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SUE WILSON

OPINION: We shouldn’t expect special treatment from EU just because we’re British

Sue Wilson examines whether Associate EU citizenship could provide the much-needed lifeline Brits living in Europe are hoping for.

OPINION: We shouldn't expect special treatment from EU just because we're British
Photo: Deirdre Carney

British citizens living in EU 27 countries, understandably concerned about losing rights and freedoms after Brexit, are looking for alternative ways to protect themselves. Could an Associate EU citizenship provide a much-needed lifeline?

The idea of maintaining our rights via an associated EU membership for citizens is a popular option with Brits in the EU. It’s an idea that is being widely discussed, even in the European parliament, including by EU Brexit Coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt.

Those in favour suggest it should be made available to British citizens already resident in the EU, as we would be most affected by the loss of our EU citizenship rights. Nobody is suggesting, to my knowledge, that any such scheme would be open to Britons living in the UK.

Understandably, the idea has a great deal of appeal, and is being grasped by many as the answer to all their prayers. For those of us living in Europe, we fully expected when we committed to moving to Europe to having EU citizenship rights for life. We made the decision in good faith, never anticipating the threat of Brexit.

We probably couldn’t have detailed most of those membership rights at the time, but we’re certainly aware of them now, and no longer take them for granted. Never did we think that we would lose, for example, our freedom of movement, or that future generations would have fewer opportunities than we have enjoyed.

Freedom of movement is a benefit that only British citizens stand to lose. EU citizens living in the UK will remain citizens of their home countries and will, therefore, retain their EU citizenship rights. It is this fact alone that is encouraging many Brits to seek a change to the rules for our benefit, without the need for reciprocity. However, should we be granted EU citizenship, it could be argued that EU citizens should be granted British citizenship. I think I can say with a degree of certainty that the British government are never going to allow that to happen.

The idea of Associate Citizenship is not a new one. It was discussed in the European parliament in the early days of the UK/EU negotiations, and was also the subject of a failed court case brought before a European court in the Netherlands. Each time the subject has been discussed, it has been rejected and has proved unpopular with European leaders. Whilst the lawyer involved in the Dutch case, Jolyon Maugham, is currently resurrecting his earlier legal challenge, it’s unclear how this might succeed now, where it failed before.

The reasons the associate citizenship idea has been rejected in the past, and likely in the future, are similar to reasons cited during Brexit negotiations. During the early stages of the negotiations, former Prime Minister, Theresa May, hoped to secure similar terms and conditions for the UK after Brexit as the UK currently enjoys as an EU member.

It was rightly pointed out, frequently, that when you leave the club, you do not maintain the same privileges, or the use of facilities enjoyed by fee-paying members. The UK cannot have its cake and eat it. If we hold with that argument, then why should the rules be different for citizens than they are for the whole country?

With our EU citizenship so highly valued, many have suggested making a personal financial contribution could be an answer. British citizens have each paid a small fee through their taxes to enjoy the benefits of EU membership, and would be willing to do so in future.

Of course, those with sufficient funds can already protect themselves from the loss of rights due to Brexit. Cyprus offers a so-called “golden passport” that effectively allows investors to buy EU citizenship if they spend two million euros on a Cypriot property. Some Tory donors have already signed up to this scheme in order to protect themselves, despite having supported the removal of rights for the rest of us mere mortals.

For those of us with more modest means, there are still many thousands willing to dig deep to save their rights. It would seem like a reasonable option, but what of those without the means, even to make a small contribution? Brexit has been divisive enough already. Let’s not divide ourselves further by creating a two-tier system based on your bank balance.

Personally, I want to keep all my rights. I want to cling on to every single one of them and ensure that others have the same rights. I don’t expect special treatment for Brits in the EU, when EU citizens in the UK are being asked to re-apply for a status they already have, and with the risk of being rejected. I don’t expect to receive special treatment from the EU just because I’m British.  Nor do I expect to enjoy the same rights as a non-EU citizen that I currently enjoy as a fully paid-up member.

Would I like to? Yes, of course! Whilst I don’t believe Associate EU citizenship is the answer, or even possible, if it comes off, I’ll be only too happy to be proved wrong.

