Towards an effective and efficient Consular protection system
for citizens of the European Union abroad
EU citizens have the right to equal treatment regarding protection from the diplomatic and consular authorities of any Member State when they are travelling or living outside the EU and their own country is not represented (see Articles 20(2) (c) and 23 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union; Article 46 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights).
The right to enjoy consular protection for unrepresented EU citizens under the same conditions as for nationals is an expression of EU solidarity and of the identity of the Union in third countries, as well as of the practical benefits of being an EU citizen. Consular protection is an integral part of the Union’s policy on citizens’ rights.
All 28 Member States are represented diplomatically in only three countries (United States, China and Russia). In the rest of third countries a great deal of EU citizens are unrepresented.
During emergencies and crises EU Member States must help EU citizens evacuate as if they were their own nationals. Protection also should cover everyday situations, like a passport being stolen, a serious accident or illness or after a violent crime.
But, to be effective as a right with concrete meaning, the succinct wording of the EU Treaty does not suffice since national consular laws and practices diverge as do views about the underlying concepts of consular protection for unrepresented EU citizens.
Depending on which country an EU citizen turns to, the level of protection offered may differ. Those Member States that grant financial advances do so only as a last resort (after checking whether the person has an insurance or family that may help) and mainly for small amounts (such as for a flight home or a hotel). Under the currently applicable rules, an assisting Member State has to ask for prior authorization from the citizen’s home country, which then reimburses that country. The distressed citizen must, in principle, undertake to repay the full value of the financial advance or expenditure incurred, plus the consular fee. The citizen’s home country can then ask for repayment from the citizen.
The Lisbon Treaty having conferred to the European Commission the right to propose directives establishing the cooperation and coordination measures necessary to facilitate the right to equal consular protection for citizens of the Union abroad, the European Commission proposed in 2011 a Directive on consular protection.
The objective of that Directive is to:
– improve the legal certainty regarding the scope, conditions and procedures related to consular protection and optimise the use of resources, including in times of crisis;
– establish the coordination and cooperation measures necessary to facilitate day-to-day and crisis consular protection for unrepresented EU citizens and
– address the issue of financial compensation of consular protection both in day-to-day and in crisis situations.
In particular, the Commission’s original proposal aimed to:
– clarify when an EU citizen is to be considered as unrepresented in particular when an embassy or consulate of his/her own Member State is not “accessible”;
– specify that also third country family members of EU citizens are entitled to equal treatment in consular protection;
– stress that EU citizens can turn to “any” other Member State’s embassy or consulate but that he or she may be taken care of by another Member State should there be arrangements concluded between the Member States concerned on burden sharing;
– specify which assistance Member States typically provide in the most frequent events (i.e. arrest or detention, victim of crime, serious accident or serious illness, death, relief and repatriation in case of distress, need of emergency travel documents.
Regarding financial burden-sharing a facilitated reimbursement procedure, adjusted to crisis situations, is introduced. This entails abolishing the prior authorisation requirement currently in use, simplifying the procedural exchange involving consular authorities and citizens, adding standard formats for requests and introducing an easier system for tracking the reimbursement costs.
According to the special legislative procedure on which the proposal of the Directive is based, the EU Parliament has only a consultative role. It is asked for its opinion on the proposed legislation before the Council adopts it. The European Parliament may approve or reject a legislative proposal, or propose amendments to it. The Council is not legally obliged to take account of Parliament’s opinion but in line with the case-law of the European Court of Justice, it must not take a decision without having received it.
On 25 October 2012, the European Parliament adopted its opinion on the Commission’s proposal. The European Parliament supported a coordinated European approach aiming at effectively protecting Union citizens in difficulty abroad, irrespective of their nationality. In particular, the European Parliament acknowledged the need for a new legally binding instrument in order to facilitate the exercise by the unrepresented Union citizens of their right enshrined in Article 20(2) of the TFEU to enjoy consular protection in third countries.
The European Parliament called for the Union delegations (run by the European External Action Service) to take on the primary responsibility for the cooperation and coordination of consular protection among Member States in crises. Moreover, Parliament suggested that, where relevant, Union delegations should also be entrusted with consular tasks for unrepresented citizens.
Detailed information about the European Parliament’s opinion can be found here:
In 2013, discussions within the relevant EU Council preparatory body (Council Working Party on Consular Affairs) led to a Presidency proposal for a revised Directive; see EU Council document 13461/13 accessible from the Council’s document register:
An overview of the discussions among EU Member States is contained in EU Council document 15677/13 partially accessible to the public. See:
The current EU Council Presidency, Greece, has the intention to reach an agreement on the proposed Directive before the end of the present semester.
ETTW will keep duly informed its members about the EU Directive on consular protection for Europeans abroad.
Since many Europeans and consular officials remain unaware of the right to consular protection as an EU citizen, ETTW will support any measure aiming to improve awareness among EU citizens and consular officials about the right to turn to any embassy/consulate of Member States other than their own, how to reach these facilities and what kind of help can be offered.
In particular, ETTW will advocate that Member States inform their citizens about this right when issuing new passports. Until now, 20 Member States have already announced their intention to follow this approach.
Brussels, March 16, 2014