Complain effectively about breaches of European Law

Why complain?

Government bureaucracy of a member state can be very odd.  Sometimes they can be very well informed, efficient and effective.  Or they get stuck in the rut of doing everything the way they always have, even if it is against the law.  Sometimes training of staff is poor.  Or individual members of staff may operate outside the rules for their own reasons.  The are all sorts of reasons why they may do things incorrectly with respect to their obligations under European law.

  1. Most organizations do not want to be seen to be clearly breaching well established European law
  2. Complaining can help resolve your specific problem.   It brings light to parts of the organization, and with it often some remedial action
  3. It can help others who follow in your footsteps: they will not have to go through the same hassle, waste of time and money, and humiliation that you have had to possibly endure
  4. It can call the European Commission’s attention to larger trends that are incorrect but still happening across multiple member states

Complain effectively

  • Focus on the issue which is in direct violation of European law (e.g. that you were charged a fee for your visa)
  • You may likely be frustrated or angry: do not let that get in the way of clearly expressing the actual violation of European law

Before making a complaint

  • Keep detailed dated records and photocopies of everything, including who you talked with and what they said
  • Make sure you understand generally what part of European law is being violated.   Read through this summary and this guide from the European Commission.  The European Commission’s free Your Europe Advice service can help clarify how the law should work in your situation
  • Write down simply and clearly:
    1. who is involved (including their citizenship and exact relationship) and where they are  (e.g. Spanish citizen resident in France with Moroccan spouse now living in Egypt)
    2. which department of which member state you are dealing with (e.g. visa section of the German embassy in Egypt)
    3. what you tried to do, including exactly which documents you provided
    4. exactly what has subsequently happened
    5. why you believe point (4) is incorrect with respect to European law
    6. what you want done
  • Reread, rewrite and review until what you have written is simple and clear
  • If possible, have somebody else read it and then repeat step (4)

Appeal, where appropriate

  • If you have applied for something, e.g. a visa or a Residence Card, and the application has been rejected, then you are guaranteed a right to effective appeal.  Use it and at the same time continue with other complaint options
  • Note: it may often be faster to also simultaneously reapply with a cover letter which outlines the relevant EU law which you believe was not taken properly into consideration

Get the help of Solvit to resolve the issue

  • Solvit may be willing to help mediate a solution when it involves an infringement by a government of a member state
  • You can use any EU language in dealing with Solvit
  • Results, if any, may take up to 10 weeks
  • They have a mixed track record, often not seeming independent and instead talking very close to the policy of the national government who is paying their salary
  • Despite the odds, it is still worth asking them to be involved.  Sometimes they work effectively, and it is good to get the complaint registered even if it is not resolved
  • Solvit has service standards.  If they do not live up to them, they request that you complain with an email to

Complain to the member state involved

  • Many departments have complaints procedures (e.g. UK’s UKBA or Holland’s IND) or have a national ombudsman (e.g. UK’s Parliamentary Ombudsman) who may be able to help
  • Make sure you point out which European law is being violated and by whom
  • Some of these complaints procedures may be quite effective, and some  are quite likely not
  • You are likely to be required to use the official language of the member state in doing this complaint

Complain to the European Commission

  • Anyone may lodge a complaint with the Commission against a Member State for any measure (law, regulation or administrative action) or practice attributable to a Member State which they consider incompatible with a provision or a principle of EU law
  • You can use any EU language in dealing with the European Commission
  • The Commission will reply with an official reference number
  • The Commission will “endeavour to take a decision on the substance (either to open infringement proceedings or to close the case) within twelve months
  • If you get no reply from the Commission, or if the reply is incorrect, or if the commission acted illegally, then you can complain to the European Ombudsman

Petition the European Parliament

  • Citizens can petition the European Parliament, which is a form of complaint
  • This should be considered either as an alternative to or together with complaining to the European Commission.  It is unclear which approach might be more effective
  • You can use any EU language in petitioning the European Parliament
  • Petitions, and the comments from the Commission, are published on the parliament website
  • Some of the petitions in the past have been relatively effective in changing Irish policy about visas (see Ireland)

Take legal action against the member state or European Commission

  • This step is beyond the scope of this article, but it is possible
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