The Rights of EU Citizens

When I first moved to France I did so as an EU citizen, as you probably guessed. Under EU law, the non-EU spouses of EU citizens residing in an EU country other than their own are entitled to receive a residency card within 3 months of application. In practice, this means the non-EU spouse gets an entry visa in their home country and arrives in the EU country to join their partner: he or she is entitled to stay as long as they like, even once the initial visa expires, and is entitled to work because their rights are statutory and not dependent on receiving a residency card. However, for all practical purposes such as opening a bank account or leaving then re-entering the country, they will need a residency visa.

When I tried to apply for my wife’s in France, I was told there was a 6-week wait before they could accept her application. We waited 6 weeks and the bureaucrat at the prefecture said our paperwork was not in order and the application was rejected. I hired a lawyer who pointed out to the prefecture by law they were not allowed to reject the application for that reason, and the head bureaucrat shrugged and said “So what?”. They made us wait another 6-weeks in contravention of their own laws, so 12 weeks passed before we finally got the application in. EU law says the residency card must be issued within no more than 3 months, but 3 months passed and no card. The bureaucrats at the prefecture shrugged and said “So what?” I called the EU ombudsman to intervene, and they were very helpful, but they couldn’t get the bureaucrats at the prefecture to cooperate. Eventually the ombudsman called the French ministry of the interior and got someone to kick some ass in the prefecture, and we got a notice saying the card was ready for collection: this was some 5 months after the application, and 8 months after we’d first walked into the prefecture. When we went to collect the card they demanded 300 euros, but EU law says it must be issued for free. I called the ombudsman who called the French Interior Minister who called the prefecture who told them to give it to me for free. When the guy handed it over he said “Sorry, but we don’t know any of the EU laws. They don’t give us any training here.”

The whole episode taught me that the rights of EU citizens are enjoyed only at the discretion of the bureaucrat sat in front of you. If they refuse to recognise them, then they’re not really rights at all. Disgracefully, the prefecture insures itself against legal action by capping any compensation lower than what it would cost to hire a lawyer even for a day. I raised this with the ombudsman and warned her that there is a strong sentiment among the British that costs of membership of the EU simply aren’t worth it because the supposed rights we enjoy often don’t materialise in practice, and I had now joined their ranks. This was back in early 2015, so before the Brexit vote. I contacted UKIP to see if they’d be interested in my experience, and they directed me towards some eurosceptic MEPs in Brussels. They asked me for details, I provided them, and never heard a thing back afterwards. For my wife’s part, the experience put her off living in France completely and she skedaddled the day after she got her card and never returned in any meaningful sense.

Although living in France I undoubtedly benefit from my rights as an EU citizen, it is undeniable that these are still subject to the whims of the local bureaucrats. In other words, they’re not rights at all. When I hear everyone wailing about how British citizens might lose their rights in EU countries when the UK leaves, I shrug and recall how we had to stand in line for hours with several hundred Africans on a dozen separate occasions, plus shell out over a thousand wasted euros, in order to exercise those rights. My non-EU colleagues, who weren’t labouring under the illusion of getting any rights recognised by a French prefecture, simply fell in line and went through the normal process. When we compared notes, I couldn’t for the life of me see how their experience was any different from ours.

I get the impression a lot of people who claim to be worried about their rights in the EU after Brexit have never actually tried exercising them. I’m happy to take my chances in whatever regime follows.

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15 thoughts on “The Rights of EU Citizens

  1. I wonder how much of this is just French bureaucracy? Italian bureaucrats are equally obtuse, but just as likely to be to their own citizens.

    I assume they are basically unsackable, and ultimately if you want to force someone to do something they should do going to court is the only way. If the bureaucracy is immune to the paintiff costs when it is sued and loses, that’s a whole bigger problem than their attitude to one person.

  2. I wonder how much of this is just French bureaucracy? Italian bureaucrats are equally obtuse, but just as likely to be to their own citizens.

    I am sure it is widespread. The French prefectures are equally obtuse to their own citizens, famously so.

    If the bureaucracy is immune to the paintiff costs when it is sued and loses, that’s a whole bigger problem than their attitude to one person.

    It’s part of the same problem, tbh. The immunity to the plaintiff costs is merely an extension of their attitude to one person.

  3. Besides the (now largely theoretical but real nontheless) italian insistence that despite being an EU slave subject I I still require a formal residence permit, I was much more pissed off to discover that in Italy the tax free pension lump sum which is covered by amy number of dual taxation agreements and so on, and is recognised europe wide, is not actually tax free.

    Wankers.

    And big is certainly right in the italian case, public sector workers are literally unsackable.

  4. I’ve thought on and off about living in Italy but its always this situation regarding the authorities that puts me off. In England I can at least work the system a little and more often manouvere enough to make it leave me alone.

  5. In England I can at least work the system a little…

    Where are you from, again? 😉

  6. TIM’S EDIT

    Cynic,

    Drop me an email with a functioning address and I’ll tell you why I binned your comment. 🙂

  7. Despite your smiley, apologies if I caused offence, Tim. I was also off-topic!

    (Doxxing worries have had me using fake addresses. I think I ought to start fresh with a new persona and legit email, then stick to your rule of only writing what you’d be happy to have go against your real name)

  8. ‘We don’t know any of the EU laws.”

    Oh, how I wish the UK was as equally ignorant. I have heard it said that all the copious volumes of European regulations are mostly followed by the Brits but neatly sidestepped by everyone else.

    ‘Britain never, never shall be slaves’ we sing, except with regard to the EU rule books of course.

  9. “They don’t give us any training here.”

    Despite the State spending 50%+ of everything the produce. O maybe because?

    And doesn’t that just sum up a bureaucrat. When I was working if I didn’t know something I went and found out by reading or asking someone, I didn’t sit back and make it up as I went along. I’d have soon been out of work if I did.

  10. Thud – for all that the authorities in Italy are less annoying than the uk. The whole system here is set up to be gamed.

    The uk is so sodding po-faced.

  11. @Cuffley,

    Back in late July 2005, I was briefly detained at a well-frequented station on the Swiss-Italian border (heading into Italy) on the entirely spurious grounds of not having my PdS with me. I think the only time, out of dozens I must have been there, that anyone wanted to look at any document at all, even long before CH was in Schengen. After a few minutes of “I’m an EU citizen, you can’t refuse me entry” back-and-forth, and frantic phone calls going on in the office, they let me go.

    I later found out that a British-Asian man with Italian residency was that day fleeing to Italy by rail having failed to blow up a tube train in London. So apart from the blowing stuff up bit, I fit the profile nicely! I think that counts as agreement that Italian bureaucracy works, if not always pleasantly or swiftly.

  12. Thud – for all that the authorities in Italy are less annoying than the uk. The whole system here is set up to be gamed.

    That is one reason why dealing with Russian or Nigerian bureaucracy is easier than dealing with the French: you can grease palms.

  13. I have heard it said that all the copious volumes of European regulations are mostly followed by the Brits but neatly sidestepped by everyone else.

    Yup. We enforce every piddling regulation to the letter, gleefully prosecuting our countryment for the slightest infringement. Brits are their own worst enemies in so many ways.

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