Equal treatment

The basic rule is this:   If citizens of a host member state have a right, an advantage, a benefit, or an responsibility, then so do resident citizens of other EEA member states (and their family members).

EU citizens returning to their home member state after exercising free movement rights have also been able to invoke this principle of equal treatment (see ECJ Case C-224/98 D’Hoop v Office national de l’emploi [2002]).

Equal treatment requirements are not limited to the government.  It applies equally to other institutions in a host member state, for example: employers, businesses, service providers, transportation providers, clubs and hospitals.

There are a few limited exceptions, especially: restrictions on national security employment, citizenship rules, some student assistance, and some social assistance.

Directive 2004/38/EC

Article 24 – Equal treatment

  1. Subject to such specific provisions as are expressly provided for in the Treaty and secondary law, all Union citizens residing on the basis of this Directive in the territory of the host Member State shall enjoy equal treatment with the nationals of that Member State within the scope of the Treaty. The benefit of this right shall be extended to family members who are not nationals of a Member State and who have the right of residence or permanent residence.
  2. [partial exception for some social assistance payments and student support]

Some examples of what this means in practice?  In each case EEA citizens and their non-EEA family members can participate fully:

  • Property ownership can not be restricted to “local citizens” (citizens of the member state).
  • Special programs (e.g. property purchase subsidies or farm subsidies) can not be restricted to local citizens.
  • Express processing or easier requirements for applications can not be offered only to local citizens.
  • Citizens can not be given priority over EEA citizens and their family members.
  • If local citizens are required to carry or produce ID cards, only then can EEA citizens and their family members be required to do so (see Gone Fishin’)
  • Schools must be equally open to EEA citizens and their family members, and school free rules must be the same as for local citizens
  • A football club can not sell tickets only to local citizens
  • Employers can not hire only local citizens
  • A private social club can not restrict membership  to local citizens
Violations of the requirement for equal treatment exist and unfortunately are often quietly accepted without complaint.  They are often subtle, but easier to spot once you you remember: If something applies to a local citizen, then it equally applies to citizens of other EEA member states and their families.   Examples of violations include:
  • Germany: German citizens can have a new electronic Personalausweis which allows legally binding digital signatures and secure online identification (e.g. for online banking).  Non-EEA citizens in Germany now have the same facility through the eAT.  This is no comparable facility for EEA citizens who have residence or permanent residence in Germany.
  • UK: The UK Post Office provides a Premium checking service when applying for a DVLA photocard driving licence.  You can take advantage of this service if you have a “current United Kingdom (UK) passport“, but not if you have a ID card or passport issued by another EU member state or you are a family member of an EU citizen.
I expect the comments of this page will collect other examples where the “equal treatment” rule is violated.  If you identify a problem with equal treatment, tell us about it and then make a formal complaint to the suitable authorities:
  1. Complain formally to the European Commission  (You  simply write them a letter/email which explains that “Equal treatment provisions of European treaties and free movement law are being violated”, and describes the situation!)
  2. Solvit may sometimes try to help if it is government related
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  • Jann Jaworski  On November 19, 2013 at 16:02

    Would health care fall under this rule for Equal Treatment? If someone is covered under a Member State’s insurance, then it would stand to reason that their family member would also be covered? If that’s the case, how could a Member State require comprehensive sickness insurance if both parties should be covered by national health insurance?

  • Lisa V  On December 10, 2013 at 23:52

    Article 24, number 2 contains restrictions on equal treatment regarding some social assistance payments and student support. It doesn’t say however anything about restrictions on national security employment or citizenship rules. Where do you get this restrictions on equal treatment from?

    In some countries for example, EU citizens have a certain path to acquire the citizenship of the host state. Can’t my non-EU family members use that same path together with me?

    • EU free movement  On December 17, 2013 at 11:18

      Citizenship policy is up to member states. Not sure if there are any limits, but in practice most countries have rules that do discriminate

  • Lisa V  On January 6, 2015 at 01:19

    Should non-EU family members enjoying equal treatment under 2004/38/EC be allowed to vote on municipal and European elections?

    The right to vote on municipal and European elections are most definitely “within the scope of the Treaty” (Art. 22 TFEU). However, it seems that it’s not being applied that way, at least not in the UK https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/195747/response/478909/attach/html/3/FOI%2010080.pdf.html

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