Insufficient and ambiguous: The PanEuropean opinion on the citizens’ rights agreement

The Brexit deadlock was finally broken last Friday, when the EU agreed that ‘sufficient progress’ had been made on citizens’ rights, the Irish border, and the divorce settlement. But has the deal on citizens’ rights provided enough clarity to the millions of UK and EU immigrants affected by it?

David Davis and Michel Barnier

EU citizens in the UK

The main takeaway for both sides was that they would keep their current rights: EU citizens who have lawfully lived in the UK for a minimum of five years will be granted ‘settled status.’  The UK government has said this will be a straightforward process and cost no more than a British passport (£72.50). They will retain access to tax credits, universal credit, healthcare, pensions, etc., and can be away from the UK for up to 5 years and still retain this status. Children born in the UK to parents from an EU country will automatically become British citizens. Irish citizens will not have their rights affected by Brexit and will be able to work and travel in the UK without hindrance.

UK citizens in the EU

Likewise, UK nationals that are legally living in one of the 27 member states will be allowed to stay (though some countries will require an application process to secure this). If they have been living in the country for five years they will be entitled to ‘permanent residence’ or the chance to apply for it. Again, they can be away from the host country for 5 years and still retain permanent residence. If they have a pension, it will increase every year just as it would in the UK.

UK nationals will remain eligible for free healthcare in the EU under a continuation of the EHIC scheme, and if working in several European countries, they will maintain the right to work in all of them.

In addition, close family members (spouse/direct ascendants/direct descendants) will be able to join them if their rights are protected under the withdrawal agreement. Children of British nationals are also protected under the withdrawal agreement if the parents are protected or nationals of the host country.

What’s been left out

For those that have no desire to move and meet the requirements for settled status, this agreement is probably satisfactory.

But it is likely that the EU will adopt a constitutive system – meaning that British immigrants will have to apply for a new status (as EU citizens will be expected to do in the UK).

This process is unlikely to be uniform and each country will have slightly different requirements. Individuals will be asked to provide comprehensive documentation to prove they have lived in their respective host country for 5 years, and this may not be easy to find. Besides, bureaucracies can make mistakes, as the UK home office has proved.

Theresa May has made no illusions: the British PM seeks to create a ‘hostile environment’ for undocumented people living in Britain illegally. We have already witnessed the consequences of this draconian policy on European citizens who have lived lawfully in the UK for over 15 years.

‘What will happen to EU nationals who move to Britain post-Brexit? Will they require work permits? How is the UK government planning to register 3 million EU nationals before Brexit?’

The fact that the continuation of free movement was not even discussed is a worrying sign. It may well come up during the next phase of negotiations, but there are no guarantees, thus it is imperative we pressure both British and European parliaments to make sure this issue is not sidelined. Freedom of movement is vital, whether we are officially part of the European Union or not. Associative European citizenship must be made available to those who either wish for or need it.

Furthermore, there are a number of grey areas within the agreement: what will happen to EU nationals who move to Britain post-Brexit? Will they require work permits? How is the UK government planning to register 3 million EU nationals before Brexit? After the UK has regained control of its laws, what safeguards are in place to protect EU citizens?

These questions will be an afterthought in the second round of negotiations, which will focus primarily on the future trading relationship between the two parties. Given that the UK and the EU already have differing interpretations of what that relationship should look like, it is unlikely that we will see further clarification on citizens’ rights in the foreseeable future.

Essentially, we feel that European and British nationals have been largely ignored. Though there have been some assurances made by European leaders, it seems citizens’ rights are more of a hindrance to the UK and the EU to negotiating more important aspects of the deal.

 

Interview: Charles Goerens on citizens’ rights and Brexit

The PanEuropean recently interviewed Charles Goerens, an MEP for Luxembourg and proponent of the Associative Citizenship proposal. We asked Mr. Goerens to explain the European Union’s stance on citizens’ rights, as well as why his Associative Citizenship proposal has been postponed.

