European Union Citizenship

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:06 pm on 7th March 2018.

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Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 4:06 pm, 7th March 2018

May I, too, warmly thank my hon. Friend Hywel Williams and Plaid Cymru for bringing forward this timely and important debate?

Before I begin my remarks, I would like to declare a non-financial interest. For many years, I have been an honorary consul to Romania for the highlands and islands. I will come back to that later. It seems to me, as we are discussing the rights of European citizenship, that we should all declare our financial interests, as well as many more interests.

The concept of European citizenship was introduced in the 1992 Maastricht treaty, affording rights, freedoms and legal protections to all citizens, as well as giving a legal basis to European identity. Many of those rights are tied up with the four freedoms of the single market, as we heard earlier. European citizens have the right to live, work and study across the EU and associated countries. European citizens are free to trade and transport goods, services and capital through EU borders as in national markets, with no restrictions on capital movements or duty fees. Citizens have the right to vote and run as a candidate in local elections in the country where they live and in European elections, and to participate in the European citizens’ initiative. Citizenship of the EU confers the right of consular protection by embassies of other EU member states when a person’s country of membership is not represented by an embassy or consulate in the country in which they require protection. EU citizens have the right to vote for and petition the European Parliament, and the right to address themselves to the European ombudsman and EU agencies directly in their own language if the issues raised are within their competence. Finally, EU citizens enjoy legal protections under EU law, specifically through the charter of fundamental rights of the European Union and through Acts and directives regarding the protection of personal data, the rights of victims of crime, the prevention and combating of trafficking in human beings, equal pay and protection from employment discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, sexual orientation, age and other characteristics. Those are substantial rights for European citizens.

I was privileged to serve as the vice-president of the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions, a fantastic organisation that brings together local authority areas from across Europe as far apart as Finland and the Azores. We discussed common issues across the European Union in order to get our points made as citizens of the EU about policy. It was a great privilege to do that. I travelled to that group as a European citizen with the rights I have outlined. I was never treated as an outsider or a foreigner, and none of the people I met during that time were ever foreign to me.

As an honorary consul, I have helped Romanian citizens in the highlands and islands, directing them to the support and services they might need. It has never involved my doing anything other than my job of helping people as an MP. It would be the same, and it is the same, for constituents who are Polish, French or German. I am sure we would all do the same. That point of contact has allowed me to build social and economic ties with our Romanian neighbours.