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March 21, 2011 8:51 pm
Just days after Europeans struggled to evacuate from Libya and Japan, Brussels is to introduce legal proposals making it simpler for European Union citizens to seek help from consulates or embassies of other member states when their own country is not represented.
A plan to reinforce EU citizens’ rights to consular protection will be unveiled by EU Justice commissioner Viviane Reding on Tuesday.
EU citizens are already entitled to ask for assistance – over matters ranging from lost passports to sudden illnesses or accidents – from any EU consulate or embassy if their own member state is not represented in a particular country.
But Brussels says that this right is little-known and plans to step up publicity – possibly requiring individuals to be informed when they make passport applications, for example.
More fundamentally, Ms Reding will also promise to introduce legal proposals within the next 12 months, which will make clearer the scope and conditions of consular protection and also address the thorny issue of financial compensation in crisis situations.
At present, consular laws vary among member states, as do levels of protection – such as the amount a country will grant in financial assistance. When helping unrepresented EU citizens, a consular service has to ask for prior authorisation from the citizen’s home country, which is supposed to reimburse the assisting country. But the process is cumbersome and EU officials say the rules are frequently not applied.
The problems of accessing consular assistance have been amply demonstrated in recent weeks – although EU officials say it is coincidence that Tuesday’s announcement is being made just after events in Japan and Libya.
For example, about 6,000 EU citizens were estimated to be in Libya but only eight member states had any consular representation there. In the earlier Haiti disaster, about 2,700 EU citizens were affected but only about half the 27-strong bloc ran diplomatic missions.
Even in Japan, Malta and Cyprus lacked representations and at least one EU country helped evacuate people other than their own nationals from the worst-hit areas.
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