There is a better and fairer way. We may not be able to stop Brexit from happening at the end of this month, but the future UK/EU partnership arrangements have yet to be negotiated. We must campaign to get the best possible future relationship with the European Union. Who knows? We could even end up with a softer Brexit, membership of the single market and the customs union, and no negligible change to our rights.

Maybe that’s a long shot, but it’s worth the battle. The closer the UK/EU relationship at the end of the transition period, the easier it will be for the next generation to take us back into the EU, where we belong!

By Sue Wilson – Chair of Bremain in Spain

Member comments

  1. If possible, I would recommend applying for normal citizenship in the EU country where you live.
    I can only speak as a Brit living in Germany (Weimar in Thuringia), but I didn’t find the application process particularly arduous, the officials who helped me were patient, courteous and friendly and the whole thing only cost around 250€ (I believe it’s over a 1000 pounds for the same process in the UK). Also, I wouldn’t say that my German is anywhere near flawless!

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BREXIT

Driving licences: Are the UK and Italy any closer to reaching an agreement?

With ongoing uncertainty over whether UK driving licences will continue to be recognised in Italy beyond the end of this year, British residents are asking where they stand.

Driving licences: Are the UK and Italy any closer to reaching an agreement?

Many of The Local’s British readers have been in touch recently to ask whether any progress has been made in negotiations between the UK and Italy on a reciprocal agreement on the use of driving licences.

If you’re reading this article, there’s a good chance that you’re familiar with the background of this Brexit consequence.

READ ALSO: Frustration grows as UK driving licence holders in Italy wait in limbo

When Britain left the EU there was no reciprocal agreement in place, but UK licence holders living in Italy were granted a grace period in which they could continue to drive on their British licences. This period was later extended to the current deadline of December 31st, 2022.

The situation beyond that date however remains unclear, and concern is growing among the sizeable number of British nationals living in Italy who say no longer being allowed to drive would be a serious problem.

There was the option of exchanging licences before the end of 2021, but many didn’t make the deadline. As has been proven before, this was often not due to slackness but rather all manner of circumstances, from having moved to Italy after or shortly before the cut-off date to bureaucratic delays.

Driving licences: How does the situation for Brits in Italy compare to rest of Europe?

So is an agreement any closer? Or do those driving in Italy on a UK licence really need to go to the considerable trouble and expense of sitting an Italian driving test (in Italian)?

With five months left to go, there’s still no indication as to whether a decision will be made either way.

The British government continues to advise licence holders to sit their Italian driving test – while also stressing that they’re working hard on reaching a deal, which would make taking the test unnecessary.

This message has not changed.

On Wednesday, July 27th, British Ambassador to Italy Ed Llewellyn tweeted after a meeting with Italian Infrastructure and Transport Minister Enrico Giovannini: “The British and Italian governments continue to work towards an agreement on exchange of driving licences.”

But the ambassador earlier this month advised UK nationals “not to wait” and to “take action now by applying for an Italian licence”.

In an official newsletter published in mid-July, Llewellyn acknowledged the concerns of British residents and confirmed that negotiations are still going on.

“I know that many of you are understandably concerned about whether your UK driving licence will continue to be recognised in Italy, especially when the extension granted by Italy until 31 December 2022 for such recognition expires.

“Let me set out where things stand. The British Government is working to reach an agreement with Italy on the right to exchange a licence without the need for a test. 

READ ALSO:  Do you have to take Italy’s driving test in Italian?

“The discussions with our Italian colleagues are continuing and our objective is to try to reach an agreement in good time before the end of the year.

“We hope it will be possible to reach an agreement – that is our objective and we are working hard to try to deliver it. 

Nevertheless, he said, “our advice is not to wait to exchange your licence.”

“If you need to drive in Italy, you can take action now by applying for an Italian licence. This will, however, involve taking a practical and theory test.” 

He acknowledged that “the process is not a straightforward one and that there are delays in some areas to book an appointment for a test”.

READ ALSO: ‘Anyone can do it’: Why passing your Italian driving test isn’t as difficult as it sounds

“We will continue to work towards an agreement,” he wrote. “That is our objective and it is an objective we share with our Italian colleagues.“

The British Embassy in Rome had not responded to The Local’s requests for further comment on Friday.

The Local will continue to publish any news on the recognition of British driving licences in Italy. See the latest updates in our Brexit-related news section here.

Find more information on the UK government website’s Living in Italy section.

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