Luxembourg MEP Charles Goerens

Where are we with Brexit and citizens’ rights?

It must be said that much progress has been made on citizens’ rights. The negotiations started from the British immigration law, and the British Government is now ready to concede a special settled status to EU nationals.

The European Parliament’s (EP) only weapon to fight for citizens’ rights is a means of pressure – namely to threaten with a negative vote on the final text of the withdrawal agreement. On the 8th of November, the Brexit Steering Group (BSG) issued a statement outlining its red lines on the latest UK citizens’ rights proposals.

“Parliament will not accept any weakening of existing rights that EU citizens currently enjoy with respect to family reunification, including both direct descendants and relatives of direct dependence in ascending line”

This week, a resolution supported by five political groups (EPP, S&D, ALDE, Greens and GUE) has been put to the EP’s vote on a plenary session. The resolution discussed the state of play of the negotiations.

However, major issues still need to be addressed to secure equal and fair treatment for EU citizens in the UK after Brexit. Our most important concern is the UK proposals for settled status for EU citizens in the UK, including the administrative procedures as set out in a technical note published by the UK Government on the 7th of November. It is our firm view that acquiring settled status:

  • Must be an automatic process in the form of a simple declaration, not an application which introduces any kind of conditionality (for example a pro-active ‘criminality check’).
  • Must enable families to make one joint declaration, not separate declarations for each individual family member.
  • Must place the burden of proof on the UK authorities to challenge the declaration and this only on a case-by-case basis and in line with EU law.
  • Must be cost-free.
  • Is a system that can only enter into force after any transition period, if requested and agreed, has concluded. Before that, the freedom of movement should apply.
  • On family reunification, Parliament will not accept any weakening of existing rights that EU citizens currently enjoy with respect to family reunification, including both direct descendants and relatives of direct dependence in ascending line.
  • We do not accept that there has to be any status difference between the members of a family born from different relationships or between those born before and those born after Brexit.
  • On the export of benefits, we insist that this cannot be limited to pensions only, but should include all benefits defined in the EU legislation.
  • Last but not least, we insist that UK citizens currently living in the European Union continue to benefit from the freedom of movement after Brexit. These are our red lines.

Will there be a difference of treatment between EU residents in the UK settled before Brexit and those applying for residency after Brexit?

It’s a key question. The status of future EU residents in the UK will be discussed in the second phase of the negotiations, once an agreement on Brexit has been concluded. The current negotiations are exclusively for the benefit of current EU residents in the UK.

Is your proposal on associated citizenship still on the agenda of the EP?

Unfortunately, I had to withdraw my proposal of an associated citizenship, which was fought harshly by those in favour of Brexit as well as by those in favour of strict reciprocity between the UK and the EU in the matter of citizen’s rights. My view as a Luxembourger is that reciprocity is not needed. I can tell you that the associated citizenship remains in the minds and hearts of most of the remainers. We will see in the next phase of the negotiations whether it is appropriate to revive this proposal, possibly on a reciprocal basis.

Associate EU Citizenship – Interview with Charles Goerens

What if, after Brexit, it was possible for citizens of former member states to obtain individual EU citizenship? The PanEuropean spoke to the man behind the proposal, MEP Charles Goerens.
Charles Goerens Associate EU Citizenship
MEP Charles Goerens

TPE  In what context did the proposal of an Associate EU citizenship surface?

CG  The Committee on Constitutional Affairs, of which I myself am a substitute member, has been working on a report by Mr Guy Verhofstadt on “Possible evolutions of and adjustments to the current institutional set-up of the European Union”.

This report proposes avenues for updating EU treaties to cope with current and future challenges aiming at enhancing consistency, efficiency and accountability of EU governance, its institutions and policies, and should translate into a series of amendment proposals to the treaties. Among the proposed adjustments is the creation of a status of Associate member of the EU.

The report recommends that “a type of ‘Associate status’ could be proposed to those states in the periphery that only want to participate on the sideline, i.e. in some specific Union policies”. I seized this opportunity to propose the creation of a status of Associate citizen of the EU.

