Stanley's blog

Mind the Gap

“The right of the European citizen to move freely throughout the EU is the clearest and most important demonstration that the EU Treaties are ultimately concerned with individual freedom.” This is how Professor Sir David Edward, former European Court justice, prefaces a report published yesterday by ECAS (European Citizen Action Service) on better enforcement of European Citizenship free movement rights.

The Report highlights the ongoing failure to enforce existing legislation. The number of European citizens living and working in another Member State is only 8.8 million – less than two per cent.

This short and eminently readable report explains the practical reality faced by European citizens, by first considering the gap between the legal framework and the way it is applied; and then the measures that might be taken to close the gap between legal theory and practical reality, under the following headings:

• role of European institutions
• preventive action
• information, advice and active help
• formal complaints and petitions
• judicial remedies for European citizens, and
• budgetary considerations.

The Report concludes that the gap can be bridged through a number of measures – many of which can be implemented with little resources – and indeed, a cost saving. The Report makes the following 10 recommendations to achieve a better enforcement of European citizen’s rights:

1. Introduction of a new Commissioner specifically responsible for citizenship rights and the Charter
2. Improved cooperation between the Institutions and the Member States for better implementation of the law
3. A “one-stop shop” to enable citizens to understand and exercise their rights
4. A shift in enforcement policy from reacting to complaints to ensuring that legislation is correctly applied in the first place
5. Introduction of transparency as a powerful instrument for enforcement
6. Faster resolution of citizens’ problems in a citizen-friendly way
7. Better complaint-handling by the Commission
8. Holding defaulting Member States to account
9. More effective complaints procedures in the right to petition the European Parliament and to make complaints to other bodies
10. A wide-ranging information campaign on citizens’ rights.

The root of the problem is considered to be the general lack of political will on the part of the Member States.

While better enforcement would involve cost, there would be economic and monetary benefits. However, the ultimate cost of poor enforcement is the undermining of European citizens’ rights; this cost is far greater than any resources that might be needed to put in place the recommendations set out in the Report.

Enforcement has been a problem since I first came to work in Brussels in the eighties. Enforcement has always come a poor second to legislation, as it is hard work, tedious and does not attract outside recognition. The Report is a valiant effort to buck the trend, but needs a persistent and ongoing effort by all the stakeholders, if it is to have any effect.

Viviane Reding, the Commission Vice-President designate for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, has already shown interest in this subject. Let’s hope there is follow through.

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