What does this week's ruling in a Dutch court mean for the rights of Britons living in Spain and across the EU? It at least offers hope and potentially a lot more, campaigners tell The Local.
On Wednesday the British group Brexpats – Hear our Voice won a landmark ruling in a court in Amsterdam that could have a dramatic impact on the lives of all Britons living across the EU.
Five British nationals who had settled in the Netherlands asked the court in Amsterdam to refer their case to the EU Court of Justice after arguing that their rights as EU citizens could not be taken away by the Brexit referendum result.
The court agreed with their request and now a panel of judges at the CJEU (formerly ECJ) will be asked to consider whether British nationals living in the EU automatically lose their EU citizenship rights, such as freedom of movement, as a direct result of Brexit.
If the answer is no then judges will have to rule whether any limitations or conditions can be put on those rights. The exact questions that will be put to the judges will be drawn up in the next two weeks.
But while nothing has been won yet, those groups who represent the 1.2 million Brits living across the EU, including the more than 200,000 who are permanently resident in Spain, stressed the significance of Wednesday's ruling.
A spokesman for Bremain in Spain said they were delighted with the decision which had “brought relief and hope to our members”.
Campaigner Sue Wilson speaking at a rally in Manchester last October. Photo: Bremain in Spain
"The question regarding our EU citizenship rights has kept many Brits awake at night. The purpose of the case was to determine whether EU citizenship stands alone or is tied inextricably to EU membership,” explained Sue Wilson, Chair of Bremain in Spain, a group campaigning for the UK to remain in the European Union and to protect the rights of British migrants living in Spain.
“Would we automatically lose our EU citizenship rights if the UK was no longer a member state? Our hope was a referral to the ECJ, so this is a great result," she told The Local.
The case essentially relates to Article 20 of the Lisbon agreement which stated “citizenship of the union shall be additional to and not replace national citizenship”.
So can a referendum in the UK result in that "additional" EU citizenship being stripped away? In other words just because Britain is leaving the EU can its nationals remain EU citizens and keep all the rights that come with it.
Fiona Godfrey from the pressure group British in Europe told The Local these questions "have never been tested or even looked at before".
She said the Dutch court's ruling was a landmark decision because "it's likely to be the most important case on EU citizenship rights that the CJEU will hear.
"This gives us hope," she said.
"It will determine what rights British citizens in the EU have going forward," said Godfrey. "It could have huge ramifications for the entire withdrawal process."
If the CJEU rules in favour of the five Britons settled in Amsterdam then the citizen's rights agreement struck between the EU and Theresa May's government in December last year will have to be ripped up.
British Prime Minister Theresa May is welcomed by European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker at European Commission in Brussels on December 8, 2017. Photo: AFP
May had heralded the citizen's rights agreement with the EU announced back in December as part of the first round of Brexit talks for protecting the rights of British expats, but campaign groups say it "contains more holes than a sieve".
Significantly that agreement does not cover the continued right to freedom of movement around the EU meaning British citizens already in living in an EU country will effectively be landlocked.
Other areas such as the rights of those who work across borders and the recognition of qualifications in different EU countries were also not covered by last December's agreement, that was described as a "double disaster" by British in Europe.
With official Brexit Day set for March 29th 2019 campaigners hope the CJEU will make its ruling before Britain officially leaves the EU.
If no ruling is made by March next year then British in Europe believe December's citizenship agreement will stand for nothing.
"It is clear that the EU and UK cannot finalise and sign off the final text on citizens' rights in the withdrawal agreement until the CJEU has given its ruling and we would ask them to respect the role of the CJEU in this process," said the group's chair Jane Golding.
Wilson concludes: "We hope a hearing and decision will be imminent, providing clarification for those living in limbo. What seems clear is that negotiations on citizens' rights cannot be signed off until the ECJ has made a ruling."
"We have many unresolved issues and the current citizens' rights deal contains more holes than a sieve. Should the ECJ decide that leaving the EU doesn't mean losing our EU citizenship rights, that would be a game-changer. We will follow developments closely in the hope of a good night's sleep!"
All eyes are now on the judges at the Court of Justice.
Sitges Mayor among others arrested in police investigation of alleged corruption
Aurora Carbonell, the mayor of Sitges and from the ERC party, has been arrested in connection with an alleged corruption investigation, that has also implicated 12 other people, including eight local councillors from the period 2017-2022.
At least four people have been arrested as part of the case, including the local ERC councillor Jaume Monasterio, who was responsible for public works in the last legislature.
The group are being investigated for the crimes of misuse of public funds, embezzlement, and falsification of documents in the awarding of grants and minor contracts in the previous two mandates.
The Spanish National Police and officers of their Economic and Fiscal Crime Unit (UDEF) carried out several searches on Wednesday morning in Sitges, including municipal offices and the homes of two people. The investigation is focused into the process of subsidies granted by the Sitges Town Council to the social entity ‘Taula del Tercer Sector’ (Third Sector Board) and another local co-operative. The police seized documents relating to the entities under investigation.
According to local sources, the police would be investigating, among other elements, if the entity was paid twice for the same service, or received a subsidy and a minor contract, for example.