Both proposals go along the same line and will be advocated by MEP Verhofstadt as Lead negotiator appointed by the European Parliament in the negotiation with the UK.

TPE  What exact form would this ‘Associate EU citizenship’ take?

CG  There is a growing concern among British citizens that Brexit might result in the exit of their country from the single market and, as a consequence, the loss of their free access to other EU member states. This is a consequence they are not prepared to accept.

My proposal consists in essence to confer to any citizen of a former member state of the Union freedom of movement, one of the four freedoms provided for and guaranteed by the treaties. Those are the rights to move to and stay in any member state of the EU.

To the preservation of such rights, I consider it would be appropriate to add the right of voting in European ballots. These are the general principles I am ready to commit to and which would require an amendment to the treaties.

It is down to the negotiators and then the legislator to determine the appropriate modalities and, if need be, complement the proposal.

TPE  Does the freedom of movement include the right to work?

CG  The legal implications of such a right need to be thoroughly investigated but, yes, free access to the labour market is an essential right that no EU citizen is prepared to lose.

Associate citizens could also nominate themselves for these seats.

TPE  Your proposal includes the right of vote. How would that work?

CG  The French Parliament benefits from an interesting scheme for the French living abroad. We could draw inspiration from it by deciding to attribute seats in the EP to Associate citizens of former EU states and offer them to vote for a trans-European list.

Associate citizens could also nominate themselves for these seats.

TPE  Would you consider asking the UK to concede reciprocity for the EU granting such rights to British citizens?

CG  As an MEP, I can only voice the concerns of EU citizens with regards to the EU. It is up to the EU negotiators to determine what should be tabled in the negotiation with the UK. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t deem reciprocity essential for my proposal to be adopted by the EP.

Some European countries with an ageing population simply cannot afford to close their doors to the British. However, it cannot be ignored that if there are three million British people residing in European member states other than the UK, there are as many continental European residents living in the UK.

I doubt my proposal would go unchallenged across the EP if the UK didn’t offer some sort of reciprocity.

Theresa May EU Citizenship
British PM Theresa May

TPE  What will you ask the beneficiaries of Associate EU citizenship in return for the rights granted to them?

CG  They could be asked to pay a fee to cover administrative costs. However, this is not an essential feature of the proposal. Associate EU citizenship is not destined to be traded like a privilege. It’s a set of rights that you are born with.

TPE  What do you answer to those who say that your proposal would amount to allowing leaver states ‘have the cake and eat it’ by letting them retain some essential benefits of the single market without bearing the constraints of it, namely the contribution to the EU budget and some heavy regulations? Don’t you fear that granting the Associate citizenship to citizens of former EU states could encourage some member states to leave the EU?

CG  Those who, in some EU states, plead for or aspire to leave haven’t expressed any wish to keep their EU citizenship. That is simply not something they are interested in. I therefore think that such a fear is ill-founded.

TPE  What are the odds in favour of the adoption of your proposal?

CG  As representatives of European citizens, MEP Verhofstadt and I think that, whatever the odds, it is our role and our duty to voice the concerns of citizens attached to the integrity of the EU and to the achievements of sixty years of European construction.

The countless reactions to our proposal I received by mail, as well as the rapidly growing number of signatures of the campaign in support of it launched on Change.org show that we benefit from a steadily growing support from the European population, expressing a mounting concern and a strong and deeply rooted sense of belonging to Europe.

The stronger the support from the European population, the more compelling our proposal will seem to the European Parliament and in the eyes of those in charge of negotiating with the UK. We need to reach a certain critical mass in favour of the proposal in order to shift the position lines.

Once we get a majority in favour of the proposal, then you can count on the European institutions to deliver the appropriate legal framework for the scheme to work smoothly. The Treaty will have to be revised regardless of the success of our proposal after Brexit comes into force.

Let’s take advantage of this opportunity to develop the Associate EU citizenship.

TPE  How has your proposal been received among EU institutions?

