Article published by “Europolitcs” on June 26th 2008 on Alain Lamassoure’s report on
“The citizen and Community law”
SOCIAL POLICY: ALAIN LAMASSOURE PINPOINTS DEFICITS OF CITIZENS'
On 25 June, French MEP Alain Lamassoure (EPP-ED, UMP) gave French President Nicolas
Sarkozy a report on 'European citizens and Community law implementation'. The report,
which in principle is purely national, is in fact of interest to all of Europe because its findings
and the solutions it proposes are primarily European.
The 200-page report presents 61 proposals. It identifies four types of problems experienced by
Europeans: 1. social security; 2. portability of social rights (pensions, unemployment, right to
social assistance); 3. equivalence of diplomas; and 4. family issues (divorce, child custody,
maintenance allowances, etc).
The report notes that the European Commission (which has not been very active on this issue
in recent years), the French EU Presidency and the other member states have to face their
responsibilities. It urges them to seek more concrete results for European citizens who move
from one member state to another, whether for work, education, tourism, family, retirement or
The report observes a "worrying imbalance" between economic integration, which has gone
so far as to achieve the merging of national currencies, and free movement of persons, which
still faces numerous obstacles. Citizens' free movement is still at a stage of development
similar to that of the movement of goods prior to the 1985 Single Act: borders have been
abolished but harmonious living in the common area is impeded by countless obstacles. While
the "European preference" is undeniably a success in terms of foreign trade (on average, each
European country conducts two-thirds of its trade with its Union partners), that is much less
the case for "citizens' Europe". In most member states, there are twice as many non-
Europeans as Europeans among foreigners; the proportion is identical for binational
marriages. In spite of the success of Erasmus, more university exchanges are conducted with
the rest of the world than among Europeans. The major national media devote more air time
to US politics than to European politics, not to mention the rest of international politics.
A citizens' area in its infancy
This situation is sometimes due to shortcomings in European law, though mostly to its very
poor implementation, notes the rapporteur.
The first problem: the inadequacy of European law as such. On professional mobility, the
'portability' of social rights and the mutual recognition of degrees and qualifications, reality is
very far removed from the principles underlying Community legislation which, though tried
and tested, is often outdated and poorly implemented. Human resources executives in
multinationals based in Paris estimate that the cost of an executive's international mobility
inside the European Union and inside a single group is two to six times higher than in the
country of origin. Erasmus is still only benefiting less than 3% of European students. And
contrary to what was initially hoped, the universities themselves are still responsible for the
mutual recognition of degrees, which therefore takes place on a case-by-case basis. As for the
recognition of professional qualifications, apart from half a dozen regulated professions, this
lengthy process is still in its early stages in the Union and relies entirely on the good will of
the member states.
Second problem: the transposition of European directives, which can only be
implemented following their transposition into national law. The zeal for doing so varies with
each member state.
Third problem: information on applicable law. The uninitiated European citizen needs a
magic wand to track down scraps of information, unaware that oceans of it are within reach,
though these remain uncharted. There is no coherent information system catering to all
citizens, but a mass of information providers accessible to the initiated. The 'chosen few' are
very few indeed and 'not very happy at that'. The EU institutions, national administrations,
local governments, consular organisations and specialist associations have created dozens of
internet sites and hundreds of points of contact which are highly disorganised and fail to reach
most really interested people.
Fourth problem: the processing of personal files. The evidence gathered from
representatives of foreigners in France and from French nationals abroad shows that
Europeans living in the Union in a country other than their country of origin face a great many
administrative problems. The abolition of compulsory residence permits has created more
problems than it has solved. The reimbursement of medical costs is erratic. In several
countries, including France, registering motor vehicles purchased abroad is a very
cumbersome process. There are many exceptions to the possibility of being recruited by a
national administration without suffering discrimination, an area where France is far from
setting the right example. In general, the competent services in host countries often give the
impression of being poorly informed themselves, or of interpreting Community law in such a
way as to favour their own nationals to the detriment of 'foreigners'.
Civil law: "terra incognita"
Finally, Alain Lamassoure notes that Community law barely touches upon an immense area
crucial to people's lives, ie civil law, and in particular family law. "The Union, which focuses
on the free movement of workers, has underestimated the human consequences of its historic
success in achieving 'perpetual' peace on the continent," given that travel, migrations and
meetings encourage the forging of ties, joint projects, exchanges, communal living, marriages
and contracts, including family contracts. Yet civil law in general and family law in particular
are seen as very closely linked to the history and culture of each country. It is therefore an
area in which it has always been considered that subsidiarity should prevail in a jealously
exclusive way. Categorically rejecting the harmonisation of national laws, the Union allows
for a degree of mutual recognition of national laws, decisions and legislative measures, and
focuses essentially on resolving conflicts of laws.
As a result, as soon as two or more countries are involved, non-marital unions (the number of
which is high), same-sex marriages or civil contracts, transfer of property, child custody when
the parents are separated, and cases of legal incapacity sometimes have to contend with the
absence of any legal solution and sometimes with conflicts of laws or conflicts of courts,
which cannot always be resolved by current Community regulations.
Is another approach possible?
For Alain Lamassoure, who makes a number of proposals (see other article), citizens' Europe
requires "a radically new approach". He raises a number of questions.
First, how can Europe organise the peaceful coexistence of sovereign prerogatives that have
remained national? To prevent social and legal competition among the member states while
retaining domestic jurisdiction in areas relating to employment contracts, social security and
civil and family law, further policy and legal innovations are needed: the creation of a '28th
regime', the harmonisation of 'public policy exceptions', the drafting of a charter of proper
transposition of Community law, and the conclusion of agreements restricted to countries
prepared to take action together.
Second, what scope should be given to the concept of European citizenship? Is it possible to
agree on the right to nationality, a common list of residence rights and individuals' rights, and
in the meantime, the gradual extension of the grant of dual nationality?
Third, how can the European Parliament's electoral system be adapted to the EP's new
responsibilities? Under the present voting system, MEPs are appointed by their parties rather
than elected by European citizens. This state of affairs is somewhat incompatible with the new
treaty, which finally makes the Strasbourg assembly into a true legislative parliament.
Fourth, should the principle of subsidiarity be supplemented with the principle of simplicity?
Like companies that simply want to work on equal terms in the internal market, citizens need
a minimum of identical rules to live and fulfil their ambitions in the single European area.
'Sedentary' Europeans, who stay in their home country, and even in their region, keep asking
again and again for subsidiarity. But 'nomadic' Europeans ask for uniformity. And, "united in
its diversity," the Union hesitates, concludes the rapporteur (referring to the wording found at
the start of the Constitution).