ECAS: National administrations ‘lack EU spirit’

The Pensions Administration tower in Brussels. [Brussels Pictures]

A “negative attitude” and a “lack of EU spirit” for solving issues such as issuing residence permits and claiming pensions was decried by representatives of the European Citizen Action Service (ECAS) at a public event on Wednesday (12 April).

ECAS, an NGO that provides advice from 60 legal experts through a service called Your Europe Advice, presented its report, “Your Europe Advice – Annual Trends 2016,” in the Brussels Press Club.

Based on over 20,000 questions by citizens handled by ECAS legal experts, the report concludes that social security, entry procedures and residence top the concerns of EU citizens living in another member state.

Grey area

In the case of the UK, ECAS finds that following the Brexit referendum, EU law continues to apply, but many drawbacks are reported by European residents, such as difficulties in obtaining resident cards in another country.

According to Directive 2004/38/EC, legally there is no need for an EU citizen living in another country of the Union to possess a residence card.

But as Antoine Fobe, a legal expert with Your Europe Advice explained, the practice was that without such a document, national administrations refused basic services.

“In practice, the fact that you don’t have a residence card, appears to be used against citizens who are in a fragile situation,” Fobe explained. He said that governments are “lacking the goodwill” to use the instruments provided by EU law, and are using “the weaknesses of the directive, not the spirit”.

In the case of UK citizens applying for residence cards in another EU country, there have been cases reported when the applicants were told, “We are waiting for the Brexit negotiations to conclude.”

When governments issue such cards, there are many reported cases of administrative abuse, such as excessive delays, excessive language requirements, non-recognition of marriage certificates, passports being retained for an excessively long period, etc.

A typical infringement of EU rights experienced by UK nationals are restrictions on the free movement of family members who are not EU citizens. EU legislation requires such family members to be treated as EU citizens, but national administrations often ignore this, Fobe said.

Lack of cross-border cooperation

Even when the rules on how to cooperate between national governments are enshrined in EU law, they tend to be very reluctant to engage with their counterparts in other EU countries, Fobe said. This is very obvious in areas of social security, such as pension rights.

Although governments are obligated under EU law to obtain from their counterparts in other countries proof of pension rights, they tell citizens: “Go to that country and get such and such document.”

He called that a “lack of good will” and said that it expresses reluctance to use the instruments put in place by EU law.

The report mentions several concrete cases, such as the situation of a Spaniard who had worked for 25 years in Sweden and 10 years in Spain, and moved to Sweden in order to apply for his pension there. He made the application in April 2016 in Stockholm and the pension office sent it to their counterpart in Spain. So far, a year has passed and no response has been received from Spain. The citizen has still not received any payment.

The report recommends that the Commission should reinforce the obligation of communication and cooperation between concerned member states as stated in Article 76 of Regulation (EC) No. 883/2004.

“At a time when the EU needs to showcase its concrete added value for citizens, it should be careful not to let the free movement of citizens become just another nice slogan, against the reality of returning restrictions and indirect barriers of all types,” Fobe said.

He concluded with what he called himself “a provocative question”: “How could citizens remain enthusiastic about free movement of persons, if member states, their administrations don’t appear to value it?”

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