EU laws you need to watch on residence and voting rights

As of November, the European Commission will propose the revision of a number of laws concerning the rights of EU and non-EU citizens who move within the EU.

The proposals will have to be discussed and agreed by the European Parliament and Council (which represents national governments), so it will take time before new rules become reality. This is what to expect in the coming weeks.

Voting rights of EU citizens

The Commission will adopt on November 23rd a revision of the directives on the right of EU citizens who live in another EU country to vote and stand as candidates in municipal and European elections.

About 13 million EU citizens live in an EU member state that is not their country of origin and, of these, over 11 million are of voting age, according to EU data.

Their share in the voting population varies between countries. The highest proportion is in Luxembourg (40%) and the lowest is in Poland (0.09 %), while in Cyprus, Ireland, Belgium, Austria and Malta the share ranges between 7 and 14%.

Electoral laws are decided by national governments with significant differences among EU member states.

About half of EU countries require EU voters to register on the electoral roll, while the other half include them automatically when they register for residence. For the election of the European parliament, some countries have complex procedures for citizens who live abroad and some do not allow them to vote at all. Some countries also prohibit other EU citizens from joining or founding political parties.

There is not much information about the participation of EU ‘mobile citizens’ in elections in the host countries, as most member states do not collect such data. But it is understood that both turnout and candidacy rates are far lower than the general electorate. The Commission proposal will aim to change that.

Last year, the European Parliament also recommended new “remote voting methods” during European elections “in specific or exceptional circumstances”, a proposal that the Commission could take up.

Free movement rights for non-EU citizens?

Another set of measures related to free movement rights was due to be presented on December 22nd but has been postponed to 27 April 2022, according to the tentative calendar of the Commission’s meetings. This will concern non-EU citizens who live in the EU.

The Commission will propose to revise the directives on the single residence and work permit for non-EU citizens and on their long-term residence in the EU.

Rules on migration from outside the EU are decided at the national level too. In 2001 the European Commission tried to establish common conditions for the entry and residence of all third country nationals moving to the EU for work, but EU governments rejected the proposals.

The result was a series of EU laws addressing separately the status of non-EU family members of EU citizens, highly skilled individuals and their families, seasonal workers, researchers and intra-corporate transferees. Another directive sought to establish a single work permit and grant workers equal rights. Another addressed the status of long-term residents.

The purpose of the latter was to “facilitate the integration” of third-country nationals settled on a long-term basis in the EU ensuring they would be treated equally and they would benefit from some free movement rights. But this has not happened in practice.

A study by the European Commission has found that only few long-term residents have exercised the right to move to other EU countries, as in many cases this required applying for a new residence permit or the local authorities were not familiar with the procedure.

The directive allows EU countries to grant long-term resident status to non-EU citizens who have resided “legally and continuously” on their territory for five years and fulfil certain conditions, such as having sufficient financial resources, paying for healthcare insurance and proving a certain “level of integration”.

However, the report says that most member states continue issuing “almost exclusively” national permits unless it is the applicant who explicitly asks for the EU one.

Around 3.1 million third country nationals held long-term residence permit for the EU in the EU-25 in 2017, compared to 7.1 million holding a national one.

“Beyond giving rise to discrimination in comparison to EU citizens, these obstacles result in income losses at individual level and lost tax revenue at societal (aggregate EU) level,” a European Parliament analysis argues.

The revision of these laws will affect British citizens who have moved or will move to the EU in the future, including those covered by the withdrawal agreement.

Briton who were living in the EU prior to Brexit have their rights secured only in the country where they are based but they have to apply for long-term resident status to re-gain some free movement rights.

As an EU member, the UK had opted out from these directives, together with Ireland and Denmark.

The European Policy Centre, a think tank in Brussels, argues the EU “should enhance possibilities for third country nationals to move within the EU for the purpose of work, irrespective of their level of qualification”.

European Moments, a research on public opinion by the University of Oxford, found that Europeans broadly support the extension of free movement rights to third country nationals who live in the EU.

The European Union has recently reformed rules to facilitate the entry and improve the free movement rights of graduates entitled to the EU Blue Card.

New initiative on family rights

Other law on free movement rights are expected next year. In its work programme for 2022, the Commission has announced:

  • A legislative proposal on the recognition of parenthood between EU countries, to ensure equality in particular for same-sex couples
  • An initiative on brain drain to mitigate the “challenges associated with population decline”
  • A new Erasmus-style programme called ALMA to encourage short-term work experiences in other EU member states for young disadvantaged Europeans.

Claudia Delpero © all rights reserved

This article was first published on November 6 and was updated on November 26 and December 16 with new dates about the legislative proposals. The revised directives on voting rights were presented on November 25 and the revision of the directive on the long-term residence of third country nationals has been postponed to 2022. Photo: Mauro Bottaro © European Union, 2017. Source: EC – Audiovisual service.

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