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Citizens' rights
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Legal protection in the European Union

Citizenship of the European Union which was established under the Treaty on European Union in 1992 created a binding relationship between the citizen and the European Union. Citizenship of the European Union created rights to be enjoyed and obligations to be observed by every citizen of the EU.

Who is a citizen of the European Union?

Every person holding the nationality of a Member State is a citizen of the EU.

What are my rights as a citizen of the European Union?

Citizens' rights in the European Union may be classified as follows:

Right of residence in another Member State of the European Union

Every EU citizen has the right to move freely with his/her family to another Member State in order to take up employment or to live independently without recourse to the social assistance system in the host State. Citizens who avail of the right to work are entitled to work in the host Member State under the same conditions as citizens of that country as regards pay, dismissal, promotion, holidays etc.

What is the definition of family for the purpose of availing of this right to work in another Member State?

The definition of family is set out in Directive 2004/38 and includes a worker's spouse and their descendants who are under the age of twenty-one years or are dependants and dependant relatives in the ascending line of the worker and his/her spouse. The definition includes also the partner with whom the EU citizen has contracted a registered partnership if the host state treats registered partnerships as equivalent to marriage.

Since Ireland has recently introduced the Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010 the non-EU registered partner of an EU citizen has a right to reside in Ireland since 1st January 2011 when the Civil Partnership Act came into force.

There are a number of other categories of person who are regarded as beneficiaries under Directive 2004/38.  Member States are required to facilitate entry and residence for the following categories:

a)       family members other than those referred to above who in the country from which they have come are dependents or members of the household of the Union citizen having the primary right of residence or where serious health grounds strictly require the personal care of the family member by the EU citizen; and

b)       the partner with whom the Union citizen has a durable relationship, duly attested.

What is the status in Ireland under EU law of the non-EU parents of an Irish child?

Following the Zambrano case decided by the Court of Justice of the EU in March  2011, the parents of a child who is a national of a Member State, e.g. Ireland should be granted the right to work and the right of residence in Ireland in order to protect the right of the child to live in the EU.

Is an EU citizen entitled to look for work in another Member State?

An EU citizen may seek work in another Member State and is entitled to remain in that Member State for a reasonable period of time while seeking employment. What is a reasonable period of time varies between Member States. It is generally accepted that a period of up to six months would be regarded as reasonable but certain Member States operate a shorter period. You should check the situation in the Member State in which you intend to remain while seeking work.

Will qualifications obtained in one Member State be recognised in other Member States?

For those who work in unregulated professions e.g. computer technicians, waiters, drivers etc, the qualifications obtained in one Member State should be recognised in another Member State.

Recognition of all regulated professions i.e. all those for which specific qualifications and experience are required is provided under Directive 2005/36/EC. There is automatic recognition of professional qualifications in the European Union for seven professions known as 'sectoral' professions: architects, dentists, doctors, midwives, nurses, pharmacists and vets.  If you are practising in one of these professions and your qualifications match those set out in the Directive, you can commence practising your profession in any one of the Member States of the EU. 

If you practise a regulated profession which does not fall within one of those seven set out above, e.g. a teacher or physiotherapist, you are then subject to what is known as the general system of recognition under which you must submit your qualifications and experience to the competent authority in the Member State in which you wish to practise your profession.  The competent authority will assess your qualifications and experience to determine if these are equivalent to those required in the host country.  If they are, you will be notified that you can commence work without further formality.  If your qualifications and experience are deemed not to be equivalent to those in the host State, you may be required to undergo an aptitude test or period of adaptation. 

Where can I obtain further information on recognition of my qualifications in another Member State?

Further information on recognition of your qualifications in another Member State can be obtained through the following website:  http://ec.europa.eu/internal_market/qualifications/index_en.htm

Where can I obtain further information on recognition of my qualifications in Ireland?

The information point on recognition of qualifications in Ireland is Mr. Hugh Geoghegan, Higher Executive Officer, Qualifications Section, Department of Education and Science, Block 2, Marlborough Street, Dublin 1.  Telephone 01 889 6539. Email: hugh_geoghegan@education.gov.ie.

Is the working citizen and his/her family entitled to the same benefits as nationals of the host country?

