I have just returned from the local prefecture to request my French residency card. It went pretty much as I expected, having had experience with French prefectures before. Having waited for 3 hours I arrived at the counter to find the list of required documents the fonctionnaire was using was different from the one displayed on the prefecture’s website, and different from the one the French national government issued with Brexit approaching. The one in use at my local prefecture is dated December 2016.
So now I need to get my birth certificate translated, which is no big deal but it takes time, costs money, and isn’t actually required by law. But if the person behind the counter says it is, that’s all there is to it. I also have to produce proof that I have been in France for 5 years. The requirement is you can show a document which covers each 6 month period of your stay. I presented bills and other documents covering the period, but most bills in France are annual, not bi-annual. So I had plenty of documents showing I’d been in France from January 2014 to January 2015 and January 2015 to January 2016, but my application was rejected because I had no bills from July 2014 and July 2015. I explained I didn’t receive any bills in that month and she said, “Oh, maybe you have a medical certificate or something?” Presumably Frenchmen use suppositories on such a regular basis they have a doctor’s bill for each month of the year, but I’m now going to have to scrabble around for something which says I was in France in successive Julys of my stay. I was then asked for my tax bills, which don’t even appear on the fonctionnaire’s list; I have no idea where that demand came from.
This is how it works in the prefectures. You turn up with everything you think you need and wait an age, then you discover what you actually need. Then you come back and hope you got it right the second time. Under French law it is actually not allowed to refuse the application of an EU citizen on the grounds a supporting document is missing; they are compelled to accept it, and the applicant brings the missing document later. But prefectures don’t follow French law, and they have no incentive to: if you feel your rights have been breached you may claim compensation through the courts, but the maximum you can receive is less than what it costs to hire a lawyer. Handy, eh?
We’re going to hear a lot of sob-stories from Brits battling with prefectures over the coming months, the blame for which will be placed squarely at the feet of Brexit. But for me, as I described here, Brits are denied their rights under EU law anyway by fonctionnaires who don’t know EU law nor even care. As I said to the EU representative during my last encounter with a prefecture when the Brexit referendum was looming, if our rights under the EU are not recognised when it matters, we’re better off out. And here we are.