The consular protection of EU citizens
Consular protection is the help provided by a State to its citizens who are living or travelling outside of their home country when they are in need of assistance. Typically, consular protection can be provided in case of:
- Loss of travel documents;
- A serious accident or serious illness;
- Relief and repatriation in case of an emergency;
- Being a victim of crime;
- Arrest or detention;
The responsibility to provide consular assistance to EU citizens lies with EU Member States. Yet, not every EU Member State has embassies or consulates in every State of the world. This means that some EU citizens are ‘unrepresented’, with no embassy or consulate from their Member State to effectively help them. So what happens to them if they are in need of assistance?
‘Unrepresented’ EU citizens are entitled to request help from the local embassy or consulate of any other EU Member State. The other EU Member State must assist ‘unrepresented’ EU citizens on the same conditions as their own nationals. This is particularly important in case of a consular crisis. From an EU perspective, we talk about a consular crisis when the life, health or security of a large number of EU citizens in a third State are at risk or in danger. This can be the case because of a natural disaster or large accident, or due to growing political instability.
To facilitate the exercise of the right to consular protection, in 2015, the Council adopted Directive 2015/637, the so-called ‘Consular Protection Directive’. The Directive aims at greater cooperation and coordination between consular authorities. In 2019, the Council also adopted a Directive on an EU emergency travel document. It complements the Consular Protection Directive by facilitating the issuing of a modernised and secure EU Emergency Travel Document.
The work of the EEAS, including EU Delegations
Among its many aspects, the Consular Protection Directive recognises and enhances the role of the EEAS and EU Delegations in contributing to the implementation of the EU citizens’ right to consular protection. At the same time, it places an obligation on them to closely cooperate and coordinate with EU Member States.
Accordingly, the EEAS contributes to coordinated efforts on consular crisis preparedness and management. From Brussels, the EEAS guides EU Delegations regarding consular cooperation, in addition to supporting EU Delegations and Member States in the event of a consular crisis.
In that context, the EEAS works in close cooperation with the European Commission (particularly DG ECHO-ERCC and DG JUST), and EU Member States (in particular crisis centers). The EEAS also supports the Council Presidency on consular matters, including through active participation in the Council Working Party on Consular Affairs (COCON).
The EEAS also cooperates with other partners, including countries outside of the EU and international organisations. For more on the EU’s work in the area of consular protection, visit also the dedicated pages on the European Commission and the Council websites.
What does this mean in practice?
You want to know how coordination and cooperation on consular matters between EU Member States and the EU can help EU citizens? Here are three examples.
In 2019, the deadly attacks in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday killed more than 250 persons and left more than 500 injured. As part of a coordinated response, the EU and EU Member States joined forces to set up of an EU Help Desk at the Colombo airport. The Help Desk assisted EU citizens with a variety of issues, such as travel documents or guidance on the availability of return flights.
The sudden mobility restrictions after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic left more than 600,000 EU citizens stranded abroad in early 2020. In a unique exercise, the EU and its EU Member States joined forces to organise their repatriation. The EEAS had a key role in this effort, supporting Member States in their consular assistance to EU citizens through the network of EU Delegations. For more information on the repatriation exercise, watch the video or visit this page.
The UEFA European Football Championship (Euro 2020) was hosted by 11 different countries, of which three (Azerbaijan, Russia and the UK) were outside of the EU, and at a time when COVID-19 restrictions were still in place. Where required, the EU Delegations engaged with the local authorities on behalf of the EU Member States to get details on the COVID-19 measures. This enabled to inform EU supporters attending games in Baku, Glasgow, London or Saint Petersburg. Such engagement also served to raise possible consular concerns such as the large-scale mobility restrictions for EU fans, pre-empting cases where consular assistance could be needed.
What can you do to help?
As an EU citizen, you can take simple steps to make consular protection more effective. For example:
- Following the travel advice issued by your country’s Foreign Ministry.
- Visiting the website of EU Delegations for information on EU Member State presence outside of the EU, and following their social media accounts.
- Registering with your Embassy or Consulate and/or through dedicated platforms to signal your presence abroad, if applicable.
- Other tips include keeping an electronic copy of your travel documents, subscribing to a travel insurance or saving crisis contact details.