Documents considered by the Committee on 12 September 2018 Contents

25The EU Emergency Travel Document

Committee’s assessment

Politically important

Committee’s decision

Not cleared from scrutiny; further information requested; drawn to the attention of the Foreign Affairs Committee

Document details

Proposal for a Council Directive establishing an EU Emergency Travel Document and repealing Decision 96/409/CFSP

Legal base

Article 23(second paragraph) TFEU, special legislative procedure: QMV


Home Office

Document Number

(39850), 9643/18 + ADDs 1–4, COM(18) 358

Summary and Committee’s conclusions

25.1EU citizens who are stranded in a third (non-EU) country without travel documents are entitled to request an Emergency Travel Document (ETD) from the diplomatic and consular authorities of any Member State if their own Member State has no local representation (through an embassy or consulate). Currently, Member States have the option of issuing a common format EU ETD or a national ETD. The UK (along with France and Germany) continues to issue national ETDs as the Government believes they are more secure than the EU equivalent.

25.2By contrast, the European Commission considers that the continued use of national ETDs creates a risk of fragmentation and “forum shopping”, as unrepresented EU citizens may request assistance from a Member State whose emergency travel documents are more widely recognised, or are cheaper or easier to obtain.284 It has therefore proposed a Directive establishing an EU Emergency Travel Document which would strengthen the security features of the EU ETD and make it mandatory for Member States to issue an EU ETD instead of a national ETD to unrepresented EU citizens seeking diplomatic or consular assistance outside the EU. The Commission anticipates that the changes it has proposed would make the EU ETD a more cost-efficient alternative to national ETDs for some Member States and, by increasing the use of EU ETDs, make it more likely that they would be recognised and accepted by third countries.

25.3Member States would have 12 months from the adoption and entry into force of the Directive to adapt their own laws and administrative practices to its provisions, and a further 12 months before the changes would take effect. If the Directive is adopted later this year, it would apply towards the end of 2020—after the UK’s exit from the EU but during the transition/implementation period (ending on 31 December 2020) envisaged in the draft EU/UK Withdrawal Agreement.

25.4In her Explanatory Memorandum of 4 July 2018, the Immigration Minister (Caroline Nokes) told us that the UK does not use the current EU ETD “as it is a lower integrity document” than the UK’s national ETD. Whilst the Government supported the introduction of “a higher integrity” EU ETD and clearer processes for obtaining it, the Minister said that Member States should not be required to issue unrepresented EU citizens with an EU ETD rather than a national ETD. Even with the changes proposed by the Commission, the EU ETD would be less secure than the current UK ETD which “significantly exceeds” the minimum standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and is widely accepted. She considered that the costs of introducing a mandatory EU ETD would be disproportionate, given the small number issued (estimated to be around 1,000 a year). The Government would therefore seek to “maintain the right to opt out of issuing EU ETDs”.

25.5We invited the Minister to comment on the Commission’s view that greater use of the EU ETD—including by Member States with the largest global reach and representation outside the EU—would increase the recognition and acceptance of the EU ETD by third countries and border control authorities, ensuring greater benefits for more EU citizens. We also asked her:

25.6We also sought further information on:

25.7In her letter of 23 August 2018, the Minister confirms that France and Germany do not issue EU ETDs “in any circumstances”. Whilst the Commission has not provided a precise breakdown of the number of ETDs issued each year or how many Member States issue “standard EU ETDs” rather than their own national ETDs, she says it is reasonable to assume that the UK, France and Germany—the Member States with the largest global reach—issue “a significant proportion”.285 There are no data to indicate whether individuals issued with ETDs have encountered difficulties in having the documents accepted but the Minister is confident that this has not been the case with UK-issued ETDs. She adds:

“With only 1,000 citizens requiring support annually the numbers going through any specific border will be low so even a uniform document will be seen infrequently. Indeed, border officers may be more familiar with national documents since they are issued to countries’ own citizens, as well as unrepresented EU citizens.

“There is concern that British Embassies, High Commissions and Consulates would issue so few EU ETD it is likely that the quality and instances of error are likely to higher. The UK has already repatriated passport production to the UK in part to ensure consistency and maintain costs. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is also looking at its approach to delivering UK ETD for similar reasons.”

25.8The Minister expects detailed negotiations to take place in the Council Working Group on Consular Affairs during the autumn but says that informal discussions have already exposed specific concerns about making it compulsory for Member States to issue the EU ETD and extending its use to third country nationals. She therefore anticipates that the changes proposed by the Commission will be “too vague to gain wide support” and will not be brought to the Council for agreement “until 2019 at the earliest”. She continues:

“Under the draft Withdrawal Agreement, the UK and EU have agreed to a time-limited implementation period from 30 March 2019 to 31 December 2020. The timetable for the introduction of the proposals is within 24 months of agreement. Accordingly, if the Directive were to be adopted, the UK will give notice to the Committee and at Council that it does not intend to introduce the measures, even if mandatory, as the introduction period would be beyond the implementation period.”

Our Conclusions

25.9We note that the Government does not intend to transpose the proposed Directive into domestic law, even if it is adopted before the UK leaves the EU, as the two-year deadline will fall outside the transition/implementation period envisaged in the draft EU/UK Withdrawal Agreement. We ask the Minister to alert us should the Government’s position change, either as a result of the transition/implementation period being extended or the deadline for transposing the Directive being shortened during negotiations.

25.10The Minister highlights concerns raised in informal discussions on the Commission’s proposal to allow (but not require) Member States to issue an EU ETD to third country national family members travelling with an EU citizen. We would welcome further information on the Government’s position and her assessment of the potential benefits for UK nationals post-exit who might be able to obtain an EU ETD if stranded abroad with a family member who is an EU citizen.

25.11We ask the Minister to provide a further progress report once negotiations intensify in the autumn. Meanwhile, the proposed Directive remains under scrutiny. We draw this chapter to the attention of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Full details of the documents

Proposal for a Council Directive establishing an EU Emergency Travel Document and repealing Decision 96/409/CFSP: (39850), 9643/18 + ADDs 1–4, COM(18) 358.


25.12The proposed Directive is based on Article 23 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) which provides:

“Every citizen of the Union shall, in the territory of a third country in which the Member State of which he is a national is not represented, be entitled to protection by the diplomatic or consular authorities of any Member State, on the same conditions as the nationals of that State. Member States shall adopt the necessary provisions and start the international negotiations required to secure this protection.

“The Council, acting in accordance with a special legislative procedure and after consulting the European Parliament, may adopt directives establishing the coordination and cooperation measures necessary to facilitate such protection.”

Previous Committee Reports

Thirty-sixth Report HC 301–xxxv (2017–19), chapter 6 (18 July 2018).

284 See p.4 of the Commission’s explanatory memorandum accompanying the proposed Directive.

285 The UK issued 123 ETDs in 2017.

Published: 18 September 2018