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British expats take steps to secure their futures in France

Brits in France are not waiting around for their politicians to ease their worries, they are taking matters into their own hands to secure their future in the country, which is clouded in uncertainty.

British expats take steps to secure their futures in France
Photo: Oli Bac/Flickr

British expats in France are not hanging around to wait for article 50 to be triggered or for two years of tortured negotiations to get underway.

While nothing has changed and no one really knows what the future holds, the uncertainty is enough to push many of them into the abyss – or French bureaucracy as it’s better known as.

Christopher Chantrey who is chairman of the British Community Committee of France says his organisation has received numerous enquiries from people wanting to know how they can best safeguard their lives in France.

“In some cases people are applying for French citizenship while others are going down the path of trying to get a permanent residency permit,” said Chantrey.

“They see it as an insurance policy because at the moment there is a huge cloud of uncertainty hanging over them.”

“It’s early days but they just don’t know what will happen.”

In terms of insurance policies, expats have a few options one of which is to apply for the “carte de Séjour permanent”, which would give them the right to stay as long as they have lived in France continuously for five years and they can prove it.

Another option is to go for French nationality, which would give British expats all the rights the French nationals have, including the right to vote in presidential elections.

Unlike Spain, France allows people to hold dual nationality, so those who go down this route can at least keep their British passport.

To qualify for French nationality you would need to have lived in France for five years and prove your French language ability, which can act as a barrier for some.

Another option which is harder and perhaps more troublesome is to find a French partner and marry them. Although to qualify for French nationality through this route you would need to have been married for at least four years.

French expats in the UK are also facing similar questions after the referendum, though Chantrey points out that the cost of gaining British citizenship far outweighs the price of applyinf for French nationality.

“Expats in France are taking matters into their own hands because we have never been priority for the government back home,” Chantrey said. “If we had been we would all have been given the vote in the referendum (those who have lived abroad for 15 years were barred from voting) and the result might have been different.

“We shouldn’t expect them to stick up for us.”

In his resignation speech David Cameron insisted that for the moment there would be no change to the rights of Brits living in the EU or vice versa, but he has clearly failed to ease any concerns.

“Expats just want to feel they are doing something. It’s a personal risk assessment, but we are definitely advising them to think about the options,” Chantrey said.

“I feel the older people in France, those who come to retire will be most at risk. They could have to go back to the UK.”

French bureaucrats can expect to be given a busy time by worried British expats over the next two years and perhaps beyond.

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BREXIT

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Brexit really does mean that Britons are no longer EU citizens. Claudia Delpero looks at whether there's any other way they can keep their rights.

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Britons lost EU citizenship when the UK left the EU, on 1st February 2020. 

It is the first time the EU’s top court has rules on the matter, after a number of legal cases challenged this specific Brexit outcome. The decision also sets a precedent should other countries decide to leave the bloc in the future. 

What has the EU Court decided?

The Court of Justice decided on a case brought by a British woman living in France.

Before Brexit, she could vote and stand as a candidate in her town of residence, Thoux. But after the UK withdrawal from the EU, she was removed from the electoral roll and excluded from the municipal elections that took place in March 2020, during the transition period.  

As the mayor refused her appeal to restore the registration, she took the case to the regional court in Auch, which agreed to request an interpretation of the rules to the EU top court. 

Julien Fouchet, the barrister supporting her and several other cases on the EU citizenship of British nationals, argued that the loss of EU citizenship and voting rights was disproportionate. It would also be contrary to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, given that the woman also lost her voting rights in the UK, having lived abroad for more than 15 years.

Alice Bouillez, who has lived in France since 1984 and is married to a French national, could have applied for French citizenship, but did not do so because she said “this was not necessary” before Brexit and, as a former UK official, she had taken an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

On Thursday the Court of Justice announced the decision about her case. The court ruled that the “possession of the nationality of a member state is an essential condition for a person to be able to acquire and retain the status of citizen of the Union and to benefit fully from the rights attaching to that status.”

The court therefore confirmed that British nationals automatically lost their EU citizenship as a result of Brexit and, as a consequence, Britons also lost their voting and electoral rights in municipal elections in the EU (unless the country where they live set different rules). 

What is EU citizenship?

EU citizenship was introduced by the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992, when borders were opening and the bloc was integrating economically after the end of the Cold War. 

Under the treaty, every person holding the nationality of an EU member state is a citizen of the Union. EU citizenship is additional and does not replace nationality, the treaty specifies. But this creates the first form of a transnational citizenship that grants rights across borders.

EU citizens have the right to access each other’s territory, job market and services under the principle of non-discrimination. If they are economically active, they have the right to reside in other EU states and be joined by family members, access healthcare at the same conditions of nationals (for emergency treatment also when travelling temporarily), obtain social security benefits and see their professional qualifications recognised.

Beyond free movement, at the core of EU citizenship there are also political rights, such as participating in the European Parliament election, voting and standing as candidates in municipal elections when living in other EU countries, receiving consular protection from other EU states outside the EU, and taking part in European Citizens’ Initiatives asking to the EU to legislate on certain matters. 

Which EU citizenship rights have Britons lost with Brexit? 

For British citizens who were living in the EU before Brexit, the Withdrawal Agreement protects some of these rights. Britons covered by deal have their residence, access to work and education, healthcare, social security and qualifications secured, but only in the country where they were living before Brexit.

But the right to free movement in other EU states, consular protection in third countries, and the political rights attached to EU citizenship were lost, the Court confirmed. 

For British citizens in the UK, the trade and cooperation agreement has preserved some social security rights and, in theory, the possibility to have professional qualifications recognized when moving to an EU country. These provisions however lack details and may take a long time before they work in practice. 

As the “European Union” no longer features on British passports, the possibility to access EU lanes at airports to skip passport control queues has also vanished. 

“The loss of those treasured rights has been clear to those of us living in the EU from the early days of Brexit. But for Brits in the UK, the realities of life outside the EU, and the consequences of Brexit, are only just dawning. Long queues at the borders, roaming charges, obstacles to working abroad, etc. are the new reality,” said Sue Wilson, Chair of the group Remain in Spain. 

While she said the court’s decision was “no real surprise,” she argued that “this is not the Brexit the public were promised, or that the majority voted for.”

Can British citizens get some of these rights back?

Julien Fouchet was disappointed at the Court decision and promised to continue the legal fight, bringing the case at the European Court of Human Rights (which is not an EU institution). 

Other two cases on the matter of EU citizenship for British nationals are still pending at the Court of Justice of the EU. One of them aims to determine whether EU citizenship is a “fundamental status” that cannot be removed but Thursday’s decision could have already provided the answer.

Another option to reconsider some of the rights is the renegotiation of EU-UK trade agreement, when it will be reviewed in 2025. 

Meanwhile, the EU is revising the rules for non-EU citizens living in EU countries on a long-term basis, making it easier to move across borders. 

Applying for citizenship is so far the only option to regain voting rights, although not all EU countries allow dual nationality. 

Sue Wilson, who has long campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU, said: “There is only one way to restore the loss of our rights, and that’s to rejoin the single market, rejoin the customs union, and eventually, rejoin the European Union… Until that day, we will continue to be second class citizens whose rights have been diminished for the sake of an ideology.”

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