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BREXIT

Brexit: Why won’t the EU act to protect the rights of Britons in Europe?

While the British government appears to have cottoned on to the importance of protecting the citizens' rights of Brits in the EU and EU citizens in the UK, Brussels appears reluctant to act. Five million people living in limbo are in need of action.

Brexit: Why won't the EU act to protect the rights of Britons in Europe?
Photo: Depositphotos

This week the British government published updated correspondence between its Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay and the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.

The latest letter from Barclay to Barnier gave some hope to those campaigning for the rights of five million EU nationals in the UK and Britons throughout Europe.

Campaigners, backed by Conservative MP Alberto Costa, have been fighting for the citizens' rights part of the much-maligned Brexit Withdrawal Agreement to be ringfenced, meaning that part of the deal will still stand even if Britain crashes out of Europe without an agreement.

From his letter at least it appears that Barclay has clearly taken the side of campaigners from groups British in Europe and the 3Million which represents EU nationals in Britain.

“I'm sure you agree they make a persuasive case on the need to provide certainty to citizens in all scenarios,” says Barclay.

And while EU member states have taken steps to reassure the rights of Britons living in their countries that certain rights will be protected for a certain length of time Barclay points out “there are gaps in a number of areas in a number of member states”.

READ ALSO: 'Securing rights of Brits in Europe is legally possible, they just need to try'

DepositPhotos

The British in Europe campaign group, which says ringfencing is so “crucial to our rights and our lives”, welcomed Barclay's “clearly worded letter” that reflects “fairly and fully the issues we raised” in a recent meeting between the minister and campaigners.

British in Europe's co-chair Jane Golding said: “Mr Barclay is right that we are not asking for the withdrawal agreement to be re-opened. And a ringfenced withdrawal agreement is infinitely better than 28 unilateral national solutions that cannot resolve issues such as cross border social security contributions for working people, or health insurance for pensioners.”

With the British government apparently onside, the ball seems firmly in Barnier's court.

Kalba Meadows from British in Europe and Remain in France Together (RIFT) told The Local: “So far the EU hasn't been willing to consider ringfencing citizens' rights under Article 50, though we hope that position will soften in the weeks to come, with a no-deal exit back on the table as an increasing risk. So we await Michel Barnier's response to this latest letter with anticipation.”

But despite support for ringfencing apparently growing among members of the European Parliament and indeed member states and lawyers firmly of the opinion that it can be done, the EU's Brexit negotiator Barnier has previously called it a “distraction” and already spelled out his reluctance to go down that path.

In a first letter to Barclay, Barnier stressed that the rights of Britons in the EU were a priority for Brussels and each individual member state, but that ringfencing would be too complicated given that so much of the Withdrawal Agreement is linked to citizens' rights.

“It is therefore far from straightforward to identify which provisions would need to be 'carved out' as part of the ringfencing exercise proposed by the House of Commons… with the risk of unequal treatment of certain categories of citizens,” Barnier wrote.

The EU's negotiator has promised that no British citizen would be “left in the dark” but with the next British Prime Minister likely to be ardent Brexiteer Boris Johnson, who has vowed Britain will leave the EU “with or without a deal” Barnier's promise offers little comfort to five million citizens living in limbo.

They need something far more legally binding than a promise not to be left in the dark and it needs to happen quickly.

“Both sides have a special duty of care to agree to do the right thing as quickly as possible, so that the people most directly affected by Brexit, and without a say about it, can get on with their lives with certainty’,” writes British in Europe's co-chair Jane Golding.

A spokesman for the European Commission told The Local: “We confirm that we received a letter this morning on citizens’ rights from Steve Barclay, the UK Secretary of State for Exiting the EU. Michel Barnier will reply swiftly to this letter.

“The Commission has consistently made clear that the rights of EU citizens in the United Kingdom and UK nationals in the EU are our priority.  

“The best protection for citizens is through the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement, which contains substantive rights as well as an effective enforcement mechanism. The latter is particularly crucial in guaranteeing the protection of all rights over time.

“In case of a ‘no-deal’ scenario, the EU and the Member States have adopted contingency measures to ensure that UK nationals could remain legally resident in the period after a ‘no-deal’ Withdrawal. The Commission has worked with the EU27 Member States to ensure coherence in the overall approach. “

Member comments

  1. Barnier has always hated the Brits in my opinion, hence bad deal and not caring about Brits abroad

  2. The last thre paragraphs out line the approach the EU 27 will take; at the moment the EU 27 don’t know what protection will be needed the type of BREXIT may direct the approach taken. As for the comment “Barnier has always hated the Brits” it’s niether helpful or correct. The”bad deal and not caring about Brits abrao” is pure nonsence. A deal has been agreed and it’s the UK governments attitude that is the issusecausing problems for it’s citizens in Europe, in my opinion.

  3. The British have implemented the WA regarding citizens’ rights. This is the Pre-settled and Settled Schemes and is, barring date changes, the same for a “deal” and “no deal” Brexit. The EU has made “recommendations” on UK citizens’ to EU27 states in the event of a no deal. These recommendations are far below the WA implementation the UK has done. The EU chose to make the recommendations as weak as possible – they could have recommended reciprocity but didn’t.

  4. Will Brits with permanent residency in one EU country retain the right to move to another or remain land-locked and a second class EU resident ?

  5. deal or no deal – brits will be landlocked. Barnier and Junker have never liked the brits and totally undermined the remain campaign by contradicting cameron. some people in france are in danger of deportation anyway (deal or no deal) the whole thing is a mess. the WA was a one womans idea of what it should be, which is why it was rejected

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EUROPEAN UNION

How Europe plans to ease long-term residence rules for non-EU nationals

Non-EU citizens living in the European Union are eligible for a special residence status that allows them to move to another country in the bloc. Getting the permit is not simple but may get easier, explains Claudia Delpero.

