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EU citizens' rights to consular protection and assistance in third countries - guide

23 March 2011
by eub2 -- last modified 23 March 2011

During emergencies and crises, such as in Japan, Libya or Egypt, EU citizens abroad have the right to ask for assistance from any EU consulate or embassy when their Member State is not represented in the country. EU Member States must also help citizens evacuate as if they were their own nationals. The EU Treaties and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights guarantee this right, which is a key part of EU citizenship. Protection also covers everyday situations, like a passport being stolen, a serious accident or illness. However, many Europeans are not aware of this right. With more EU citizens living, travelling and working abroad - Europeans take over 90 million trips outside the EU each year and around 30 million are resident in non-EU countries – it’s more important than ever to step up awareness. In its policy Communication on consular protection in third countries, the European Commission sets out concrete actions on how to raise EU citizens’ awareness of their rights. In the next year, the Commission will propose coordination measures to ease citizens’ day-to-day consular protection. In addition, the Commission is launching a dedicated website on consular protection. This website provides addresses of consular or diplomatic missions in non-EU countries and access to all Member States' travel advisory services.


Which right do EU citizens have on consular protection?

EU citizens, whether travelling to or living in a non-EU country in which their Member State is not represented, have the right to receive the protection of the diplomatic and consular authorities of any EU Member State under the same conditions as the nationals of that country.

This right is a key part of EU citizenship. It is laid down in the EU Treaties: Articles 20(2)(c) and 23 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), as well as Article 46 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Only in the United States, China and Russia do all 27 EU countries have diplomatic representation. In all other countries in the world, at least one EU nation is not represented.

What kind of help may people get in practice?

Help may include assistance in day-to-day problems encountered when travelling or in emergency and crisis situations. For example:

  • If a citizen's passport is lost or stolen, the embassy/consulate may issue an emergency travel document – valid for a single journey only – provided this has been cleared by the citizen's own national authority.
  • In case of a serious accident or illness, the consular authorities may inform your family or employer, offer advice on seeking medical treatment, or ask your home country to arrange a medical evacuation in serious cases.
  • In crisis situations, assistance may include giving updated guidance on the latest developments, issuing an emergency travel document to get home, or even evacuation. Such measures have been used during the current crises in Libya, Egypt and Japan.

How many people are affected?

EU citizens are increasingly travelling abroad. They take more than 90 million trips to countries outside the EU every year, up from around 80 million trips in 2005. In addition, more than 30 million EU citizens reside in countries outside the EU.

How does the European Commission intend to make people more aware of their right to equal treatment regarding consular protection?

Not all Europeans and consular officials are aware of the EU dimension to consular protection. The European Commission will raise awareness both amongst EU citizens and consular officials about EU citizens' right to turn to the embassies/consulates of Member States other than their own, how to reach these facilities and what kind of help they can be offered. The Commission is taking action to ensure consular officials are better informed about the EU's provisions on consular protection, such as with training kits and the sharing of best practices at workshops or seminars.

In 2007, the Commission recommended that EU governments include a sentence about the relevant Treaty article on citizens' right regarding consular protection in their national passports issued after 1 July 2009. 20 Member States have already agreed to do so (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Sweden, Spain, the United Kingdom).

The Commission also launched today a website, available in all EU languages, dedicated to consular protection and aimed at citizens travelling or living outside the EU. This website lists the addresses of consular or diplomatic missions in non-EU countries and provides access to all Member States' travel advisory services.

Last but not least, the Commission is working closely with Member States to spread information in a targeted way, for instance, by cooperating with expatriate organisations to reach citizens living abroad, with employers' organisations to raise awareness amongst business travellers and with publishers of travel guides, among others.

What does the new website on consular protection contain?

The new website aims to provide a one-stop-shop for information on consular protection. It includes:

  • Information about the right to consular protection and what this right generally includes.
  • A list of all EU Member States' diplomatic and consular missions in third countries, their addresses and contact details – searchable either by EU nationality or by third country. For example, a Belgian travelling to Chile can check whether or not his or her country has a consulate or embassy there, and if not, which other EU countries are represented.
  • Access to travel advice via Member States' travel advisory services. For example, a German tourist who booked a trip to Japan could find out that Germany's foreign ministry currently advises against non-essential travel there.

How will the Commission make the right to consular protection in third countries more effective?

The Commission will present legal proposals within the next 12 months. These will establish the coordination and cooperation measures necessary to facilitate day-to-day consular protection for unrepresented EU citizens. They aim to improve legal certainty regarding the scope, conditions and procedures related to consular protection and to optimise the use of resources, including in times of crisis. They will also address the issue of financial compensation of consular protection in crisis situations.

What has changed with the Lisbon Treaty?

The Lisbon Treaty reinforces and clarifies the right of EU citizens to consular protection and the capacity of the EU to act (Articles 20(2)(c) and 23 Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, and Article 46 of the EU Fundamental Rights Charter). The right to receive the protection of diplomatic and consular authorities under the same conditions as nationals is a clear individual entitlement of the citizen that is subject to judicial review, meaning that national courts and the EU Court of Justice can apply Article 23 TFEU. The Lisbon Treaty abandons the previous logic of intergovernmental decision-making and allows the Commission to propose directives, establishing the coordination and cooperation measures necessary to facilitate consular protection for unrepresented EU citizens (Article 23(2) TFEU). Such proposals are subject to qualified majority voting in the Council and consultation of the European Parliament.

What is the role of EU Delegations in third countries regarding consular protection?

Consular assistance is provided by Member States. EU Delegations contribute to the implementation of the EU citizens' right to consular protection as referred to in the EU Treaties (Article 35 Treaty on European Union). According to the Council Decision establishing the organisation and functioning of the European External Action Service (EEAS), under Article 5(1), EU delegations shall, upon request by Member States, support them in their role of providing protection to EU citizens in third countries on a funding-neutral basis.

EU delegations have already provided logistical assistance to support consular assistance in the past. This occurred during the Gaza crisis in January 2009 when nearly 100 people were evacuated in armoured buses thanks to EU Delegation support. EU Delegations could also assist further in informing unrepresented EU citizens about protection by the consular and diplomatic missions of Member States.

Source: European Commission

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