CG  We won’t have a clue about the European Council’s reaction to the proposal until article 50 is set in motion. No notification, no negotiation says the Council.

As for the EP, I can tell you that the proposal has been well received by many of my colleagues and that we will work on creating transpartisan support from January onwards.

Now, I would invite those opposing the idea of the Associate EU citizenship to distinguish the pertinence of the proposal and the obstacles to its implementation within the current legal framework.

Such a framework is meant to fit the principles determined by the EP, not the opposite.

TPE   What is the EP’s room for manoeuvre in the process of amending the Treaty?

CG  The EP has a veto right over the agreement which will emerge from the negotiations as over any international agreement. The British Prime Minister has announced that she would trigger article 50 by the end of March.

The EP will express its opinion before that deadline and adopt a resolution that will set negotiating objectives that the Council will have to consider. The EP, which has always been a driving force behind proposals, will be the EU institution starting the offensive.

Moreover, you know that MEP Verhofstadt has been appointed Lead negotiator for the EP. Mr Verhofstadt will be closely associated to the negotiation and will make sure that the EP’s proposals remain high in the negotiating team agenda.

Last but not least, the Commission will inform the EP, in the same way as the British Government will keep the Commons informed of the development of the negotiation. We will without any doubt find the appropriate methods to comply with the necessary confidentiality of the process.

We in the EP are pragmatic people.

MEP Charles Goerens

My plan for “Associate EU Citizenship” by MEP Charles Goerens

In this PanEuropean exclusive, MEP Charles Goerens explains the importance of offering Associate EU Citizenship to citizens of former member states, and how it would work.
MEP Charles Goerens Associate EU Citizenship
MEP Charles Goerens
What is the aim of your amendment?

I tabled my amendment to the own-initiative draft report by Guy Verhofstadt entitled “Possible evolutions of and adjustments to the current institutional set-up of the European Union”, which aims at looking at the possibilities to improve the functioning of the European Union by a change of the Treaties.

I have to acknowledge that these proposals are set-down in a so-called “own-initiative” report, and thus carry no legal weight at this stage. However, with the Brexit negotiations coming to a term, and given that the withdrawal of the United Kingdom, as one of the larger Member States, and as the largest non-euro-area member, affects the strength and the institutional balance of the Union, the European Union will have to revise its Treaties.

This is where Mr. Verhofstadt’s report could serve as a basis for the revision.

In fact, in his report, Mr. Verhofstadt raises the idea of a type of “associate status”, which could be proposed “to those states in the periphery that only want to participate on the sideline, i.e. in some specific Union policies”, underlining that “this status should be accompanied by obligations corresponding to the associated rights”. This new type of “associate status” could thus be one of the possible outcomes of the negotiations about the future relationship between the EU and the UK.

My proposed amendment could hence go hand in hand with Mr. Verhofstadt’s proposal and could be seen as a solution satisfying all UK citizens who wish to maintain a close relationship with the EU, whether they live in or outside the UK territory.

I am deeply convinced that we should not ignore the concern felt by many of those who continue to identify themselves with the European values and wish to be part of the European project even after their country has ceased to be a member of the European Union. In fact, the numerous reactions and the support that I got so far from UK citizens living in the UK and abroad, confirm that I was right to table this amendment. Up to now, more than 1200 emails, each one telling a very personal story about the person’s or families’ feeling after the referendum, reached my office. As a member of the European Parliament, I could not simply fail to comply with my political convictions and I felt it as my duty to become active when one of the greatest achievements of the European Union, namely the freedom of movement, is at stake.

Isn’t it unfair that there might be no reciprocity regarding the amendment for EU citizens in the UK?

Of course, some might argue that the “associate EU citizenship” would grant UK citizens a privilege that EU citizens, who might have to quit their jobs in the UK, do not enjoy. Yet, we have considered this issue and therefore propose that the associate citizens pay an annual membership fee directly into the EU budget as an own resource of the Union, following the reciprocal principle of ‘no taxation without representation.’

