Tuesday, 8 May 2007

“Proposals on consular protection for EU citizens” is Attack on UK Sovereignty

On 28 November 2006, the Commission adopted a Green Paper on diplomatic and consular protection of Union citizens in non-EU countries – a paper which has recently been analysed by the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee (ESC). The European Commission has highlighted the need for enhanced consular protection given to EU citizens in non-EU countries, particularly in crisis situations.

Under Article 20 EC, “Every citizen of the Union shall, in the territory of a third country in which the Member State of which he is a national is not represented, be entitled to protection by the diplomatic or consular authorities of any Member State, on the same conditions as the nationals of that State. Member States shall establish the necessary rules among themselves and start the international negotiations required to secure this protection.”

In the Green Paper, the European Commission lays down several proposals to reinforce the right of Union citizens to Community diplomatic and consular protection, enshrined in Article 20 of the EC Treaty. Those proposals include: ensuring consular protection information is available to EU to citizens, provisions on the protection of EU citizens should be included in bilateral agreements with non-EU countries with a view to ensuring this protection, increase the entitlement to consular assistance in order to include non-EU family members of EU citizens. Decisions on identifying and repatriating remain a complementary action which could be made possible through a European compensation system.

Furthermore, the Commission has also suggested setting up common offices. According to the Commission, this “would help to streamline functions and save on the fixed costs of the structures of Member States' diplomatic and consular networks.” The aim of the Green Paper is to launch a debate on theses issues and according to the consultation’s outcome this may lead to a White Paper publication.

The House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee is not pleased with the Green Paper, as consular services are the responsibility of Member States. The Minister for Europe, Mr Geoffrey Hoon, explained to the ESC that he does not accept the Green Paper’s interpretation whereby Article 20 EC creates a legal right to consular assistance independent of domestic law as it “merely provides for the provision of consular assistance to unrepresented Member States' nationals on the same terms as it is provided to their own. Nor does it require setting minimum or equal standards for consular assistance amongst Member States.”

The Minister is also concerned over the possibility of the EU’s officials to provide consular assistance in the future. He recalled that under international law, consular relations are between States. Geoffrey Hoon holds that “consular assistance is most effectively provided by Member States themselves." Therefore, any Commission proposal on this issue will lead to worrying subsidiarity issues. It should also be noted that “proposals on consular protection for EU citizens” are among the Commission’s top priorities for 2008.

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