With more EU citizens living, travelling and working abroad – Europeans take over 90 million trips outside the EU each year and around 30 million are resident in non-EU countries – it’s more important than ever to step up awareness. In today’s policy Communication on consular protection in third countries, the European Commission sets out concrete actions on how to raise EU citizens’ awareness of their rights. In the next year, the Commission will propose coordination measures to ease citizens’ day-to-day consular protection. In addition, the Commission is launching a dedicated website on consular protection. This website provides addresses of consular or diplomatic missions in non-EU countries and access to all Member States' travel advisory services.
"Europeans are reaching out to help people in Japan and Libya who are facing national emergencies," said Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner. "In the midst of these challenges, we can see European solidarity in action. Member States are pulling together to help evacuate each others' nationals. With more EU citizens working and travelling abroad, it’s essential that everyone knows where and how to get a helping hand in case of a crisis, no matter where they are in the world and regardless of their nationality."
The number of EU citizens travelling to third countries is rising, with over 90 million trips in 2008, up from over 80 million in 2005. More than 30 million EU citizens live permanently in a third country, but all 27 Member States are represented diplomatically in only three countries (United States, China and Russia).
Opinion surveys show Europeans’ high expectations for assistance abroad. 62% would expect the same kind of help from another EU country's embassy as they would get from their own (see Annex). Nevertheless, many Europeans and consular officials remain unaware of the right to such protection as an EU citizen. The Commission will step up awareness among EU citizens and consular officials about the right to turn to embassies/consulates of Member States other than their own, how to reach these facilities and what kind of help can be offered. Member States could inform their citizens about this right when issuing new passports. 20 Member States have already decided to follow this approach.
Recent events in Japan, Libya and Haiti have shown the importance of consular support for foreign nationals stranded in crisis situations abroad. There were around 6,000 EU citizens in Libya when the crisis erupted, but only eight Member States have representations there. On 9 March 2011, 1,345 EU citizens were still present. Help was coordinated via teleconferences and the secure website of the EU's Joint Situation Centre. Member States have been supplying each others citizens' with Emergency Travel Documents and made places available on evacuation airplanes for EU non-nationals. In Haiti, around 2,700 EU citizens were affected by the earthquake in 2010, but only half of EU countries had diplomatic representations. In Japan, where only Malta and Cyprus are not represented, about 1,000 citizens contacted the national consular services and asked for assistance to leave Japan. Germany helped evacuate German nationals and at least 18 other EU citizens by chartered bus from the city Sendai.
European solidarity has been essential in these emergencies. In Libya, the EU took swift action and triggered the Civil Protection Mechanism, which helps coordinate and co-finance transport costs for evacuation. As a result, Hungary – to give one example – airlifted 29 Romanians, 27 Hungarians, 20 Bulgarians, eight Germans, six Czechs and six other EU and non-EU nationals from Tripoli. No EU citizen should be left behind. EU Delegations, as part of the European External Action Service, can also raise citizens’ awareness about Member States’ protection and provide support. This was already the case during the crisis in Gaza in 2009 when nearly 100 persons were evacuated in armoured buses thanks to EU Delegation support.
While crucial in a crisis, the right to consular protection also applies in more everyday situations such as a lost or stolen passport, a serious accident or illness or after a violent crime. However, Member States' consular laws vary. Depending on which country an EU citizen turns to, the level of protection offered may differ. Member States may grant financial advances mainly for small amounts (such as for a flight home or a hotel). An assisting Member State has to ask for prior authorisation from the citizen’s home country, which then reimburses that country. The citizen’s home country can then ask for repayment from the citizen.
Member States are also compensated when they evacuate unrepresented EU citizens. However, in practice the current rules on reimbursement are frequently not applied. To ensure equal assistance of unrepresented EU citizens and to encourage Member States to assume an even more proactive role during crises in which their own nationals are not involved, the Commission is examining how to further facilitate and simplify reimbursement procedures.
The Commission will also make legal proposals within the next 12 months to:
- improve the legal certainty regarding the scope, conditions and procedures related to consular protection and optimise the use of resources, including in times of crisis.
- establish the coordination and cooperation measures necessary to facilitate day-to-day consular protection for unrepresented EU citizens and address the issue of financial compensation of consular protection in crisis situations.
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.
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.