As far as the reproach of lack of reciprocity is concerned, let me underline this: As a member of the European Parliament, I am not in a position to tell the UK government what to do. Yet, the amendment, as I mentioned before, could serve as a basis for the negotiations about the future relationship between the EU and the UK. In that sense, it can be seen as a political incentive where both parties are asked to find a way for future collaboration, which is also in the best interest of their respective citizens.

The press release says that “associate citizens should pay an annual membership fee directly into the EU budget”. What will be the amount for this? How would this work?

I am rather reluctant to dive into precisions relating to this particular issue, which I consider a minor detail, compared to the benefits that both, the EU and the so-called “associate EU citizens” would get out of it. An appropriate amount is going to be defined as soon as the principle is going to be adopted and translated into primary law.

What lead you to the withdrawal of the amendment? What is the future path of the Associate EU citizenship?

I decided together with Guy Verhofstadt to withdraw my amendment on Associate EU Citizenship. We realised that this has become a very important issue that cannot await treaty change – as was my intention when I first tabled my amendment – since this might take years.

On December 7th, the House of Commons decided by a majority of almost 400 to support Theresa May’s plan to trigger article 50 by the end of March 2017. Hence the prospect that Article 50 will be invoked has become very real indeed.

The European Parliament will define its position on the Brexit agreement through a resolution during spring 2017. This seems to be the best opportunity to give Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt the possibility to enforce the Associate EU Citizenship.

I agree with Guy Verhofstadt that the aforementioned procedure makes it much more likely for the Associate EU Citizenship to succeed than through an amendment.

I often hear objections regarding the legal impossibility to implement the proposal. However, it is important to differentiate between the current state of EU legislation in terms of citizenship and the concept, which I proposed in my amendment 882.

Currently the Treaties do not allow to grant associate EU citizenship to UK citizens after their country has left the EU. In fact, European citizenship stems directly from the national citizenship of its Member States. However, they also specify that citizenship of the Union is additional to and does not replace national citizenship. Creating an individual citizenship to the Union would thus require treaty change, not in the least to specify its rights and duties, but it would not infringe upon national citizenship.

My proposal was first of all a political impulse to push the boundaries, on different levels.

Many colleagues – amongst others colleagues from the UK – have expressed their explicit support of my amendment. Thus I hope that the same is going to be true when it comes to incorporating the proposal into the European Parliament’s resolution.

When it comes to the negotiations on the future relationship between the EU and the UK, my idea, presumably in a different wording, could indeed serve as a means to convince the UK government to accept freedom of movement of people along with the other three freedoms, which the European Single Market seeks to guarantee.

Political determination will be of utmost importance and I will definitely not content myself by truckling to those who consider my proposal unfeasible. I am determined to bring this idea as far as I possibly can on the European level. Indeed, history proves me right when we look at the achievements, which European citizens enjoy nowadays.

Who thought, for instance, that one day, EU citizenship would give every EU citizen the right to vote for and stand as a candidate in municipal and European Parliament elections in whichever EU country the citizen resides, under the same conditions as nationals.

This is reality today and yes, it needed a tremendous effort and, above all, the political determination to get this far. Why not exert ourselves for this cause and make the “Associate EU Citizenship” happen?

“There is a lack of Europe in the European Union and a lack of union in the European Union,” said President Juncker back in 2015, “that has to change, and we have to change that right now and work together.”

In the same sense, we must recognise that if support is denied to British citizens in the future to keep their European citizenship, we are going to weaken the logic that most efficiently advances the European Union as a whole.

We are a Union of States but above all, we are a Union of citizens. Recent Eurostat statistics demonstrate that citizens want more unity and not less of it. If we want to revive the European Union during and after Brexit, we need to strengthen the citizens and their rights as opposed to weaken them.

Associate EU citizenship means that the United Kingdom does leave, but that its citizens will be able to keep close ties with the European Union. It is a true win-win situation and in line with the essence not only of the European Union, but also of real unity beyond nationality, gender, race or age.