Citizens’ rights is a highly visible issue: it affects a significant number of people (approximately 3.5 million EU citizens in the UK and 1.2 million UK Citizens in the EU) and most people know at least someone who falls into one of these categories. It is also, by contrast to many other areas which will need to be negotiated, conceptually fairly accessible to most people: right to reside, right to benefit, pension etc.
The talks on this issue have not started in an auspicious way. We don’t yet know the detail of the Government’s proposals due to be published today although the outline of the proposals made last week are reported to have been met with little enthusiasm in Brussels.
By contrast, the position of the EU27 has been clear for some time: The EU published its Working Paper on 24 May 2017 which can be found here: and its negotiating Position Paper on 12 June 2017 – available here.
In general terms, the EU27 seek effective, enforceable, non-discriminatory and comprehensive reciprocal guarantees to safeguard the status and rights derived from EU law at the date of withdrawal. This includes rights as to permanent residence, non-removability, rights as to benefits, pensions and automatic family reunion (i.e. without imposing a minimum income requirement). Enforcement of those rights in the event of a dispute would remain with the ECJ.
One only needs to balance some of the statements made above against recent rhetoric to realise that a meeting of minds may be some way off.
Although many have written about the potential stumbling blocks to an agreement, I have an additional theory as why the EU will fight hard in relation to this part of the negotiation.
Because citizens’ rights is such a visible issue, the negotiations in relation to it is a public relations opportunity for the EU27 to show that they are acting directly and concretely ‘for the citizens of Europe’ and in my view they will seek to capitalise on this. Conversely, because of the level of public debate in the UK, citizens’ rights are often associated with the negative aspects of free movement and often wrongly mixed up with wider issues relating to immigration. For the UK government therefore there is no positive public relations opportunity in this part of the negotiation – only one which minimises the negative side of it.
I await the publication of proposals with interest.
**UPDATE** Government proposals just published and available here.