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 ‘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.
For more on the right to consular protection for EU citizens, read this factsheet.
The work of the EEAS, including EU Delegations
In line with the Consular Protection Directive, the EEAS and its EU Delegations around the world contribute to the implementation of the EU citizens’ right to consular protection in close cooperation with EU Member States.
In particular, they facilitate coordinated EU efforts on consular crisis preparedness and management, both locally in third countries and in EU capitals.
In that context, the EEAS works in closely with the European Commission (particularly DG ECHO-ERCC and DG JUST), and EU Member States (in particular crisis centres). The EEAS 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.
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 some examples.
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 and instructions issued by your country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. For example, registering your presence abroad, if applicable.
- Check if your country is present in the country where you are travelling. No embassy or consulate? Find one of another EU country on this platform or via the EU Delegations. Save their contact information.
Other tips include keeping an electronic copy of your travel documents or subscribing to a travel insurance.