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  • Irish rescue effort in Libya highlights importance of consular protection

    Sunday, February 27th, 2011

    There has been some controversy over the rescue efforts to evacuate dozens of Irish people from Libya this week. Some complaints have appeared in the press that the Department of Foreign Affairs was slow to respond; a DFA spokesperson highlighted the difficulties of organising a rescue, telling TheJournal.ie,  “We don’t have an embassy in Libya and it’s a very difficult situation without being on the inside.?

    While Ireland did manage to rescue many people on the government jet, there were reports that some of the Irish in Libya were distressed by what they perceived as an initial attitude of unresponsiveness. The Irish Examiner reported:

    The department’s response to the situation has been heavily criticised by a number of Irish who fled from the Libyan crisis, with some saying they were advised to book flights online, use their common sense, or travel to tourist agencies to obtain tickets out of the chaos. This was despite those who fled the country insisting the internet had been blocked and it was unsafe to travel to tourist agencies.

    Several press reports noted some Irish people left on flights arranged by Britain’s Foreign Office. The Irish Independent quotes one such person, Claire Walsh, a 30-year-old from Kildare working as a teacher in Tripoli:

    We decided to help ourselves rather than rely of the Department of Foreign Affairs. What really annoyed me at the airport was that I saw Italians, Ukrainian and Japanese representatives walking around with their countries’ flags trying to find their own nationals. Surely if there were good government relations between Ireland and the Italians that somebody could have told them to help us. Instead, we got ourselves out.

    Most of the press reports have failed to mention that European nationals are entitled to consular protection from other EU nations if there is no consulate from their home nation in a third country. In other words, if there is no Irish consulate and an Irish national needs assistance, he or she should be able to attain it from consular officials of any EU nation in that country. This is a result of an EU law introduced in 1995; I’ve pasted in text explaining the law below.

    Another point that should be kept in mind is the relevance of the Department of Foreign Affairs and consular services to the debate on emigrant voting. Overseas citizens may at some point find their lives relying on Irish consular protection. Yet they have no way of holding the Irish government accountable on this. It’s just one of a number of issues that Irish people at home have no reason to consider, but which can have definite impact on the lives of the Irish abroad.

    Information on EU consular protection rights from the Europa.eu website:

    What is the right to consular protection for EU citizens?

    Every citizen of the European Union who is in a country outside the EU, in which the Member State of which he/she is a national is not represented, is entitled to protection by the diplomatic or consular authorities of any Member State represented there. EU citizens are entitled to protection on the same conditions as the nationals of that State.

    In 1995 Decision 95/553/EC was adopted by the representatives of the governments of the Member States to implement this entitlement.

    What kind of assistance is provided?

    When an EU citizen seeks such help, he or she must produce a passport or identity card as proof of nationality. If these documents have been stolen or lost, the embassy may accept any other proof.

    Diplomatic and consular representations giving protection have to treat a person seeking help as if he/she were a national of the Member State they represent.

    The protection offered by embassies/consulates of other EU States comprises:

    • assistance in cases of death,
    • assistance in cases of serious accident or illness,
    • assistance in cases of arrest or detention,
    • assistance to victims of violent crime,
    • the relief and repatriation of distressed Union citizens.

    The EU will publish a Communication on consular protection next month, and will also be launching a website to increase public awareness of the issue.

    For more information on Irish rescue attempts see the Irish Independent: “Evacuees return with tales of woe.

    Denial of MEP votes makes global Irish lesser EU citizens

    Friday, May 28th, 2010

    The European Voice Newspaper published a letter I sent in regarding one of the effects of Ireland’s policy of disenfranchising its emigrants. In it I argued that Ireland’s denial of emigrant voting rights effectively leaves Irish citizens disadvantaged as European citizens of a lesser status.

    The letter is on the EuropeanVoice.com website as well as in the newspaper. It’s behind a paywall (though it will be available next week for registered users), so here is the text as I submitted it to the paper:

    Your article, “The muzzled British diaspora in the EU” (discussed in this article), highlights the plight of British expats who cannot vote after fifteen years abroad. Irish citizens have it even worse: we lose all rights to vote as soon as we move abroad.