The employed citizen and his/her family are entitled to the same social security tax and accommodation benefits as working nationals of the country of employment. The citizen and his family cannot be excluded from these benefits on the grounds of nationality, for reasons of residence or for any other discriminatory reason.

Where can I obtain further information on my right to work in Ireland?

Further information on the right to work in Ireland may be obtained from the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.

Further information on the right to work in any other Member State may be obtained from EURES. This is a network co-ordinated by the European Commission, the public employment services of the Member States, trade unions, employers' organisations and local authority services. The network comprises approximately 500 advisers whose role is to assist job seekers providing them with information about living and working conditions abroad and facilitating exchange of information about vacancies and applications for employment.

If I purchase property in another Member State and the conveyance goes wrong, do I have any protection under EU law?

Unfortunately, the rules on purchase and lease of property are not regulated by the EU.  This means that if you purchase or lease property in another Member State, the transaction is subject to the laws of the country where the property is situated.  In the event that a problem occurs in the conveyance or lease, this is a matter which you must pursue under the legal system of the State where the property is situated. However, if you are the victim of discriminatory treatment by the State authorities where you purchase your property, this may be an issue in which the EU has competence.  In June 2013, the European Commission has commenced proceedings against France for discriminatory tax rules under which the French rules allow investors in France to benefit from accelerated depreciation but do not allow the same for similar investments abroad.  Similarly, in April 2013, the European Commission referred Spain to the European Court of Justice for discriminatory property tax rules which prevent non-Spanish residents from enjoying the same tax benefits as residents.

If I purchase property in another Member State, what are the rules on succession in the event of my death?

Under Regulation (EU) No 650/2012 on jurisdiction , applicable law, recognition and enforcement of decisions and acceptance and enforcement of authentic instruments in matters of succession and on the creation of a European Certificate of Succession), it is now easier to settle international successions as the criterion for determining jurisdiction and the law applicable in cross border cases is the deceased’s habitual place of residence.  People living abroad will however be able to opt to have the law of their country of nationality apply to the entirety of their succession so an Irish pensioner living in Spain could for example choose to apply Irish law when planning his succession.

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Right to study in another Member State

Students have the right to pursue their third level studies in another Member State under the same conditions as nationals of that Member State.

Are there any conditions to be met by the student prior to taking up studies in another Member State to allow the student to remain in the host Member State?

Students from a European Union Member State who intend to study in another Member State for a period of more than three months must meet the following conditions:

  • They must be enrolled at an approved educational establishment;

  • They must be covered by adequate health insurance;

  • They must have sufficient means to prevent them becoming a burden on the social security system of the host Member State.

Is the student entitled to any social security protection during his studies in the host Member State?

Students who are nationals of a Member State insured under a social security scheme for employees or self-employed or students who are the family member of someone who is insured under a social security scheme may be entitled to health care protection during their studies provided they meet certain formalities.

If staying temporarily in a Member State while studying there, students are entitled to all immediately necessary sickness benefits in kind. To be eligible for such care, students should obtain a European Health Insurance Card prior to leaving home. In the event of sickness, this card can be presented to the public health authority in the host country.

Where can I obtain further information on study in Ireland?

Further information on study in Ireland may be obtained from the Department of Education at: www.education.ie.

Where can I obtain further information on study in another European country?

Further information on studying in another European country can be found on the following website:  www.study-in-europe.org

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Right of residence in another Member State of the European Union

European Union citizens have the right to stay in another Member State subject to certain conditions and limits. Citizens may stay in another Member State on holidays, if sent by an employer or if offering services as a self-employed person or if they have sufficient resources to support themselves and their family members and have comprehensive health insurance.

Under what circumstances may citizens live permanently in another Member State?

Citizens may live permanently in another Member State if employed or self-employed there and, if retired, having been employed or self-employed there.

Are students and retired people entitled to reside in another Member State?

Students and retired people may reside in another Member State only if they have sufficient financial resources and health insurance to ensure that they will not be a burden on the social security system in the host Member State.

Can jobseekers remain in another Member State while seeking employment there?

European Union citizens have the right to remain in another Member State for a reasonable period of time while looking for work. In the absence of a formal definition of a 'reasonable time', most Member States permit non-national citizens to remain on their territory for a period of six months while seeking employment. A citizen cannot be requested to leave the host Member State if he/she can prove that they are still genuinely looking for work and that they have a real prospect of finding a job.

