ETTW Opinion on the European Commission’s Public Consultation on EU Citizenship, 2020

Common values in the EU – Free Movement

The right to move and reside freely across the territory of the Member States is still the most highly valued core individual right linked to Union citizenship by Union citizens. As such, it demonstrates and promotes a better understanding of the value of European integration, as well as citizens’ participation in shaping the Union.

The positive economic effects of intra-EU labour migration for the receiving countries have now been recognized by a majority of the citizens. This gives sufficient arguments to launch a public campaign on the benefits of free movement both to economic growth in general and to the reconstruction of the European economy post corona.

A public campaign containing concrete measures would address the concerns related to free movement during the corona crisis. It should focus on getting the migration facts right and address existing administrative, legal, social, cultural and democratic impediments to greater mobility of citizens and their family members. It could lay the foundations for a consistent and comprehensive European policy, integrating all aspects related to EU citizens´ mobility and migration and to build bridges between the European diaspora inside and outside the European Union.

In this context EU citizens living in the rest of the world – the EU overseas diaspora – and its capacity to build economic links resulting in trade, investment, tourism and cultural contacts between the diaspora group’s countries of origin and residence should be recognized. Such an effort would reinforce the EUs profile, its values and enhance its reputation internationally.

Whilst overall free movement is a win-win situation for countries of origin, host countries and European migrants themselves, there are inevitable failures and local problems because of its uneven spread. There should now be emphasis on giving cities and local authorities more power and resources to manage effectively the impact of free movement of people where it occurs. Furthermore, the effects of brain drain and cohesion capacity on countries and regions of origin need to be duly addressed among the EU Member States in ways that do not restrict the individual freedoms of mobile citizens. As the corona crisis indicated, this is currently of particular importance in the healthcare sector, its capacity and resilience.

There is an increasing recognition that legislation alone is not enough and that accompanying measures are necessary. ETTW therefore wishes to reiterate an earlier proposal for a free movement solidarity fund. To show to local people that when sharp decreases and depopulation or sudden increases and heavy concentration of mobile workers create strains on local service sustainability, it is not only their contributions as taxpayers which carry the cost but that there could also be a contribution from the country of origin and the EU budget. This could add a new meaning to what solidarity and common values stand for at a regional and local level.

Democratic and Civic Participation

One of ETTWs key priorities is to work for the voting rights of the 18 million European expatriate citizens wherever they are. Participating in elections is a fundamental right for all European citizens, based on the intentions of the Lisbon Treaty and on the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

However, when it comes to the European elections, voting is still not a real possibility for all EU citizens. European elections are largely governed by 27 different national rules-sets and thus European citizens do not enjoy comparable voting conditions. Citizens of five Member States are not able to vote if they live in another EU country, and – if European citizens live outside of the EU – only 19 MS allow their citizens to vote in European elections.

A question that still needs to be explained is the low participation of expatriates (residing in or outside the EU) in European parliament elections. Is it due to a lack of interest? Is the voting reluctance the result of complex (heavy) administrative requirements? Are the EU Member States motivated to anticipate and solve the participatory problems these EU citizens are facing? ETTW finds it important to gather substantial information on these issues.

The survey indicates some directions in order to increase the consciousness of expats on the importance of participating in European elections. It is not a question of one or the other, but a combination of actions.

ETTW is strongly advocating that the BEST solution for giving access to the many million EU citizens worldwide would be online voter registration and voting in European elections. That would also help raising the number of voters which, although stabilized in 2019, is still low, compared to national elections.

Online registration and voting for expats could be done on a single, unique European platform, which will provide secure, trustful and transparent operations for each country.

That this can be done has been demonstrated for example by Estonia, where i-voting has been practiced since 2005 and where its share has increased year by year, now amounting to over 44 % of the total number of votes cast.

Such a system can be scaled to any number of countries and may be gradually extended as the system is approved and accepted by EU’s Member States in line with the Council decision on voting methods from July 2018 allowing internet and postal voting to the European Parliament.

Consular cooperation arrangement and third-country recognition of these could also be improved, for instance by allowing EU member States not represented in a particular third country or its regions to place ballot boxes for their expatriate nationals in the premises of another Member State’s consular representation.

Brussels, October 1st, 2020.

Pierre-Yves Le Borgn’  /   Steen Illeborg

President                   Secretary General