In agreeing a deal for EU citizens in the UK, and British citizens in the EU, Theresa May has promised to keep the administrative red tape to a minimum. EU citizens, living in the UK, will still have to justify their eligibility for “settled status”, in what the UK government promises to be a streamlined procedure. Whether EU-27 member states will do the same for UK citizens, living in the block, remains to be seen. The procedure probably will be streamlined, in comparison to the 85-page document that some have been forced to fill. The question of whether complications will arise, and/or mistakes will be made, remains very much unanswered.
I have two anecdotes to tell, regarding the way administrative procedures have the potential to go wrong, and screw up your life. The first, happened as far back as 1984. The second, took place this year.
When I qualified as a dentist, in 1982, I worked as an associate in London, for just over a year. I decided to move to France, to be closer to my family. Towards the end of 1983, I decided to start gathering documents, in view of the impending move. To be able to practice in France, you have to be registered with the French equivalent of the General Dental Council (GDC), which, contrary to the UK, works on a regional level. Added to this, you cannot be registered in two different regions, simultaneously. If you move from one region to another, you have to unregister first, and then register in your new region. The problem arose from the fact that I was already registered with the GDC, and they couldn’t cancel my registration. I was caught in the web of administrative misunderstandings and contradictions. One EU member state allowed me to be registered elsewhere, another didn’t. I got around this catch-22 situation, by asking the NHS to provide me with a document testifying that I had cancelled my contract with them. Luckily, the French couldn’t tell the difference between being registered with the GDC (mandatory to be able to practice), and being contracted by the NHS.
The incident that took place this year, could have been more serious. I spent Christmas with my wife’s family, in Peru. I came back alone, with my son, my wife staying on for a few extra days. At the baggage drop-off zone, at Lima airport, I was asked to show my boarding passes and passports, before I could proceed to the counter. On inspecting my son’s Dutch passport, the official started to cross-examine me. I was asked where the mother was, and if I had a written permission to travel out of Peru, with my son. Despite having repeated, several times, that my son is Dutch, the official persisted in asking me if I was in posession of my son’s Peruvian identity card. The whole situation was somewhat unnerving, because I had the impression that he was suspecting me of kidnapping my own child. It’s only later, that I found out why the official was so suspicious. Upon arriving in Peru, my son’s passport was stamped on page 11, and not on page 4. There was no proof of him recently entering the country, unless you turned to page 11 of his passport.
In 2016, the Policy Department for Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs, published a report on the difficulties encountered by EU citizens who were trying to settle in Sweden. The report, commissioned by the European Parliament, states that,
Only one practical barrier persists with respect to free movement of EU citizens and their family members, the administrative difficulties related to obtaining a personal number from the Swedish Tax Authority, which represents a severe impediment to everyday life in Swedish society. No other barriers to free movement for either EU citizens or their family members have been identified for entry, residence, access to social security and healthcare, or otherwise.
Following the publication of the report, the European Parliament received several petitions, relating to, “an alleged breach of the freedom of movement of EU citizens and more particularly of the provisions of Directive 2004/38/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2004 on the right of citizens of the Union and their family members to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States.” This led to the setting-up of fact-finding mission, whose results were published in 2017.
The conclusions relate the absence of problems for citizens seeking a permanent residency in Sweden, as long as they comply to the EU guidelines on freedom of movement, and that their stay will be longer than one year. However, problems arise for those who cannot prove that their stay in Sweden will last for more than one year, and for those who are not economically active.
The main difficulty remains the proof of a stay longer than one year and for the persons who are not economically active to prove their ability to financially support themselves (in accordance with article 7 (1) b of Directive “All Union citizens shall have the right of residence on the territory of another Member State for a period of longer than three months if they have sufficient resources for themselves and their family members not to become a burden on the social assistance system of the host Member State during their period of residence and have comprehensive sickness insurance cover in the host Member State”.
It is of paramount importance that the freedom of movement rights be maintained for British citizens, living in the EU-27. I have written it before, and write it again: this is not about moving from one member state to another, without a care in the world, and with a rucksack on your back. This concerns the status quo of a way of life that has become synonymous with economic survival. This way of life that a lot of us chose, many years ago, was chosen in good faith that our rights would not be withdrawn. Yes, we cannot expect that UK citizens, who have never exercised the right to freedom of movement, so implicit in EU treaties, to exercise this right, after Brexit. But to those of us who, for decades, have not only exercised these rights, but also depend on them, the retrospective annulment of the freedom of movement, is nothing short of inhumane and evil. Freedom of movement is just not negotiable.