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BREXIT

Could this EU Green Card save freedom of movement for Britons in Europe?

Imagine a card that would let Brits in Europe keep freedom of movement and all the rights of EU citizenship after Brexit. It might sound like fantasy but one organisation is leading the way to make it happen. We spoke to the campaign's founder.

Could this EU Green Card save freedom of movement for Britons in Europe?
Alex Stubb, former PM of Finland (centre), Madeleina Kay, EU SuperGirl and Roger Casale (left) in the European Parliament in July 2018 for the launch of the prototype Green Card. Photo: New Europeans.

A campaign by New Europeans is lobbying the EU to intervene in Brexit and issue a card that would offer “privileged status” for UK nationals currently living in the EU, as well as for Europeans settled in the UK and essentially allow them to keep their treasured freedom of movement.

The campaign is being led by Roger Casale, a former Labour MP who now lives near Florence in Italy and who heads the New Europeans.

“The Green Card would ring-fence the rights that you had as an EU citizen,” Casale told The Local. “It would create equivalent status.”

With nearly 55,000 signatures and counting, a petition on change.org started by Casale is slowly gathering steam.

An EU-issued “Green Card” could be a vital addition for the 3.6 million or so EU nationals living in the UK, as well as the 1.2 million or more Brits in Europe. 

Under his plan the EU Commission would issue a resolution to offer the 'five million', UK nationals living in the EU and EU citizens living in the UK, the right to a special recognition for having acquired residency before Brexit.

This would effectively guarantee a sort of privileged status, far greater than the rights agreed under the current Withdrawal Agreement, for five million UK and EU citizens whose rights are set to be stripped back by Brexit. 

A Green Card would enable British citizens who have already exercised their treaty rights before the Brexit to retain free movement, a right that will be lost if Theresa May's Withdrawal Agreement is ratified.

It would help restore a sense of “status” and “privilege” that EU citizenship entailed, Casale said.

It would also help EU citizens in the UK prove that they have settled status swiftly and efficiently to obtain the services, employment and housing benefits that settled status affords.

As Casale notes, the Home Office has said it will not offer EU citizens any additional document to prove settled status – everything will be digital. This will make it difficult for EU citizens to prove they have the additional rights guaranteed by the settled status package at any given time. 

Casale's idea has already been applauded by the Financial Times and New Europeans is the 2019 recipient of the Schwarzkopf Award. Casale's organisation was also the recipient of the CiDAN/ESDA Europe award in late 2018,  “in recognition of New Europeans' leading role in the campaign to safeguard the rights of EU27 citizens in the UK and Britons in Europe following the Brexit referendum.”

Casale himself has also received a Medal of the President of the French Republic. But it is the response from key EU institutions that will matter most. 

“It's at a critical stage,” said Casale, a former Labour MP for the London constituency of Wimbledon.

“The Green Card works regardless of if there's a deal or no deal,” adds Casale, a British citizen, who has settled near Florence in Italy. “The rights afforded it by such a scheme would be for life.”

Casale is due to give evidence at the Constitutional Affairs Committee of the EU parliament (AFCO) in early 2019.

How does he hope a Green Card could come about and what kind of time frame can we expect?

If AFCO makes a proposal, the EU parliament would then vote on it. Should the European Parliament approve the idea, the EU Commission would then have to pass a resolution for the EU Council to vote on. The minimum timeline would be 12-18 months in a best case scenario, Casale admits. 

New Europeans hopes the platforms it has created for citizens rights in the EU, such as Friendship Group on Citizens' Rights, the 20-MEP strong cross-party group at European Parliament, will help raise the campaign's profile.

“It was always my view that there would be a problem to rely on the Withdrawal Agreement. The risk of not getting what you want was always too great” says Casale, explaining how New Europeans and citizens' grassroots campaign group British in Europe ultimately pursued different strategies and objectives in pursuit of similar goals. 

“Somebody needed to have a Plan B,” says Casale, whose organisation's focus is on lobbying the EU institutions to help resolve the impasse on citizenship rights, rather than lobbying Brexit negotiators directly, an approach preferred by British in Europe and the3million, which represents EU citizens in the UK.

“We didn't feel that it was right to go into the negotiations,” adds Casale. 

British in Europe and New Europeans continued to work together and in parallel, from one group attending the other's mass lobby on parliament in February 2017, to giving evidence to the same European Parliament committees. 

One of the appeals behind the Green Card campaign is that it is is cross-party and endorsed by voters on both sides of the Brexit divide, argues Casale. “A lot of Leave voters think EU citizens' rights should have been sorted two years ago,” he says. 

The EU has the experience to implement such a system – a Blue Card, a “work permit issued to highly-qualified non-EU citizens” is already in place.

“They already have the set up and the machinery. They only need to change the ink from blue to green,” quips Casale.  

The former MP with extensive networks among MEPs is confident there is broad support for the motion in the European Parliament. Whether that can translate into getting Brits in he EU free movement will depend on how the EU chooses to react.