According to El Pais, police sources have said that the investigation affects the local departments of Beaches and Social Welfare. The police are analysing various specific grants, some of €45,000, €100,000 and €120,000, among others, which may have allegedly gone to the entities under suspicion. According to reports, the total sum under investigation is €600,000.
The starting point of the case stems from a police report detailing the alleged irregularities in May 2022, discovered by the council’s own inspectors.
Carbonell, who was recently re-elected as mayor, has been mayor of Sitges since 2019. The court has ordered for Carbonell and eight councillors to be investigated, in addition to four others who were part of one of the entities and cooperatves also under investigation. The period of alleged corruption is over four years, and also affects the government team prior to Carbonell, according to reports, under the leadership of Miquel Forns (CiU).
The Sitges Town Council has since issued a statement to say that the investigation is connected to ‘external irregularities’ and that it denies any type of wrongdoing.
‘The facts under investigation had already been analysed internally,’ the statement read. ‘The Town Council, once possible external irregularities were detected, commissioned legal professionals to clarify the facts, stopping the subsidies, reviewing the files and starting the process for the return of the subsidies that were not fully justified. The Council has reports that ensure the absence of administrative and even less criminal responsibilities, and which demonstrate the diligence of the Sitges Town Council.’
The statement went on to say that the council ‘is a transparent institution, which has a rigorous code of ethics that ensures the highest standards of integrity’.
It said that it would be making itself ‘available to the authorities in order to show our full collaboration in whatever is necessary’ and ‘reiterates our willingness to cooperate with justice at all times’.
Spain’s far-right Vox seek to make gains in 28 May local and regional elections
Spain’s third largest political group in the national parliament, the far-right Vox party, is looking to make gains in the local and regional elections due to be held across the country on 28 May.
Since it entered a regional government for the first time in Castilla y León last year, Vox has attacked the unions and pushed polarising positions on social issues, including abortion and transgender rights.
It is now poised to spread its influence beyond the sparsely populated region near Madrid, with the party hoping to make gains in the elections at the end of May.
Surveys suggest the main opposition, the right-wing People’s Party (PP), could need the support of Vox to govern in half of the 12 regions casting ballots, just as it did in Castilla y León last year.
Polls also indicate the PP is on track to win a year-end general election but would need Vox to form a working majority and oust socialist (PSOE) Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and his coalition government from office.
Vox leader Santiago Abascal [pictured at a recent rally in Chinchón, near Madrid] has called the PP-VOX coalition government in office in Castilla y León since March 2022 a ‘showroom’ and ‘an example of the alternative Spain needs’.
It is Spain’s first government to include a far-right party since the dictatorship of Francisco Franco.
In Castilla y León, Vox has slashed funding to unions, which the party has vowed to ‘put in their place’ if it comes to power nationally. Trade union UGT was forced to lay off 40% of its staff in Castilla y León last month and scale back programmes to promote workspace safety. Spain’s other main union, the CCOO, is reportedly preparing to follow suit.
Vox has also angered LGBTQ groups by refusing to allow the regional parliament to be lit up in the colours of the rainbow, the symbol of the gay rights movement, for Pride festivities as in past years when the PP governed alone.
In addition, the regional vice-president, Vox’s Juan García-Gallardo, has railed against a law passed by Spain’s leftist central government that extends transgender rights.
The 32-year-old lawyer warned earlier this month that women would now be ‘forced to share locker rooms with hairy men at municipal swimming pools’.
Vox’s most contested initiative was a proposal that doctors offer women seeking an abortion a 4D ultrasound scan to try to discourage them from going ahead with the procedure.
The idea was swiftly condemned by Spain’s leftist central government, and Castilla y León’s PP president Alfonso Fernández Mañueco stopped the measure from going ahead.
The issue highlighted the hazards for the PP of joining forces with Vox, which was launched in 2013 and is now the third-largest party in the national parliament.
Spain – Gas falls below 90 euros per MWh for the first time in almost two months
The price of TTF natural gas for delivery next month has fallen below 90 euros on Friday for the first time in almost two months and closes a week marked by the decision of the European Commission to cap gas with a drop of 29, 36%.
According to data from the Bloomberg platform, gas closed this Friday at 83 euros per megawatt-hour (MWh), 8.9% less than the day before and the first time it has lost 90 euros since last October 31.
After months of negotiations, the EU agreed on Monday to set a cap of 180 euros on contracts linked to the Amsterdam TTF index with a price difference of at least 35 euros above the average price of liquefied natural gas in the markets.
EU countries agree on a cap of 180 euros for gas with the support of Germany
In a report this week, the Swiss investment bank Julius Baer indicated that the chances of the mechanism being activated are low and pointed out that the chosen formula was not very effective in avoiding the multiplier effect that gas has on the price of electricity. However, he reiterated what was said in other previous reports: “Energy supply risks are minimal and prices should continue to decline in the future” due to the availability of raw materials from Asia to offset cuts from Russia.
Gas tends to fall during the hot months due to lower demand, but this summer it has reached historic heights as European countries were buying to face the winter with their tanks full and reduce their dependence on Russia. The price fell in September and October due to lower demand once the warehouses were full due to the high temperatures at the beginning of autumn, but in November it picked up again and 66% more expensive.
This article was originally published on Público
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