The diplomatic and consular services of all EU member states must give any EU citizen seeking help abroad the same protection that they give their own nationals, say civil liberties MEPs. They are also calling for the EU delegations to have a key role in strengthening protection for EU nationals in non-EU countries.
The civil liberties committee adopted its position on Wednesday on proposed new rules aimed at strengthening consular protection abroad, which is one of the key rights conferred by EU citizenship.
MEPs say any EU citizen in difficulty abroad, for example after suffering an accident, violence or robbery, or caught up in a crisis situation, should be free to seek assistance from the embassy or consulate of any other EU member state or, where appropriate, from the EU delegation, if their own country is not represented.
The committee calls in its non-binding amendments for EU delegations (run by the European External Action Service) in non-EU countries to be responsible for ensuring cooperation and coordination among member states, including the division of tasks to ensure that unrepresented citizens are fully assisted in a crisis.
Where relevant, EU delegations should be entrusted with consular tasks, the MEPs say. They should also be allowed to conclude local arrangements with member states' representations on burden sharing and exchanges of information.
However, the directive should not force Member States to provide unrepresented citizens with types of assistance which they do not provide for their own nationals, say MEPs.
The report, drafted by Edit Bauer (EPP, SK), was adopted by 51 votes to 5. It goes to the full House in Strasbourg in October.
The protection offered by embassies and consulates is an expression of EU solidarity and of the identity of the Union in third countries, as well as being a practical benefit of EU citizenship. However, this principle is not yet fully applied in practice, leading sometimes to situations where unrepresented citizens can be in a more vulnerable situation in non-EU countries than those that do have representation.
Many EU citizens have been affected by recent crises, for example in Libya, Egypt and Bahrain after the democratic uprisings in the spring of 2011, or in Japan after the earthquake in March 2011. Also, consular protection is often essential in day-to-day situations, for example when people fall seriously ill or are victims of crime.
In the chair: Juan Fernando LÓPEZ AGUILAR (S&D, ES)