A group of 23 British people living in France have filed the complaint against France for the “failure of the French municipal authorities to issue residence documentation to EU citizens lawfully residing in France” which represents a “failure to comply with EU law”.
The individuals involved, who have requested to remain anonymous, were referred to the EU Rights Clinic, a service which assists EU citizens who can't afford a lawyer to enforce their European rights, by the group RIFT (Remain in France Together) which campaigns for the rights of Britons in France.
By failing to issue the correct residency permits, the local authorities are “affecting their ability to prove their current lawful residence and jeopardising their future ability to prove their right of residence after Brexit”, the document states.
“The complaints received by EU citizens residing in France all relate to the failure of the French municipal authorities to issue residence documents to applicants who meet the conditions of permanent residence or ordinary residence.
“The French authorities often issue residence documentation with a reduced period of validity (less than 5 years for an ordinary residence card and less than 10 years for a permanent card) or are being refused outright.”
Since Britain's shock vote to leave the EU in June 2016 many worried British citizens in France have been taking steps to secure their status in their adopted country.
While some have gone down the route of seeking French citizenship, others have applied for permanent residency permits, known as a carte de séjour, which can be obtained if you have lived in France for five years continuously.
While the residency permits are not necessary for EU citizens, which until the UK's official Brexit still includes British nationals, they are considered useful given the ongoing uncertainty around the rights of Brits living in the EU, not least because the permit certifies that a person has been living in France on a “stable and legal basis”.
Essentially if talks fail then those with a carte de séjour will have secured permanent residency before the expected rush.
British nationals have the right to apply for a carte de séjour but ever since the referendum Brits have been reporting problems obtaining one.
So, why are people being refused them?
“It's a combination of factors,” Dr Anthony Valcke, one of the co-founders of the EU Rights Clinic told The Local. “Officials are confused about the process. They know that EU citizens are not required to have them but if they see the instructions they should know that they can request one if they want one.”
“One of the problems is the decentralisation of the training process,” he said. “Each municipality has a different level of training of its officials and there is a different knowledge of circulars (a written statement of government policy)”.
Dr Valcke added that sometimes these instructions or circulars “don't make it down to staff on the front line and this creates a general confusion about which rules apply to who”.
And in the official complaint it is also stated that authorities often say “applications submitted by British citizens will not be processed pending the outcome of Brexit negotiations”.
However the Rights Clinic says that as EU law remains in full force until the UK has withdrawn from the EU, “a Member State is obliged to comply with specific objectives laid down in directives and cannot plead external circumstances as justification for not meeting such clear objectives”.
Valcke told The Local that the situation could also pose a problem for Brits in France once Brexit takes place because it jeopardises their ability to prove their right of residence after Brexit which could be what they need in order to avoid deportation.
“The British government hasn't really been looking out for Brits in Europe and we're hoping the member countries will do so instead,” Valcke said. “We're hoping that member states will have a light touch when it comes to this matter as the UK has said it will with EU citizens living in Britain.
“What we don't want to see is deportations happening post-Brexit.”
The hope is that this complaint will lead the EU to put pressure on the French authorities to help British citizens prove their residence “by all possible means” with or without a carte de sejour.