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“Mind the Gap - Towards a better enforcement of European citizens’ rights of free movement.”

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Edition December 2009

“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. But there is a gap between the fine principles of the Treaties as interpreted by the European Court of Justice and what actually happens on the ground.” This is how Professor Sir David Edward, former Judge of the European Court of 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 failure to enforce existing legislation, singling out the so-called “citizenship objective” (2004/38/EC) which “has been so badly applied as to have effects opposite to those intended.” The number of European citizens living and working in another Member State is only 8.8 million – less than two per cent.

This short 28 page report explains the practical reality faced by European citizens, by first considering the gap between the legal framework and the way it is applied. The gap is growing increasingly visible and damaging. The report then describes the measures 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 ends with 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.

Dr. Alexander Schaub, former Director-General in the European Commission of Counsel and current Partner at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, said at the launch of the report on the 19th of January that a new approach was needed to meet the challenge of enforcement across the 27 member states. And that political will is necessary for enforcers to become equal to that of the legislators.

Viviane Reding, the Commission Vice-President designate for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, has already shown interest in this subject in the hearings with the European Parliament. Her role will be crucial in the follow-up.

  Download "Mind the Gap Report" edition December 2009


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