The EU and the UK government should negotiate a deal on the situation and rights of citizens as a matter of urgency and before starting the other Brexit talks, MEPs say.
In a joint hearing organised by the committees of Civil Liberties, Employment and Petitions, most MEPs underlined the “moral duty” to end the uncertainty created for both EU citizens living in the UK and UK nationals in the EU since the June referendum.
The EU should let go of the principle that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” in negotiations, because a quick solution for citizens’ rights is a matter of priority. “Let´s do this first”, they concurred.
Parliament´s Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, said the House might adopt a resolution on this issue, probably after the summer recess.
Speaking at the hearing, BiE's Dr Dimitrios Giannoulopoulos called upon the European Parliament to use this resolution to unilaterally recognise the rights of UK citizens in Europe, as mandated by international human rights law, notably Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
"Unless the European Parliament does so", he stressed, "it risks causing irreparable damage upon the right to private and family life of 4.5 million Europeans, bringing disrepute to the system of human rights protection in Europe and overwhelming the administration of justice in affected EU countries. The EU would also bring its own law into disrepute, to the extent that this incorporates the rights enshrined in the ECHR and ECtHR jurisprudence".
Dr Giannoulopoulos added that "analysis of ECtHR case law supports the conclusion that the forced deportation of EU citizens from a member state (non-UK EU citizens in the UK or UK citizens in the EU) would trigger Article 8 ECHR" and that "discrimination on grounds such as nationality, length of residence or level of income will also bring into play Article 14 of the ECHR".
In speaking at the European Parliament, Dr Giannoulopoulos reflected on a report that he co-authored with the 'New Europeans' group, and which was submitted as evidence at the European Parliament hearing.
The report has now been published at the European Parliament (LIBE Committee) website.
In drafting the relevant section of the report, Dr Giannoulopoulos drew upon evidence submitted by BiE experts, and external participants that have contributed to recent BiE debates and research events, all agreeing with the principle that Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights provides considerable level of protection to residence rights of EU citizens. BiE experts Dr Merris Amos and Dr Ed Bates have read and commented upon an early draft of the report.
BiE member Dr Ruvi Ziegler also contributed a section to the report, noting the "substantial difficulties with the UK government's insistence on reciprocity".
The hearing in Brussels marked the beginning of a collaboration between BiE and the New Europeans, on the issue of the protection of EU citizenship rights. Dr Giannoulopoulos represented BiE in Brussels as part of a delegation of 'New Europeans' experts, including the founder of the group Roger Casale.
Below we are making available extracts from the joint New Europeans-BiE activity in Brussels, on May 10-11, for the purposes of the European Parliament hearing and related events.
Finally, it is encouraging to note that evidence submitted by New Europeans, BiE and similar organisations in the European Parliament hearing was immediately picked up by the Chairs and representatives of the relevant Committees.
Claude Moraes (S&D, UK), Chair of the Civil Liberties Committee, said:
"Today's hearing shows that the European Parliament stands ready to fulfil its role in the negotiations by working hard with our constituents, our home governments and the EU institutions to ensure the voices of concerned citizens are being heard. Human beings come first, we are not commodities and what happens on citizens’ rights sets the tone for the entire negotiation and relationship for a generation to come, so we must get it right".
Renate Weber (ALDE, RO), Vice-Chair of the Employment Committee, added:
"I strongly believe that when thinking about Brexit consequences, there is no greater concern than the fate of EU citizens who study, work and settle in the UK and also visitors, and of those British citizens who work or live in EU 27. Brexit will have a direct impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of workers and students, on millions of tourists, as citizens' mobility and rights are at the heart of the European project. We have worked hard to guarantee citizens' uninterrupted access to all kind of benefits, and these rights should be safeguarded."
Cecilia Wikström (ALDE, SE), Chair of the Petitions Committee stated:
“The Brexit decision has created uncertainty for three million citizens from other member states living in the UK, as well as for the 1.2 million British citizens currently living in the EU. These people are anxious and frightened about their future and their concerns must therefore be our top priority, and issues related to citizens’ rights solved first of all. We shall never forget that this concerns real people, they are not just pawns in the negotiations. This is about basic human values and about common decency. Only by putting the citizens first can we achieve a fair result in the end”.
See here excerpts from the opening statements at the hearing, including from Parliament's chief Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt.
These statements were echoed by the vast majority of the members of the Committees speaking at the hearing, from across the political spectrum, such as Sophia In't Veld MEP, Catherine Bearder MEP, Seb Dance MEP and Alyn Smith MEP.
In an interview with EU Reporter after the hearing, Alyn Smith MEP noted that EU citizens are "genuinely fearful for the future" and that "it is the responsibility of the EU to fix that", calling upon the institutions to give effect to the rhetoric that the EU is "the voice of the people". "Unconditional unilateral recognition" is the way forward, he argued. "This would change the game" and would "put pressure on Theresa May", he added. We need "political bravery".
The SNP MEP also castigated Conservative MEPs for not attending the hearing. Not a single Conservative MEP was present there. The Brexiteers had claimed this space, and it was very much their responsibility now to propose solutions, said Mr Smith, so "it was a great regret that they had not engaged".
The 'unilateral recognition' position mirrors the New Europeans' renewed call to the European institutions this morning, via a press release by founder Roger Casale.
Our key point in the report is that the EU can and should grant the rights of UK citizens in the EU unilaterally.
We argue that the EU should then try to secure the rights of EU citizens in the UK by all available means including by withholding their consent to any Brexit agreement.
The EU will have to use negotiations to secure the rights of EU citizens in the UK. However, it should not hold the rights of UK citizens living in the EU hostage - it needs to put that particular bargaining card down and to do so now, also to protect the EU's own reputation as a set of institutions that safeguards human rights.