EU strengthens consular rights to help Europeans abroad
The European Commission has proposed to improve assistance for EU citizens caught in crisis situations – such as those that occurred in Japan, Libya or Egypt this year – and day-to-day emergencies when travelling abroad. The aim is to ease cooperation between consular authorities and strengthen European citizens' right to consular protection.
EU citizens abroad have the right to ask for assistance from a consulate or an embassy of another EU Member State when their Member State is not represented in the country. EU Member States must also help citizens evacuate as if they were their own nationals. Today’s proposals will strengthen these rights by clarifying when a citizen is considered not represented and specifying the type of assistance Member States typically provide in cases of need, such as arrest, serious accident or lost documents. The Commission has also developed an interactive website on consular protection, which lists the contact details of all EU Member States' embassies and consulates outside the EU – searchable either by EU nationality or by country.
"All 27 EU Member States need to ensure the best support for EU citizens when they are in need outside the EU – regardless of their nationality," said EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding, the European Commission’s Vice-President. "The right to equal consular protection can be a great example of EU solidarity all over the world. In crises such as those this year in Japan, Libya or Egypt this year – or in individual emergencies such as the loss of a passport or belonging –, EU coordination rules will make it clear what citizens can expect and will ease the work of consular officials."
Recent major crises have highlighted the importance of consular protection outside the EU. Around 150,000 EU citizens were affected by the crises in Libya and Egypt after the democratic uprisings in spring 2011 and following the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. Many were assisted by other EU countries' consulates or embassies where their own country was not (or was no longer) represented. The right to consular protection also applies in day-to-day situations, such as when a holidaymaker is seriously ill or falls victim to a crime.
The Commission’s proposed legislation aims to provide a stable framework for cooperation and coordination among Member States. It clarifies that EU citizens are considered as unrepresented when an embassy or consulate of their own Member State is not ‘accessible’, meaning that they cannot reach it and return to where they started at least the same day. The proposal also specifies to what extent citizens’ non-EU family members are eligible for help. It provides how assistance should be coordinated with the citizens' home Member States. In crisis situations, the new rules promote the role of the ‘lead’ Member State that is in charge of coordinating and leading assistance of unrepresented EU citizens.
In 2009, consular protection was provided by Member States' consuls in 300,000 cases. Every year, 5.12 million EU citizens travel to countries outside the EU where their home Member State is not represented and a further 1.74 million EU citizens live in such countries. EU citizens are also increasingly exposed to crisis situations, both natural and man-made.
The EU Treaties guarantee all EU citizens the right to equal treatment regarding protection from the diplomatic and consular authorities of any Member State when they are travelling or living outside the EU and their own country is not represented (see Articles 20(2)(c) and 23 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union; Article 46 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights). In almost all countries in the world, at least one EU state is not represented. The only three countries where all 27 EU Member States are represented are the United States, China and Russia.
In its Citizenship Report of October 2010 (see IP/10/1390 and MEMO/10/525 ), the Commission committed to increasing the effectiveness of EU citizens’ right to be assisted in third countries, including in times of crisis, by the diplomatic and consular authorities of all Member States, by proposing legislative measures and by better informing citizens via a dedicated website and targeted communication measures (action 8).
In its Communication of March 2011 (see IP/11/355 and MEMO/11/185 ), the Commission also announced that within the next 12 months it would present legislation to establish the coordination and cooperation measures necessary to facilitate consular protection for unrepresented EU citizens.