The EU Rights Clinic: One Year On

The UK is at the forefront of countries where EU citizens experience problems when exercising their right of free movement.

In the twelve months since its establishment, the EU Rights Clinic has received over 60 requests for assistance. 44% of the Clinic’s cases related to problems encountered by EU citizens in the UK. Several problems were also reported in Belgium (12% of cases), Spain (11% of cases) and France (8% of cases).

The Clinic assisted over 160 individuals throughout the EU – of which over half comprised British citizens – and helped them to resolve problems in 14 different European countries.

The problems encountered by the Clinic’s clients span a wide range of issues, but the vast majority of problems related to residence formalities (46%) and visa problems faced by non-EU family members (21%).

During the course of the year, the Clinic provided its assistance in a number of notable cases. The nature of the assistance ranged from assisting EU citizens in completing forms and signposting to EU information services, to providing advice and helping them to appeal before the national courts.

One of the first cases registered concerned a British citizen whose disability benefits were suspended by the UK authorities when he moved to Norway. The Clinic considered this breached the EU Regulation on the coordination of social security on the basis of a judgment handed down by the EU Court of Justice in 2007. The client assisted the client in lodging an appeal before the UK’s First Tier Tribunal and arranged for the client’s free representation at the appeal hearing. In December 2013, the UK Tribunal ruled in favour of our client and ordered the UK’s Department for Work and Pensions to pay back the benefits that had been withheld from the client since 2007. The DWP has sought to appeal the case and we are presently assisting our client in resisting the appeal.

In March, the Clinic assisted ECAS in securing the release of internal documents of the European Commission relating to negotiations over the UK’s so-called “Opt out” from the EU Charter on Fundamental Rights.  ECAS made the initial request for these documents in October 2007, prior to the signing of the Lisbon Treaty. The request was made under EU Regulation 1049/2001 which allows the public to request the release of documents from the EU institutions. After an initial refusal from the European Commission, ECAS took the matter before the European Ombudsman.  The Ombudsman issued a final decision in December 2012 ruling that the Commission was guilty of “a serious instance of maladministration” and that “the Commission’s position constitutes a substantive violation of the fundamental right of access to documents foreseen in Article 42 of the Charter”. Following a new request by ECAS, the Commission released the contested documents on 31 January 2013. The EU Rights Clinic examined the released documents and issued a detailed briefing on their contents.  The released documents indicate that the Council Presidency initially proposed the removal of any reference from the Charter to its binding effects on the Member States as a way to address UK concerns.  The Commission disagreed with this interpretation and considered that an opt-out was preferable to amending the Charter. The case was reported in the European press.

Another notable case involved making an official complaint to the European Commission against the delays faced by EU citizens when crossing the border between Spain and Gibraltar. The Clinic received over 100 complaints from residents of Gibraltar, frontier workers and tourists affected by delays of almost eight hours resulting from border control formalities imposed by the Spanish authorities during the summer of 2013. The Clinic lodged an official complaint arguing how the delays breached the EU rules on free movement, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and the Schengen Border Code. Despite the overwhelming evidence provided that the Spanish authorities had imposed excessive and arbitrary border control measures that breached EU law, the European Commission issued a statement in November in which it found that EU law had not been infringed. The EU Rights Clinic has since made an official request for the Commission’s internal documents to determine the precise reasons for its finding of no infringement. Once these internal documents are released, the Clinic will proceed to examine the documents and issue a report.  The Clinic’s involvement has been reported in the Spanish and British press among others.

Our annual report for 2013 will be available in due course.

The views expressed on the blog are personal to the authors and should not be seen as constituting legal advice. It should not be relied upon instead of consulting a lawyer or immigration adviser.

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