Is an EU citizen entitled to benefits while seeking work in the host Member State?

Under Regulation 883/2004/EC, according to the principle of exportability, which is one of the general principles of social security coordination, you are entitled to have your benefit paid in the Member State to which you move. The Member State which grants the benefit may not require you to reside on its territory as a condition for payment or for entitlement to the benefit.

However, not all cash benefits falling within the scope of the coordination regulation are exportable. The principle of exportability does not extend to special non-contributory cash benefits. These benefits are in principle only payable in the territory of the Member State where you reside and under the legislation of that State.

Likewise, unemployment benefits are in principle not exportable. The right to unemployment benefits is subject to the condition that you have to remain available to the employment market in the State where benefits are paid. In other words, you have to reside there. However, there is an exception to this exception,  limited in time to 3 months (extendable by the competent institutions or services to 6 months)If you were entitled to unemployment benefit in your home Member State, you may continue to draw benefit from that Member State for a period of up to three months and possibly six months, after the move to the host Member State. You must inform your national benefit office before departure and obtain the necessary forms. On arrival in the host Member State, you must register with the employment services in that country to be eligible for continued benefit. If you do not find work within the three or six month period, you must return to the country paying the benefit, otherwise you will lose your entitlement to unemployment benefit.

In what circumstances will a residence permit be required by the host Member State?

Residence permits are not required for EU citizens.  However, residence cards are required for non-EU family members and beneficiaries if they remain in a Member State for longer than three months.

If you, as an EU citizen, intend to remain for less than three months in the host Member State, you simply require a valid identity card or passport. The host country is entitled to ask you to notify your presence to the relevant authorities, though this will not be required in all Member States.

If you remain in the host Member State for longer than three months you may be required to register your presence in the host State. You will receive a registration certificate setting out your name and address and the date of your registration.

What documents will be required to register you in another Member State?

You will be required to present a valid identity card or passport together with a confirmation of engagement from an employer or a certificate of employment or proof that you are self-employed or, if not working, evidence of adequate resources and sickness insurance.

If you are a student, you will have to provide a valid identity card or passport together with proof of enrolment at an accredited college and proof also of sickness insurance and a declaration of means.

What about my family members who are not EU citizens, are they obliged to register their presence in Ireland and in other Member States?

Family members who are not nationals of an EU Member State are obliged to apply for a residence card in the host State, including Ireland, if they intend to remain for longer than three months. Further information on the issue of residence cards in Ireland can be obtained from the Immigration and Naturalisation Service at www.inis.gov.ie

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Right to equal treatment

All citizens must be treated equally and cannot be discriminated against on the grounds of nationality or sex. The Treaty of Amsterdam provided that measures would be introduced to also combat discrimination on the grounds of racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation. To give effect to some of these provisions in the Treaty of Amsterdam, the Racial Equality Directive became law throughout the EU on 19 July 2003. Ireland has already introduced legislation to combat discrimination on the grounds of gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, race, marital status and membership of the travelling community.

Where can I obtain further information if I believe that I have been the victim of discrimination in Ireland?

Further information on equality of treatment may be obtained from the Equality Authority at www.equality.ie.

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Right to travel freely throughout the European Union

EU citizens, with the exception of citizens from Ireland and the United Kingdom, have the right to enter and travel around any other Member State without having to comply with any special formalities. All that may be required is a valid passport or identity card.

Why are Irish and UK citizens required to present a passport when entering other Member States?

As neither Ireland nor the United Kingdom are parties to the Schengen Agreement, Irish and UK citizens must present a passport when entering other Member States.

Can a citizen of the European Union be restricted in his/her right to travel?

The right to travel to another Member State may be restricted only for reasons of public policy, public security or public health.

What can I do if my right to travel to another Member State or to a third country is restricted at the point of entry?

If you are an Irish citizen and your right to travel to another Member State or to a third country is restricted and you require advice or assistance, you should contact the Irish embassy or consulate in that country. If Ireland is not represented by an embassy or consulate, you have the right to seek assistance from the embassy or consulate of any of the twenty-six other Member States present in the country to which you seek entry. If you experience any difficulties in locating diplomatic or consular representation, you should contact the Department of Foreign Affairs. The telephone number is 01 4082308.