That could depend on whether the UK continues to remain on course for a potential exit without a deal from the EU. Such a scenario would see UK nationals living in Europe at the mercy of legislation of individual Member States (France and Germany have already passed contingency laws), as there would be no Withdrawal Agreement or pan-European motion to protect them. 

A Green Card would be one option to fill that void. 

READ MORE: Quiz: How well do you know Brexit?

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BREXIT

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Brexit really does mean that Britons are no longer EU citizens. Claudia Delpero looks at whether there's any other way they can keep their rights.

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Britons lost EU citizenship when the UK left the EU, on 1st February 2020. 

It is the first time the EU’s top court has rules on the matter, after a number of legal cases challenged this specific Brexit outcome. The decision also sets a precedent should other countries decide to leave the bloc in the future. 

What has the EU Court decided?

The Court of Justice decided on a case brought by a British woman living in France.

Before Brexit, she could vote and stand as a candidate in her town of residence, Thoux. But after the UK withdrawal from the EU, she was removed from the electoral roll and excluded from the municipal elections that took place in March 2020, during the transition period.  

As the mayor refused her appeal to restore the registration, she took the case to the regional court in Auch, which agreed to request an interpretation of the rules to the EU top court. 

Julien Fouchet, the barrister supporting her and several other cases on the EU citizenship of British nationals, argued that the loss of EU citizenship and voting rights was disproportionate. It would also be contrary to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, given that the woman also lost her voting rights in the UK, having lived abroad for more than 15 years.

Alice Bouillez, who has lived in France since 1984 and is married to a French national, could have applied for French citizenship, but did not do so because she said “this was not necessary” before Brexit and, as a former UK official, she had taken an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

On Thursday the Court of Justice announced the decision about her case. The court ruled that the “possession of the nationality of a member state is an essential condition for a person to be able to acquire and retain the status of citizen of the Union and to benefit fully from the rights attaching to that status.”

The court therefore confirmed that British nationals automatically lost their EU citizenship as a result of Brexit and, as a consequence, Britons also lost their voting and electoral rights in municipal elections in the EU (unless the country where they live set different rules). 

What is EU citizenship?

EU citizenship was introduced by the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992, when borders were opening and the bloc was integrating economically after the end of the Cold War. 

Under the treaty, every person holding the nationality of an EU member state is a citizen of the Union. EU citizenship is additional and does not replace nationality, the treaty specifies. But this creates the first form of a transnational citizenship that grants rights across borders.

EU citizens have the right to access each other’s territory, job market and services under the principle of non-discrimination. If they are economically active, they have the right to reside in other EU states and be joined by family members, access healthcare at the same conditions of nationals (for emergency treatment also when travelling temporarily), obtain social security benefits and see their professional qualifications recognised.

Beyond free movement, at the core of EU citizenship there are also political rights, such as participating in the European Parliament election, voting and standing as candidates in municipal elections when living in other EU countries, receiving consular protection from other EU states outside the EU, and taking part in European Citizens’ Initiatives asking to the EU to legislate on certain matters. 

Which EU citizenship rights have Britons lost with Brexit? 

For British citizens who were living in the EU before Brexit, the Withdrawal Agreement protects some of these rights. Britons covered by deal have their residence, access to work and education, healthcare, social security and qualifications secured, but only in the country where they were living before Brexit.

But the right to free movement in other EU states, consular protection in third countries, and the political rights attached to EU citizenship were lost, the Court confirmed. 

For British citizens in the UK, the trade and cooperation agreement has preserved some social security rights and, in theory, the possibility to have professional qualifications recognized when moving to an EU country. These provisions however lack details and may take a long time before they work in practice. 

As the “European Union” no longer features on British passports, the possibility to access EU lanes at airports to skip passport control queues has also vanished. 

“The loss of those treasured rights has been clear to those of us living in the EU from the early days of Brexit. But for Brits in the UK, the realities of life outside the EU, and the consequences of Brexit, are only just dawning. Long queues at the borders, roaming charges, obstacles to working abroad, etc. are the new reality,” said Sue Wilson, Chair of the group Remain in Spain. 

While she said the court’s decision was “no real surprise,” she argued that “this is not the Brexit the public were promised, or that the majority voted for.”

Can British citizens get some of these rights back?

Julien Fouchet was disappointed at the Court decision and promised to continue the legal fight, bringing the case at the European Court of Human Rights (which is not an EU institution). 

Other two cases on the matter of EU citizenship for British nationals are still pending at the Court of Justice of the EU. One of them aims to determine whether EU citizenship is a “fundamental status” that cannot be removed but Thursday’s decision could have already provided the answer.

Another option to reconsider some of the rights is the renegotiation of EU-UK trade agreement, when it will be reviewed in 2025. 

Meanwhile, the EU is revising the rules for non-EU citizens living in EU countries on a long-term basis, making it easier to move across borders. 

Applying for citizenship is so far the only option to regain voting rights, although not all EU countries allow dual nationality. 

Sue Wilson, who has long campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU, said: “There is only one way to restore the loss of our rights, and that’s to rejoin the single market, rejoin the customs union, and eventually, rejoin the European Union… Until that day, we will continue to be second class citizens whose rights have been diminished for the sake of an ideology.”

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