From Jean-Claude Juncker’s State of the Union address to the European Parliament last September:
“I have witnessed several decades of EU integration … But never before have I seen such little common ground between our Member States. So few areas where they agree to work together.”
From the Rome Declaration of March 2017:
“Europe became one again. Today, we are united and stronger: hundreds of millions of people across Europe benefit from living in an enlarged Union that has overcome the old divides.”
There is no evidence that much changed in the half-year that separates these statements. Of course politicians have to say different things to different audiences and flat-out contradictions don’t disturb them at all. The first statement was for an internal audience, a finger-wagging at his members. The second is a public relations document for consumption outside the hallowed halls of Brussels; an attempt to make us all love the beautiful project (see “All you need is love”).
Which should we take seriously, if either? One clue lies in the contrast between negative and positive; why would J-C chastise his members if he didn’t think his complaint was true? Of course, believing a complaint doesn’t make it true. And grand statements of unity are perhaps the most that can be expected from such a fissiparous union.
The EU Observer drew our attention to a report titled ‘Your Europe Advice Annual Trends’ published this April by ECAS (European Citizen Action Service) an NGO, which supports and promotes citizens’ rights in the EU.
The report outlines the EU’s service, called Your Europe Advice (YEA) “provided by legal experts from ECAS operating under contract with the European Commission”. About 60 lawyers, covering all 24 official EU languages, reply to questions from citizens and businesses on their EU rights. The authors categorise the main issues raised in 2016 and give some examples of citizens whose rights under EU legislation have not been respected.
“Some Member States deny responsibility and declare that they are not competent when they are or, on the contrary, declare themselves to be competent when they are not. It is a recurring issue and concerns most EU countries. The European Court of Justice has consistently held that the purpose of the rules on the coordination of social security is to prevent citizens from losing the protection of social security when exercising their right of free movement in the EU. Yet, citizens continue to experience problems in maintaining social security coverage when they move from one country to another.”
“Competent” in this context is EU jargon meaning “having responsibility for”.
“There is also a persistent lack of cooperation between national authorities despite the obligation of cooperation imposed by Article 76 of Regulation (EC) No 883/2004.”
“YEA received a lot of enquiries reporting excessive delays in processing family benefit claims and payments of these benefits in Germany.”
“YEA continues to receive cases linked to the right of residence. The right of residence under the Directive is subject to proof of health insurance to ensure that citizens do not become a burden on the social security system of the host Member State during their stay. While this proof can be demonstrated by several means, some Member States … refuse to accept an insurance policy or any other statement or form proving that a citizen is covered by health insurance. This is a recurrent issue in Sweden.”
“Under Directive 2004/38/EC, EU citizens’ family members are also covered by the right of free movement if they are dependents of an EU citizen. … Citizens experience a number of bureaucratic impediments to getting their rights recognised.”
“The enquiries received by YEA show that family members of EU citizens continue to experience difficulties in obtaining visas for several reasons. The service providers contracted by embassies to process Schengen visa applications ignore the rules of the Directive – the procedures are long, extra documentation is required and it is not free of charge. It is a common issue encountered in most EU countries.”
“The Directive (Article7(1)) establishes that, as a condition for residence of more than three months, EU citizens and their family members must have sufficient resources in order not to become a burden on the social security system of the host Member State. There are cases however where the definition of ‘sufficient resources’ in national legislation does not fully comply with the Directive. For example, French law requires an individual to prove both the amount of resources and their continuity over time with a degree of certainty that is more restrictive than what is intended by the Directive. UK legislation also introduces the ‘right to reside’ test, which requires EU citizens to be ‘qualified persons’ under the Directive, i.e. workers or self- employed, in order to access social support. This is discriminatory and contrary to the ECJ decision conferring equality to all EU citizens.”
“There is no appeals mechanism against the refusal of entry to EU citizens at airports, ferry ports or land borders in Ireland, which is contrary to Directive 2004/38/EC.”
The report provides evidence in support of J-C’s complaint, but it also gives the lie to the second declaration above. Clearly the EU has not become one. Nor has it “overcome the old divides”. We note the implications for the freedom of movement of people, which is not as impressive in practice as it is in theory, and ideology.
We will post some more examples of dis-integration soon.