If you are a citizen of another country, you should contact the Embassy or Consulate of your home State in the country you seek to enter.

Will a driving licence issued in one Member State be recognised in other Member States?

A valid driving licence issued by one Member State will be valid throughout the European Union for the class or classes of vehicles for which it was issued in the Member State of origin.

Is it necessary to obtain additional car insurance when travelling to another Member State?

Your car insurance policy will automatically provide, at no extra cost, the minimum cover (third party liability) required by law. This applies in all Member States as well as Iceland, Norway and Switzerland.

If you have comprehensive insurance at home, you should check that the cover extends to travelling in other countries. You may also have to consider vehicle breakdown insurance.

What if I become ill or have an accident in another EU Member State? How do I obtain healthcare?

Before travelling you should obtain a European Health Insurance Card which is available from your local social security or sickness insurance office.   If you suddenly become ill or have an accident during a visit to any EU member State, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland, you can get free or reduced cost medical treatment on production of your European Health Insurance Card.

Will the European Health Insurance Card entitle me to all necessary medical care free of charge in another Member State?

Only publicly funded emergency treatment is included in the scheme. Since each country sets its own rules for medical care, necessary medical care is free in some countries. In other countries, you will be required to pay part of the cost while in others you will be required to pay the full cost and then claim a refund.

Where can I obtain the European Health Insurance Card?

The European Health Insurance Card is available free of charge to most Irish residents.  An application form may be obtained from your local health centre or post office.  Alternatively, you can download the form from the following website www.ehic.ie which also provides detailed information concerning use of the card.

Is it necessary to obtain travel insurance?

Since few countries pay the entire cost of medical treatment on production of the European Health Insurance Card, it is advisable to obtain travel insurance. It is important to remember that illness or an accident abroad may necessitate additional travel, accommodation and repatriation costs for which you will require insurance.

What are the current rules regarding liquids on flights?

Only containers of 100mls or less of liquids, gels, pastes, lotions and cosmetics may be brought through the passenger screening points at all European Union airports.  In addition, these items must be presented at the passenger security screening point in a transparent, re-sealable bag of no more than one litre capacity i.e. 20cmx20cm. 

The rules apply to liquids such as water and other beverages, aerosol cans and toiletries such as toothpaste, shaving cream, hair gel, lip gloss and creams.

There are two exceptions to the rules: baby food needed during the flight and medicines needed during the flight. These exempt items must be placed in a separate transparent re-sealable bag and presented separately at the passenger security screening area.

Where can I obtain further information on the rules concerning liquids on flights?

Further information on the rules concerning liquids on flights can be obtained here.

When travelling by air, do the airlines have any obligation to compensate me in the event of flight delay or cancellation?

When travelling by air for business or pleasure, EU law provides that you have certain rights regarding information, delays, cancellations, overbooking and damage to your luggage.  Many of the rules apply even if there are extraordinary circumstances which caused the flight disruption. The rights apply to scheduled domestic flights within the EU and to charter flights leaving or arriving at an EU airport. For flights arriving from outside the EU, these rights apply only to EU airlines. Further information on your rights as an airline passenger can be obtained here.

When travelling by rail in Ireland, do I have any rights granted under EU law?

Irish domestic rail travel is largely exempt from EC Regulation 1371/2007 which provides for protection for rail passengers, however, passengers on domestic rail services in Ireland now benefit from measures requiring rail operators to:

  • make it easy for rail passengers to buy tickets (Article 9 )
  • compensate passengers where the operator is liable for the loss of luggage (Article 11)
  • have adequate insurance (Article 12)
  • ensure non-discriminatory access for persons with disabilities or reduced mobility relating to rail transport including stations, ticket reservations and ticket purchases, and at no additional cost to the passenger (Article 19)
  • provide information on the accessibility of rail services to persons with disabilities and persons with reduced mobility (Article 20(1))
  • ensure passengers’ personal security in railway stations and on trains (Article 26)
  • compensate passengers in the event of death or injury (Article 13).

On the Dublin to Belfast service, in addition to the rights afforded to passengers on domestic services under the Regulation, passengers on this rail service also benefit from measures requiring:

  • railway operators and ticket agents to provide passengers with travel information (Article 8 )
  • railway operators to make advance payments to cover immediate costs of death or injury associated with use of the rail service (Article 13)

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Rights relating to buying goods and services

Citizens have the right to buy safe products under fair trading conditions.

