On 2 February 2021, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs): Eugen Tomac, Traian Băsescu, Ioan-Rareş Bogdan, Vasile Blaga, Cristian-Silviu Buşoi, Mircea-Gheorghe Hava, Dan-Ştefan Motreanu, Siegfried Mureşan, Gheorghe-Vlad Nistor, Loránt Vincze, Marian-Jean Marinescu and Gheorghe Falcă of the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats), posed a written parliamentary question to the European Commission:
“Citizens from all EU Member States, apart from Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovenia, are automatically entitled to a £55 visa fee reduction if seeking employment in the UK. This concession is granted under the 1961 European Social Charter, to which the United Kingdom is a party, but which does not include the five Member States in question. At the same time, they are signatories to the revised European Social Charter of 1996, to which the United Kingdom, however, is not a party.
As a result, the United Kingdom does not apply the provisions of the 1961 European Social Charter to their nationals, resulting in discriminatory visa fee reduction arrangements.
1. How will the European Commission address the issue of discrimination between EU citizens by the UK with regard to work visa fees?
2. What political and legal leverage can be exercised by the Member States not signatory to the 1961 Charter to obtain fair treatment?
3. What steps will the Commission take to protect the right to work and related rights of all EU citizens so as to prevent any recurrence of such situations?”
On 5 May 2021, Vice-President Šefčovič, responded on behalf of the European Commission stating:
“1. Whilst the EU and the United Kingdom (UK) are free to determine their respective visa policies, the UK has committed in the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) to treat all nationals of EU Member States equally for the purposes of visas for short-term visits. The UK’s reduction of visa fees relates to long-term visas, which are not covered by the TCA. The Commission regrets that the UK decided to treat EU citizens differently in this specific case. Commission Vice-President Šefčovič raised the issue in his meeting on 15 April 2021 with his new UK counterpart, Lord Frost.
2. In addition to the above, the European Social Charter framework provides for dedicated avenues for State parties to raise issues in front of the European Committee of Social Rights, linked to the latter’s periodic review of the contracting parties’ laws.
3. The Commission confirms its resolve to uphold the principles of equal treatment and non-discrimination and to take into account the interest of all Union citizens in the course of the implementation of the TCA. When monitoring the application of the TCA, the Commission will be vigilant to any actions by the UK discriminating between the Member States or their citizens and will take any appropriate measure in that regard.”
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