European Interest

EU citizenship: action needed on voting rights, disability rights and free movement

MEPs point out that EU citizens face obstacles when moving within Europe even in normal times.

EU citizens have the right to participate in democratic life, move freely and not suffer discrimination, but more work is needed to bolster these rights, say MEPs.

EU citizenship is at the core of the European project, and needs to be boosted with action on the rights of LGBTIQ citizens, voting rights for non-citizen EU residents and the rights of stateless people, argue MEPs in a report. Following from the Commission’s EU Citizenship Report 2020, the report outlines current issues with EU citizenship rights, and was adopted by the Petitions Committee with 31 votes in favour and 3 against.

Issues hindering free movement

The freedom of movement has suffered recently, as states have re-introduced restrictions in the wake of the pandemic, note the MEPs. They encourage member states to phase out emergency measures as soon as they are no longer necessary. However, MEPs point out that EU citizens face obstacles when moving within Europe even in normal times. There may be unnecessary administrative hurdles for accessing social benefits and health insurance, for example document requirements that only citizens can fulfil. The Commission should investigate such discrimination, say MEPs, and concepts like “comprehensive sickness insurance” and “sufficient resources” in the Citizens’ Rights Directive should be clarified.

For rainbow families, where some of the family members are LGBTIQ people, there are still additional obstacles to exercising their right to free movement (detailed in the European Parliament’s recent study on the topic). To remedy the situation, the Commission and member states should ensure full compliance with judgment C-673/16 of the Court of Justice of the European Union on the immigration rights of same-sex spouses. Also, many families face problems due to different legislation on separation, divorce and custody in the EU, leading to cross-border disputes.

Access to the vote still unequal

On electoral rights, MEPs note that EU citizens still face barriers when voting in other EU states. Some states revoke citizens’ right to vote in national parliamentary elections when they move to another state, and others prevent long-term residents from voting in local and European elections, or from joining political parties. The Commission’s proposal to reform the directive on mobile EU citizens’ voting rights is a welcome first step, argue MEPs. They also highlight disabled citizens’ lack of voting rights, especially when they are under guardianship. MEPs would like to see more measures to boost the electoral participation of disadvantaged groups, whether they are persons with disabilities, LGBTIQ people, migrants or low-income households.

The report also highlights issues faced by stateless persons in Europe, who may not enjoy basic rights, such as the right to free movement. To fix the situation, MEPs would like to see EU member states issue travel documents also to people who are not citizens, and extend the right to EU consular protection to them.

Overall, citizens need better information about their rights, note MEPs. In a public consultation related to the 2020 Citizenship Report, 60 % of respondents said that communication efforts on EU citizen rights were insufficient. MEPs urge the EU to consider country-level websites explaining their rights as EU citizens and ways they can contact their elected representatives. Eventually, the rights and freedoms of each citizen could be consolidated into an EU Statute of Citizenship, they propose.

“While the freedom of movement is one of the biggest successes of the European Union, in the Committee of Petitions we still hear from some EU citizens that face barriers when moving to another EU country. We must address any barriers and support mobile EU citizens in all aspects of their life abroad from registering and settling down in another EU country and through to participating in local and European elections,” said After the vote, rapporteur Yana Toom (Renew, ET).



Next steps



A future plenary session of the European Parliament will discuss the report and vote on it.

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