How is the availability of safe products throughout the European Union ensured?

Producers are required under legislation to place only safe products on the market. Producers must take into account:

  • The characteristics of the product such as composition or packaging;

  • Its effects on other products where it is foreseeable that it will be used with other products;

  • The presentation of the product, its labelling and any instructions for its use and disposal;

  • The categories of consumers at serious risk when using the products, in particular children.

There are also Community rules governing liability for defective products. If a consumer is the victim of a defective product, the producer of that product will be liable for damage caused by the fact that the product did not offer the safety which could reasonably have been expected.

If I believe that my consumer rights have been infringed in Ireland or while travelling in another Member State, what can I do?

The European Small Claims procedure  is one of the simplest redress measures available to resolve cross-border disputes in cases involving €2,000 or less.  Judgment is given in the country of residence of the consumer, or in the country of the defending company should the consumer so choose.  The procedure protects the procedural rights of the consumer and the judgment is directly enforceable in the country of the losing party and in all other EU Member States.

Details of your specific consumer rights and assistance in redressing those rights may be obtained from the European Consumer Centre at www.eccdublin.ie.

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Right to vote and stand in municipal and European Parliament elections

Every EU citizen residing in a Member State of which he is not a national has the right to vote and to stand as a candidate in municipal and European Parliament elections under the same conditions as nationals of that State.

Are there formalities to be completed to avail of these electoral rights?

Some Member States may require you to register on the electoral roll. You may also be required to show identity documents and give your last address in your home Member State in order to verify that you are a citizen of the European Union. Voters in European elections may be required to demonstrate that they would be entitled to vote if they were living in their country of origin. Candidates standing in such elections may be required to demonstrate that they would be entitled to stand if still in their own country.

How can I register to vote in elections in Ireland?

You can check the electoral register and register to vote in Ireland through the following website:  www.checktheregister.ie

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Diplomatic and consular rights

Every EU citizen is entitled, in the territory of a third country in which his own State is not represented, to protection by the diplomatic or consular authorities of any other Member State on the same conditions as nationals of that Member State. Many EU citizens have been affected by recent crises, for example in Libya, Egypt and Bahrain after the democratic uprisings in the Spring of 2011, or in Japan after the earthquake in March 2011.  Also consular protection is often essential in day-to-day situations, for example when people fall seriously ill or are victims of a crime or are involved in an accident.

Are there formalities to be completed to avail of this right?

There are no formalities to be completed to avail of protection by diplomatic or consular authorities of any other Member State.

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Right to petition the European Parliament and Right to appeal to the European Ombudsman

If EU citizens (or legal residents in the EU) consider that their rights are being ignored, they can

  • petition the European Parliament on any rights issue with an EU dimension which involves any EU institution, national or local administration or

  • appeal to the European Ombudsman about maladministration on the part of any EU institution or agency.

To visit the European Ombudsman's website for information on how to complain, to obtain a complaint form and for contact information http://www.ombudsman.europa.eu

Are there special forms to be completed to petition the European Parliament or appeal to the European Ombudsman?

Standard forms are available from the European Commission Representation in each Member State. It is also possible to lodge a petition with the European Parliament or appeal to the European Ombudsman simply by letter.

Petitions to the European Parliament should be forwarded to: The President, European Parliament, L2939 Luxembourg.

Appeals to the Office of the European Ombudsman should be forwarded to: The European Ombudsman, 1 Avenue du President Robert Schuman, F-67001 Strasbourg, France.

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Right to write to any EU institution or body in any Treaty language

An EU citizen may write to the European Parliament, the European Commission, the Council, the Court of Justice, the Court of Auditors, the Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions or the Ombudsman in any one of the twenty-three Treaty languages and receive an answer in that language. The official languages are Bulgarian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Irish, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Slovak, Slovene, Spanish and Swedish.

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Right of access to official documents

EU citizens (and legal residents in the EU) now have access to European Parliament documents virtually without restriction. Documents from the European Commission and the Council may be subject to certain restrictions.

Where can I find further details on my rights as a citizen of the European Union?

Further details on citizens' rights may be obtained from the Your Europe website.

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Last update: 05/07/2013  |Top