    The situation also means that there are two tiers of European citizenship: most citizens of EU member states are entitled to elect MEPs no matter where in the world they live. Irish citizens, however, lose their rights to representation at EU level if they move to a non-EU country. Surely there should be some way to ensure equality of European representation for European citizens?

    It’s my understanding that the EU takes no interest in the expat voting policies of individual nations.  It seems to me that when you have a parliamentary body representing citizens of an entity such as the EU, however, there should be equal access among citizens of that entity to representation as a matter of fairness. I wouldn’t be surprised if this becomes a larger issue in the years to come, particularly set against the current global context of increasing diaspora engagement and the rising number of nations allowing their emigrants to vote.

    I’ll be talking more about these issues next month,  as one of the keynote speakers at the Europeans Throughout the World conference in Bratislava.

    See the letter on EuropeanVoice.com.

    European group calls for EU Commissioner for European expats

    Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

    Europeans Throughout the World has released a set of recommendations aimed at giving recognition and support to European citizens living outside their countries of origin. The recommendations, decided at the group’s 25th anniversary meeting in Stockholm this month (which I attended as an associate member on behalf of Ireland), concern such issues as the recognition of multiple nationalities, consular protection, and the harmonisation of family law.

    Perhaps most significant is the call for a dedicated EU Commissioner for expatriate Europeans and an agency to monitor concerns. This resonates with Ireland’s recent experience in establishing the Irish Abroad Unit, and Ireland could perhaps be an instructive case study in establishing this type of initiative.

    Most of the recommendations would be relatively uncontroversial here: Ireland  takes a particularly open approach to multiple citizenships, for example. But the recommendations call for expatriate citizens to be granted voting rights – a right granted to most European citizens, but not Irish nationals. The organisation notes that the current situation, in which some nations allow their non-EU resident expats to vote for representatives at European level and others do not, leads to inequality among European citizens.

    Europeans Throughout the World is a non-governmental federation of national associations representing Europeans living outside their countries of origin.

    The full text of the recommendations:

    STOCKHOLM RECOMMENDATIONS

    On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of their founding, The Europeans throughout the World, the confederation of associations of European expatriates, meeting in Stockholm at the kind invitation of the Federation Swedes Abroad, recalls that citizens of the European Union living in another country than their own throughout the world are estimated to number between 60 and 80 million, thus together forming the equivalent of a large member state, make very substantial contributions to Europe’s presence in the world, and should be considered a great asset for Europe.

    The Europeans throughout the World urges European national governments and the institutions of the European Union, particularly the European Parliament,

    • to give political and practical recognition and support to this large body of citizens, many of whom have a very high degree of international mobility, consistent with and often a consequence of the progress of the EU and their professional and societal role within it;
    • to act upon the following recommendations, which proceed from over fifty-five years of experience of the EU and twenty-five years of action, and which also build upon and extend the Paris Declaration adopted at the Meeting of European Citizens resident outside their country of origin in Paris on 30 September 2008.

    Voting rights – all expatriate European citizens should be given specific national and EU-level representation in order that their voices may be properly heard and their concerns, specific to their condition as expatriates, properly taken into account:

    • All EU citizens should be given the right to vote in their national elections at national and regional level, and practical arrangements made to facilitate the convenience to the citizen, wherever he or she resides in the world, for example through proxy, postal and/or electronic voting mechanisms.
    • All EU citizens should be given the right to choose to vote in European Parliament elections in their country of residence or of one of their EU nationalities, and practical arrangements made to facilitate the convenience to the citizen, wherever he or she resides in the world.

    Multiple nationalities

    • All EU citizens should be given the right to possess and to gain or regain multiple  nationalities to which they may have a claim, given the fundamental nature of nationality to the citizen and his or her means of livelihood.

