that the Government would welcome a debate. We agree and recommend that the Commission reports should be debated in European Committee B.

1   See Articles 20 and 24 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). The provision for citizens' initiatives was introduced by the Lisbon Treaty.  Back

2   See HC 428-x (2010-11), chapter 11 (8 December 2010). Back

3   See page 3 of the EU Citizenship Report 2010.  Back

4   British citizens resident abroad are eligible to register as overseas electors, and therefore vote in UK parliamentary elections, for a period of 15 years from the time they were last registered to vote as ordinary electors in the UK. Back

5   See page 21 of the Commission's Report.  Back

6   Euronews was launched in 1993 as a news channel covering world affairs from a European perspective.  Back

7   See page 23 of the Commission's Report. Back

8   See paragraph 1 of the Minister's Explanatory Memorandum.  Back

9   See paragraph 25 of the Minister's Explanatory Memorandum.  Back

10   See paragraph 39 of the Minister's Explanatory Memorandum.  Back

11   See HC 428-i (2010-11), chapter 28 (8 September 2010). Back

12   See paragraph 75 of the Minister's Explanatory Memorandum.  Back

13   See paragraph 65 of the Minister's Explanatory Memorandum.  Back

14   See HC 19-xxviii (2008-09), chapter 15 (21 October 2009), HC 19-xxvii (2008-09), chapter 12 (14 October 2009) and HC 19-xxvi (2008-09), chapter 10 (10 September 2009). Back

15   See HC 19-xxiii (2008-09), chapter 1 (8 July 2009). Back

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