Freedom of movement is a fundamental right for EU citizens, that allows them to travel, live and work in other EU countries. It is one of the greatest successes of the Union to date. However, through the European Parliament’s Committee on Petitions, citizens have raised concerns that, in reality, the freedom of movement is sometimes hindered across borders.
“It is clear that in 2016 we still have problems with the implementation of the right of citizens and their family members to move and reside freely within EU Member States,” said Heinz Becker MEP.
Red tape, long delays and burdensome paperwork requirements are hindering citizens who want to move around the Union Heinz Becker
“Firstly, it is important to note that red tape, long delays and burdensome paperwork requirements are hindering citizens who want to move around the Union. Secondly, we, as European or national politicians, must still do more to inform citizens about their rights and obligations,” he continued.
The Vice-Cof the Committee on Petitions, Roberta Metsola MEP, noted that the Single Market Strategy, presented one year ago, will stimulate economic growth and decrease youth unemployment in the Union. She reiterated that petitions highlight the practical problems in ensuring the effective implementation of the four freedoms.
Social rights and the extension of employee liability within the EU
The use of promissory notes in employment relationships within the Union has once again revealed the fault line between EU competences on freedom to work in the Internal Market and the competence of a Member State to establish civil law contracts. This highly-alarming practice of extending the liability of employees stops citizens from circulating freely and forces many to work under unfair conditions in Poland and other Eastern and Central European countries.
Consumer rights & the digital market
“The Digital Market is an integral part of the Single Market, and consumers should have as much protection online as they have offline,” Mr Becker stated.
MEPs sitting on the Committee on Petitions committed to ensuring the preservation of the intellectual property rights of creators, consumers and rights holders in the Digital Market. Some petitions have raised the need to safeguard the rights of many self-employed professionals on online platforms, like Google. Furthermore, as co-legislator, the European Parliament has worked to minimise burdens attached to cross-border e-commerce arising from different VAT regimes.
Consumers need to be able to watch purchased online video on streaming services legally, regardless of where they are Roberta Metsola
“Consumers need to be able to watch purchased online video on streaming services legally, regardless of where they are, be it in the country where they purchased it or not. These are the objectives we are setting in the proposed Regulation on the portability of online content services,” said Ms Metsola. In other words, we need a Digital Single Market that will put an end to unjustified geo-blocking. Citizens must be free to use digital content across borders. In May, the European Commission proposed a Regulation on addressing geo-blocking and other forms of discrimination based on customers' nationality, place of residence or place of establishment within the Internal Market. This is now being debated in Parliament.
Professional qualifications & workers' rights
The recognition of professional qualifications across the EU, with simpler rules and faster procedures for qualified professionals who wish to work in another Member State, while respecting the requirements of the host country, are essential for the Single Market, according to MEP Becker.
“In October 2016, the European Commission requested, in reasoned opinions, that 14 Member States - Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and the United Kingdom - transpose the Directive on the recognition of professional qualifications. The Directive should have been transposed into national legislation by 18 January 2016.”
The recognition of professional qualifications across the EU, with simpler rules and faster procedures for qualified professionals who wish to work in another Member State, are essential for the Single Market Heinz Becker
“We have considered petitions coming from almost all Member States that brought to light specific cases of the poor implementation of the directives on the rights of EU citizens and their family members to move and reside freely within the territory of the EU, on the recognition of professional qualifications, on the posting of workers and the Enforcement Directive from 2014,” he said.
Portability and access to social rights
MEP Metsola noted that the European Commission this year published a proposal to revise the 1996 Posting of Workers Directive. The 2014 Enforcement Directive already aimed at improving rules to better apply and enforce its provisions.
A public hearing on “Obstacles to EU citizens' freedom to move and work in the Internal Market” organised by the Committee on Petitions illustrated many petitions where citizens were denied the allocation of pensions, healthcare or children’s allowances, when living and working in different countries in the Union.
“After hearing from petitioners, it became very clear that European institutions and public authorities must do much more to inform citizens of their rights and collaborate more closely on social coordination. We expect that the Commission will tackle these existing specific loopholes in the upcoming Labour Mobility Package.”
European institutions and public authorities must do much more to inform citizens of their rights and collaborate more closely on social coordination Roberta Metsola
“At present, we are working on legislation related to the implementation of the Marrakesh Treaty. This will facilitate access to published works for people who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled. We will urge ratification of the treaty, which responds to the calls of so many petitioners,” Ms Metsola said.
MEPs Becker and Metsola were speaking following a public hearing proposed by the EPP Group Members of the Committee on Petitions on 'Obstacles to EU citizens' freedom to move and work in the Internal Market', as presented by the petitioners on 11 October 2016. Attendees heard from prominent experts from various universities in Europe, the European Consumers Organisation and the European Citizen Action Service and European Commission officials.