    Diplomatic and consular protection

    • Full and uniform protection should be ensured to all EU citizens through the network of EU member states’ embassies and consulates throughout the world, irrespective of their nationalities and countries of residence.
    • This should extend especially to prisoners, who are often particularly vulnerable – judicial proceedings in third countries should be closely monitored and full defence of the accused ensured. Wherever possible they should be able to purge their sentence in (one of) their own country(ies).

    Social Security

    • The right of patients to treatment in the country of their choice, regardless of the country(ies) in which they have paid their state and/or private health insurance contributions, should be ensured in practice, in line with the jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice.

    Pensions

    • The acquisition of state and supplementary pensions should be ensured in practice, and their payment ensured from the age of retirement, to all expatriate EU citizens, wherever they reside in the world, and existing EU legislation enforced and extended. Cases of multiple taxation need to be removed. Particular attention should be given to the situation of people who have followed their spouses abroad and may find their rights seriously curtailed.

    Education

    • The possibility of complementary education in one’s mother tongue should be extended to all children of expatriate EU citizens, allowing them to preserve the knowledge of their mother tongue and culture.

    Mutual Recognition of Diplomas and Professional Training

    • There are many diplomas and professional qualifications of EU member states which are not recognised in other EU countries. The ongoing efforts towards mutual recognition should be intensified and extended to further fields.

    Justice

    • Expatriate EU citizens should be guaranteed a legally indisputable choice of competent jurisdictions and simplified access to these.
    • Family law should be harmonised and enforced, particularly in the areas of the consequences of divorce for children.
    • Contradictions and multiple taxation should be removed from the area of succession and inheritance.

    “European Referent? in the national public services

    • A personalised “European Administrative Window? should be created within the national, regional and/or local administrations, fully aware of the legal and administrative aspects at EU level.

    A European Commissioner and an Agency for expatriate Europeans

    • Considering that the above concerns have not been fully addressed, we reiterate our recommendation that a Member of the European Commission should be given specific responsibility for expatriate EU citizens.
    • All European Institutions should set up specific mechanisms to take account of the specific concerns of expatriate EU citizens.
    • An agency should be created to take up these concerns on a permanent basis. It should be charged with monitoring and furthering all the above concerns, and should be given appropriate means to carry out these tasks.

    Related website:

    Europeans Throughout the World

    European Commission reminds EU citizens of right to consular protection

    Monday, December 1st, 2008

    The European Commission has issued posters to inform EU citizens of their rights to consular protection.

    The poster reminds expats that if there is no consulate of their home country in the non-EU state in which they are in, they may request urgent assistance from any other EU country.

    As a citizen of the European Union, you can expect the embassies and consulates of any other EU country to assist you on the same conditions as nationals of that State and in particular to :

    • provide you with an emergency travel document
    • contact your family, your next of kin and the authorities in your country
    • protect you if you are in danger or difficulty, especially as a result of arrest, detention, an accident or serious illness
    • provide the help you need to be evacuated or repatriated.

    To enjoy this protection :

    • you must be a citizen of an EU Member State
    • you must be in a country that is not a Member of the European Union
    • your country must have no consular or diplomatic representation in the country in question.

    Download the poster.

    Visit the European Commission’s website on consular protection for more information.

    See the Department of Foreign Affairs’ list of Irish embassies and consulates abroad.

    ETTW issues response to Paris declaration

    Thursday, November 27th, 2008

    The Europeans Throughout the World have issued a response to the declaration issued at “Europe on the Move: the first meeting of Europeans resident outside their country of origin?, held in Paris on 30 September. ETTW, of which Ean is a member, attended the meeting, which was aimed at bringing together emigrant Europeans to work toward a European policy for the EU’s citizens abroad.

    The response document is aimed at European institutions to convey the most important issues of the national associations of European expatriates. It covers such topics as consular coordination, prisoners, social security, supplementary pensions, dual nationality, and political recognition.

    Europeans Throughout the World is a non-governmental federation of national associations for residents abroad. Visit them at www.euromonde.org.

    See the ETTW document: “Towards a European policy on the Europeans established outside their country of origin“.

    See Ean’s report on the Paris meeting: “Proposals on European emigrant policy passed at Paris meeting”