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Freedom of movement: rights versus reality for EU citizens

  • 2018-09-01
  • FRA

EU citizens have the right to move freely from country to country but in practice pitfalls exist when it comes to receiving residence permits or social assistance, finds the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights’ latest report.

With 17 million EU citizens enjoying their right to live in another EU country, over 50% of Europeans cite freedom of movement as the EU’s greatest achievement.

However, challenges remain, as FRA’s report, ‘Making EU citizens’ rights a reality: national courts enforcing freedom of movement and related rights’, shows. It gives examples of how EU citizens from other Member States can be discriminated against, directly or indirectly, because of their nationality. This applies to getting educational grants, housing loans or finding work, for example.

The report looks at national case law related to the rights of EU citizens to reside freely in other Member States.

It shows how courts in different countries vary in the interpretation of the key EU’s provisions regulating EU citizens’ rights. These include the definition of a family member, sufficient resources, or when they can receive benefit. This can affect people’s everyday life, their family, career and well-being. Here legal guidance and training for legal professionals would help to remove the obstacles that prevent people from fully enjoying their rights when moving freely throughout the EU.

The report’s examination of case law also points to restricted voting rights as EU citizens. This particularly applies to voting in municipal or European Parliament elections under the same conditions as nationals of that Member State.

Member States should make greater efforts to get EU citizens that are not nationals of the country they live in to be politically active and vote in European and municipal elections. This includes removing administrative barriers such as proof of residence. 

Freedom of movement is one of the EU’s founding principles. What it means in practice to be an EU citizen was further clarified in EU’s Free Movement Directive of 2004. Member States then had to apply this legislation to their national laws. This has led to various problems in all Member States, as this report shows. Member States should therefore systematically collect data on how the Directive is being applied and identify potential issues of discrimination. This will help improve understanding of the difficulties in applying the Directive. It would also help monitor use of the Directive.

European Commission and European Parliament reports have consistently highlighted the difficulties EU citizens face in enjoying their freedom of movement rights. The Commission asked FRA to carry out the first ever collection of EU-wide case law showing how Member States are applying and interpreting freedom of movement in practice. This report contains an analysis of a sample of this case law.

These findings will allow legal professionals and judges more effectively ensure EU citizens can fully enjoy the benefits of freely moving and living throughout the Union.