How Europe plans to ease long-term residence rules for non-EU nationals

The European Commission proposed this week to simplify residence rules for non-EU nationals who live on a long-term basis in the European Union.

The intention is to ease procedures in three areas: acquiring EU long-term residence status, moving to other EU countries and improving the rights of family members. 

But the new measures will have to be approved by the European Parliament and the EU Council, which is made of national ministers. Will EU governments support them?

What is EU long-term residence?

Non-EU citizens who live in EU countries on a long-term basis are eligible for long-term residence status, nationally and at the EU level. 

This EU status can be acquired if the person has lived ‘legally’ in an EU country for at least five years, has not been away for more than 6 consecutive months and 10 months over the entire period, and can prove to have “stable and regular economic resources” and health insurance. Applicants can also be required to meet “integration conditions”, such as passing a test on the national language or culture knowledge. 

The EU long-term residence permit is valid for at least five years and is automatically renewable. But the status can be lost if the holder leaves the EU for more than one year (the EU Court of Justice recently clarified that being physically in the EU for a few days in a 12-month period is enough to maintain the status).

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: How many non-EU citizens live in European Union countries?

Long-term residence status grants equal treatment to EU nationals in areas such as employment and self-employment or education. In addition, EU long-term residence grants the possibility to move to other EU countries under certain conditions. 

What does the European Commission want to change?

The European Commission has proposed to make it easier to acquire EU long-term residence status and to strengthen the rights associated with it. 

Under new measures, non-EU citizens should be able to cumulate residence periods in different EU countries to reach the 5-year requirement, instead of resetting the clock at each move. 

This, however, will not apply to individuals who used a ‘residence by investment’ scheme to gain rights in the EU, as the Commission wants to “limit the attractiveness” of these routes and not all EU states offer such schemes. 

All periods of legal residence should be fully counted towards the 5 years, including those spent as students, beneficiaries of temporary protection or on temporary grounds. Stays under a short-term visa do not count.

Children who are born or adopted in the EU country having issued the EU long-term residence permit to their parents should acquire EU long-term resident status in that country automatically, without residence requirement, the Commission added.

READ ALSO: Why it may get easier for non-EU citizens to move to another European Union country

EU countries should also avoid imposing a minimum income level for the resources condition but consider the applicant’s individual circumstances, the Commission suggests.

Integration tests should not be too burdensome or expensive, nor should they be requested for long-term residents’ family reunifications. 

The Commission also proposed to extend from 12 to 24 months the possibility to leave the EU without losing status, with facilitated procedures (no integration test) for the re-acquisition of status after longer absences.

A person who has already acquired EU long-term residence status in one EU country should only need three years to acquire the same status in another EU member state. But the second country could decide whether to wait the completion of the five years before granting social benefits. 

The proposal also clarifies that EU long-term residents should have the same right as EU nationals with regard to the acquisition of private housing and the export of pensions, when moving to a third country. 

Why make these changes?

Although EU long-term residence exists since 2006, few people have benefited. “The long-term residents directive is under-used by the member states and does not provide for an effective right to mobility within the EU,” the Commission says. 

Around 3.1 million third-country nationals held long-term residence permits for the EU in 2017, compared to 7.1 million holding a national one. “we would like to make the EU long-term residence permit more attractive,” said European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson.

The problems are the conditions to acquire the status, too difficult to meet, the barriers faced when moving in the EU, the lack of consistency in the rights of long-term residents and their family members and the lack of information about the scheme.

Most EU member states continue to issue “almost exclusively” national permits unless the applicant explicitly asks for the EU one, an evaluation of the directive has shown.

READ ALSO: Pensions in the EU: What you need to know if you’re moving country

This proposal is part of a package to “improve the EU’s overall attractiveness to foreign talent”, address skill shortages and facilitate integration in the EU labour market of people fleeing Ukraine. 

On 1 January 2021, 23.7 million non-EU nationals were residing in the EU, representing 5.3% of the total population. Between 2.25 to 3 million non-EU citizens move to the EU every year. More than 5 million people have left Ukraine for neighbouring states since the beginning of the war in February. 

Will these measures also apply to British citizens?

These measures also apply to British citizens, whether they moved to an EU country before or after Brexit. 

The European Commission has recently clarified that Britons living in the EU under the Withdrawal Agreement can apply for a long-term residence too.

As Britons covered by the Withdrawal Agreement have their residence rights secured only in the country where they lived before Brexit, the British in Europe coalition recommended those who need mobility rights to seek EU long-term residence status. 

These provisions do not apply in Denmark and Ireland, which opted out of the directive.

What happens next?

The Commission proposals will have to be discussed and agreed upon by the European Parliament and Council. This is made of national ministers, who decide by qualified majority. During the process, the proposals can be amended or even scrapped. 

In 2021, the European Parliament voted through a resolution saying that third-country nationals who are long-term residents in the EU should have the right to reside permanently in other EU countries, like EU citizens. The Parliament also called for the reduction of the residency requirement to acquire EU long-term residence from five to three years.

READ ALSO: COMPARE: Which EU countries grant citizenship to the most people?

EU governments will be harder to convince. However, presenting the package, Commission Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life, Margaritis Schinas, said proposals are likely to be supported because “they fit in a broader framework”, which represents the “construction” of the “EU migration policy”. 

National governments are also likely to agree because large and small employers face skill shortages, “especially in areas that are key to our competitiveness, like agri-food, digital, tourism, healthcare… we need people,” Schinas said.

The article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.

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